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Entrepreneurs Panel

Jennie Johnson
Tony Caldeira
Julie Meyer
David Pollock
Brian Hay
Charlie Mullins
Laura Tenison
Debbie Pierce
Michael Oliver
Richard O'Sullivan
Jeremy Roberts
Steve Purdham

Tories buoyed

The Conservatives could win the next election and rule until 2025.

That has to be a possibility after the tartan triumph in Scotland, the Lib Dems’ collapse in England and Labour’s underperformance.

Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish Nationalists, is using the same tactics as Highland tribes of yore. He darts out of the mist to harry the English politicians, and then disappears into the hills.

He is playing the independence issue very carefully. Gone are the blood curdling calls for full untrammelled independence with images of separate armies and passports at Gretna Green.

He’d settle for independence lite. Separate government but with close fi nancial ties. Salmond is already contemplating two questions on the ballot paper giving voters the chance to vote for full freedom or something less.

Salmond has developed good links with Scottish business. His campaign was well fi nanced. Firms north of the border are nervous of Scotland going it alone, but can see advantages in more control over the country’s assets like North Sea oil.

Although David Cameron says he will fight with every fibre in his body to maintain the Union, one has to ask why.

Scotland remains an almost Tory-free zone. Five Tory leaders have failed to repair the party’s image since the Thatcher years.

When Scottish voters want a change from Labour, it is now to the Scot Nats that they turn. A nuanced form of Scottish independence with Labour unable to send MPs to London would ensure Tory pre-eminence for a long time.

Even if Scotland stays within the Union, things are still looking good for the Conservatives across the country as a whole.

Looking narrowly at the picture in my North West patch this may seem a strange observation.

In this region Labour did well. They gained nine councils, with the Conservatives often picking the short straw (quite literally in Bury where council control rested on a tied ward).

The Lib Dems lost Burnley and Stockport but their most dramatic setbacks were in Manchester and Liverpool where virtually all of their defending councillors lost their seats.

Although Labour did well in the North West, they needed better performances in the Midlands and South to give an indication that they are serious contenders for power at the next General Election.

As the results came in Labour leader Ed Miliband kept mentioning somewhere called Gravesham as he desperately sought good news from the South. He remains an unconvincing leader of a party that is still struggling both with its economic legacy and vision for the future.

Liberal Democrat friends of mine still get angry when I suggest fully signing up to the coalition was a bad mistake.

There would have been risks in offering the Tories conditional support without taking ministerial places. They would have attracted the charge of being fence sitters.

There would even have been the possibility of a snap autumn election which the Tories might have won.

But neither of those eventualities would have been worse than the position they now find themselves in. They would have avoided the extraordinarily toxic issue of tuition fees, association with drastic budget cuts, and the end of discussion on voting reform following the loss of the AV referendum.

There is a real prospect that we will return much more to two party politics. In tough economic
times people are choosing between the Conservatives’ defi cit reduction policies and Labour’s defence of public services. In this situation the question is begged, what are the Lib Dems for?

Plans for Nick Clegg to get all “muscular” round the Cabinet table are likely to antagonise the Tory right who are already suspicious of Cameron’s concessions to their junior partners.

The Conservatives actually made council gains in the South and Midlands. That was an extraordinary performance for a party in government. It meant that since their meltdown in 1995, the Tories have improved every time this big cycle of elections has
come round.

Labour’s only hope is that economic gain does not emerge from the current pain. Even then, with changes in the parliamentary boundaries and an unconvincing leader, victory is uncertain. One year into the coalition the most likely prospect must be an unqualifi ed Tory victory in 2015.

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