Mrs Thatcher famously liked to use the phrase “there is no alternative” which she did so often it apparently became simply known as TINA (I’m not sure how much this is urban legend, but what the heck, it’s part of our political folk-lore now).
In the run-up to the current election David Cameron & Co have been operating on the TINA principle – if you are fed up with New Labour, and especially Gordon Brown, there is no alternative but us. It’s our turn to govern. His strategy seems to have been to simply detoxify the Tory brand and wait for Labour to fail. In this he was also emulating Mrs Thatcher’s pre-1979 strategy – just be there and keep as quiet as possible about what you’ll actually do in government.
The more Mr Cameron talks about ‘The Big Society’, for example, the less we know what it really means and what an incoming Tory government would really do. He has claimed they will be the “first post-bureaucratic government” in history, but even those of us who have some idea what ‘post-bureacracy’ might be have no idea what a “post-bureaucratic government” would look like.
This strategy was working OK-ish – the Tories were consistently between 6-10% ahead in the polls. Not enough to be certain, but close enough to getting an overall majority for them to convince themselves this was all fine. Just keep banging the “its time for a change” drum and it’ll all come right.
But suddenly that strategy has disintegrated as the public has decided there is indeed an alternative – and its not the Tories (or at least not only the Tories). The sudden – and now clearly sustained – rise of Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems has blown the TINA strategy to pieces. There are TWO alternatives – TATA. And it could well be Tata to the Conservatives chances of ever forming a single party government and hello to coalition government.
The polls are still fluctuating, but they do seem to be settling on a three-way split. That would open up three possibilities: a minority Labour, or more likely Tory, government; a two-party coalition government; or even a Grand Coalition of all three main parties (along German lines). Whichever of these happens it seems likely the era of powerful, single party, executive rule in Westminster is rapidly heading for the dustbin of history. So David Cameron & Co can indeed say Tata to their dreams of (almost) absolute power – we may at last be seeing the back of what was once called the “elective dictatorship” in British government.