One of the increasingly notable (and in many ways remarkable) things about the coalition is the stark difference in the levels of party unity and discipline in the two parties. While Liberal Democrat MPs and members have committed – often selflessly – to the implementation of the coalition agreement, the same cannot be said of the increasingly fractious Conservative party. Old wounds over Europe have clearly not healed, and the salt of equal marriage and the prime minister’s commitment that this should be the greenest government ever are making many on the Conservative fringes increasingly uncomfortable.
The story of Chris Heaton-Harris is only the latest (though most bizarre) in a series of examples of this discomfort, and the loss of prime ministerial authority which it has accompanied, as Jonathan Calder notes:
The Conservative leadership has already announced that Chris Heaton-Harris will not face disciplinary action after apparently encouraging of James Delingpole to stand as an anti-wind-farm candidate in the Corby by-election.
Which is odd, particularly when you learn that Heaton-Harris is the agent for the Tory candidate Christine Emmett.
This failure to act looks like a reflection of David Cameron’s weakness as Conservative leader. He is now openly despised by the party’s right wing and dare not move against one of their favourite sons. The Guardian, incidentally, is also suggesting that the energy minister John Hayes may have had knowledge of the plan. Certainly, wind farms stands second only to Europe in the list of the Tory right’s obsessions.
The big question that remains unanswered, of course, is the effect of this loss of authority on the future of the coalition. It clearly played a big part in the government’s inability to reform the House of Lords, though the fallout from that looks to have been fairly neatly contained (for now). And it was evident once again over the issue of Europe – the most toxic of all for the Tories. But the ultimate consequence of the Tory party’s increasing ungovernability while acting as the largest party in a coalition government remains to be seen.
* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.