Mark Pritchard MP warns "purple plotters" against a "Frankenstein" merger of the Conservatives and Lib Dems
You may have missed the big story in Christmas Eve's Independent but it was genuinely big and has been overlooked since: the Cabinet discussed how they might help the Liberal Democrat candidate win in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Publicly senior Tories are backing Kashif Ali. Privately they are backing the Lib Dem.
It's only the latest sign of a movement towards turning the coalition-of-temporary-convenience into an ongoing alliance. John Major and four Tory MPs (Nick Boles, Glyn Davies, Peter Lilley and Jacob Rees-Mogg) have already backed joint candidates. The Sunday Telegraph splashed last week with the news that a senior minister also backed the project.
In tomorrow's Mail on Sunday Mark Pritchard MP writes a strongly-worded article calling on the Tory leadership to level with Tory MPs and the grassroots party:
"If there are plans to try to agree a long-term political settlement between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats beyond 2015, then senior Ministers must show due respect to the parliamentary party and the Conservative Party at large and agree to an open discussion about the merits and demerits of any such pact."
He warns that there will be "fractures" if "the parliamentary and voluntary party discover that an electoral deal is being proposed behind their backs". The over-taxed British people, worried about the European courts over-ruling UK laws, will want "a distinct and self-confident Conservative Party" at the next election, Pritchard writes, not "a 2015 Frankenstein or political chimera".
There is a calculated slipperiness to the language being used by senior Tories, at present. David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Fallon have each carefully said that they "expect" Conservatives to fight as Conservatives at the next election. Mark Pritchard has seen through the formula and calls for clarity from the leadership:
"There should be an early and unequivocal statement from the highest level of the Party that no electoral pacts – assembly, regional or local – have been agreed or are being attempted. Further, that no coalition agreement has been agreed, or is being proposed, beyond the current Parliament. At the next General Election, the Conservative Party must fight to win – to win an outright majority and send the Liberal Democrats packing. It is the ‘temporary’ nature of the existing political settlement from which the Coalition draws its strength – not the prospect of its permanence."
[The Mail on Sunday has given ConHome advance sight of the article. Here's the link to the full piece.]