All things are relative but, surprising as it may seem, not many people voted Conservative in the last general election in May 2010. Even with Gordon Brown as its main opponent, David Cameron’s party could not win the election outright.
The Conservative party secured 36.1% of the vote. Turnout was 65.1%. That means that only 23.1% of the voting population supported the Tories, which is why Cameron required the help of the Liberal Democrats to secure power.
No one doubts the coalition’s right to hold power, nor the legitimacy of its policies to be described as having the support of a majority of those voting - but a few coalition policies are not ‘coalition’ at all, but are simply one party’s policies. Take the housing strategies of the coalition: they come, without exception, from the Conservative manifesto with no Liberal Democrat influence.
In addition, all the Department of Communities and Local Government ministers in the government with housing responsibilities are Conservatives (Eric Pickles, Grant Shapps, Greg Clark, Bob Neill and Baroness Hanham) while the only DCLG Lib Dem is Andrew Stunell with responsibility for ‘Community Cohesion’.
This Tory skew - more obvious in housing than in any other coalition policy area - means the Conservative Party conference this week is particularly important. Government policies on planning, already leading to a celebrated bust-up with its long-standing Conservative supporters in the Daily Telegraph and middle-class organisations like the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, suggests that the party may be trying to push its 23.1% public support too far.
Now Grant Shapps has already promised on Twitter that “there are some exciting housing policies to announce this week. Standby”.
Standby indeed. The Conservative party may have more legitimacy to make policy than any other single party, but so far the rockiest road for the coalition has been created by the utterances of Pickles and Shapps, while the Lib Dems have stood back and said nothing.
If Shapps’ announcements this week are too timid, expect the more traditional pro-developer Conservatives to shout. If they are too shrill, expect the 76.9% of the voting population that does not support the Tory party to bite back.
It could be an interesting few months ahead, all caused by the statements this week at Manchester.
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