It reminded me of the cinema advertisements at the time The Sting was first released as a movie. The film marked the reunion of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in their first collaboration since the hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That first movie concluded with the two stars’ demise and the trailer for the Sting ended with the words: “Maybe this time they’ll get away with it.”
For a Con-Lib alliance would, to all extent and purposes, be a re-run of the doomed 1992-97 Major government. As is often noted all political parties are coalitions anyway. John Major’s turned out to be the loosest kind.
The majority would be bit healthier – Sir John was returned with a cushion of just 21 seats – but the dynamic would be the same. On the one side would be a collection of 50-odd (as opposed to 50 odd) pro-European Liberals comfortable with the notion of higher taxes and well funded public services. Meanwhile over in the blue corner, up to 100 hardline right-wingers already utterly distrustful of their leader and determined to repel any effort to diminish their conservative agenda.
And there in the middle would be Mr Cameron and some of his closest colleagues trying to hold the line, attempting to broker deals and stave off revolts.
The Tory right is, incidentally, entirely correct in not trusting Mr Cameron. He patently thinks many of them are political neanderthals who prefer the purity of opposition to the compromises of power. He would, like Sir John before him, surrender many of their totemic policies in the interests of stable government. Indeed he may even be glad of the excuse to do so.
As the inheritance tax pledge, and maybe the married couple’s allowance, go out of the window Mr Cameron will be constantly battling to reassure his backbenchers that this deal is worth the candle. He will be helped by the presence of some trusted right-wingers – most notably William Hague – but the backbenchers will be hard to appease and each effort to shore them up risks alienating the Lib Dems. Many Conservatives would much prefer a minimal alliance with a second election within 12 months.
The right will therefore seek to tie his hands (anyone remember Sir John’s 1997 election plea over Europe “Like me or loathe me; don’t bind my hands”); it will demand more places and more influence for those it trusts. The more Martian they seem; the more repellent they are to ordinary voters – the more reassured the right will be by their inclusion in any cabinet.
Of course , whereas in 1992 we had one party which didn’t trust its leader this time we may have two. It is the fate of most leaders to come to despise their followers. Messrs Cameron and Clegg have now been in their jobs long enough to have got some way down that road already. Both will find themselves under constant suspicion. Both will have to convince each other that they are enjoying romantic candelit dinners while reassuring their parties that they are engaged in nothing more than working lunches.
Should he go in with the Tories, Mr Clegg will face constant recriminations from those in his party who hate Conservatives and dreamed of the realignment of the left. The liberal press will screech at him every bit as shrilly as the right-wing media will bay at Mr Cameron. Each piece of right wing legislation will be served up to him (imagine the concerns over Swedish-style “free schools”) as vindication by those pundits who warned he was doing a pact with the devil.
And this while the Labour party chooses a new leader and possibly regenerates itself against a government taking increasingly unpopular decisions.
Superficially there is much to recommend in the Con-Lib deal. Two clean-shaven likeable heroes with charming manners and winning smiles go up against insuperable odds. We will cheer them all the way to the final reel. Who knows, maybe this time they’ll get away with it.