Following an article by the well-connected Ben Brogan and reinforced by John Major's hints on the Andrew Marr show yesterday that the Coalition may continue beyond this parliament, Hopi Sen writes a post on the potential impact on Labour.
Unsurprisingly, the Birmingham experience is raised in the comments and I added my own thoughts. Both the LibDems and the Tories deny any electoral pact in Birmingham, although it is interesting that in almost all council seats, the only serious activity comes from the side best placed to beat Labour. Labour is the only party with a significant vote in almost all of the 40 seats in Birmingham.
An electoral pact of the nature that Hopi describes is exactly what I expect and what I fear most - it is devastatingly effective in focussing the attack on Labour and hoovering up the anti-Labour votes for what is effectively a single party. However, there are a couple of other considerations.
What may save us is the fact that the electorate may not appreciate being corralled on a parliamentary basis. Media coverage of national politics is very different to coverage of local politics, where virtually all of what most people hear about their council is filtered through their local representatives - there is little coverage on the local TV stations and the press doesn't have the coverage it once did. I suspect that it will be much harder to deliver a national message that encourages Lib Dems to vote Tory and vice versa.
If it can be made to work, then Labour is in serious trouble and will struggle to transform a national poll lead into a winning position, but remember that the informal non-aggression pact in Birmingham is the only way that the Tories and the Liberals could run the council - they each hold seats that the other side has little chance of ever taking. That isn't the case on a parliamentary scale - it will be virtually impossible to stop some of the marginal Lib Dem/Tory seats turning blue without virtually withdrawing candidates, which would raise more questions that it would solve. The Tories could potentially win a majority almost by default.
However, if the polls remain in a similar state, with the Liberal Democrats facing major reverses in the local elections between 2011 and 2015 and the Tory vote largely holding up, then the temptation for the Tories to cast aside the deadweight of their Liberal Democrat friends and push for an outright win could be irresistible. Would the backbenchers already uneasy with concessions to the Liberal Democrats be willing to let Cameron stick with the Coalition? I suspect not, especially if winning is a serious option. Cameron may feel duty-bound to stand by Clegg and his friends in the Liberal Democrats, but that might ultimately extend only to an offer of a sinecure job in Europe or crossing the floor to formally join the party with which they appear to have so much in common.
If things improve for the Coalition, then the Tories will want to push for their own majority, but if the situation remains challenging over the next five years, then the lifebelt of assuring continued government through coalition will prove a strong pull.
The other key message that Labour need to remember is that while battering the Liberal Democrats is great fun and like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment, we can only hope to win back government by taking seats from the Tories and that we will start the next campaign a few dozen seats further adrift, thanks to the gerrymandering boundary changes and the potential enforced changes through population movements. It is instructive that the national polls haven't yet shown any major shift in Tory vote - it bounces around the 39-42% level.