The Times today has an article, by Roland Watson, reflecting on the creation of the coalition. It repeats a claim variously made in coverage of the formation of the coalition, namely that, for David Cameron, ‘coalition has let him go to bed without having nightmares about the Tory right, holding him to ransom over Europe, immigration or jail places.’ I have never understood the basis for this claim. Prime Ministers are rarely under threat from the wing of their party that constitutes the political outlier.
Take, for example, James Callaghan. He headed a minority government (1976-79) with his own party badly split, with the left frequently in conflict with the rest of the party. The goverment suffered frequent defeats. Indeed, in the 1974-79 Parliament, the Government suffered a total of 42 defeats, 23 of them the consequence of Labour MPs voting against their own party. However, these defeats were not the result of the Labour left. Left-wing MPs voted frequently against their own government, but when they did so it was usually in a division in which the Conservative Opposition was abstaining or voting with the Government. The Government was under threat when members drawn from different parts of the party voted against them. Such events were less frequent than left-wingers voting against but were much more dangerous.
It is the same under the coalition government. The Conservative right may on occasion be critical of the Goverment and may sometimes vote against (or some Conservative right-wingers may) but how often are they likely to vote with the Opposition, or for that matter Liberal Democrats, on issues such as Europe? For David Cameron, the threat comes not from the Tory right but when disquiet spreads beyond it.