Conservative Diary

Hung parliament

11 May 2010 12:16:57

Conservative Way Forward calls on Cameron to form a minority government without the Liberal Democrats

On Sunday ConHome published a statement of support for a LibCon coalition from the Tory Reform Group.

Cwf_logo Another important pressure group within the party, Conservative Way Forward, has called for the Tories to go-it-alone in minority government. The CWF statement signed by its Chairman Don Porter - who, until recently, led the party's voluntary wing - and its Senior Executive Mark Allatt, also says that there is no doorstep demand for electoral reform.

The Thatcherite CWF's full statement is pasted below:

"We have observed the recent negotiations with considerable concern. The executives of CWF would like to convey the following key points on the way forward.

  • The time for negotiations has come to an end.
  • The time is right for clear leadership.
  • David Cameron should become Prime Minister of a minority Conservative Government. The electorate gave the Conservative Party by far the largest number of seats and share of the poll. This is essential in order to stabilise the current very delicate economic situation.
  • We do not believe a formal coalition with the Lib Dems is an appropriate way forward that would produce the necessary stability our country needs.
  • Members of CWF campaigned in the election in a range of seats throughout the country. There was no burning desire expressed by the electorate for a PR system of the election.
  • The last few days have demonstrated the chaos that would ensue after each General Election if we adopted a PR system. This is not about the electorate having a say. It is more about a small number of politicians "stitching up" the outcome.
  • A minority Conservative Government should immediately set about tackling the serious issues facing our country and then at an appropriate stage invite the electorate to provide our party with a full working majority.

It is high time that the voice of the volunteers within the party is heard and listened to. We are not prepared to sit and observe while the daily dramas unfold."

Tim Montgomerie

11 May 2010 09:00:29

Osborne insists that a LibLab pact would not be stable or legitimate

I've listened to a fascinating twenty minutes on the Today programme after 8.10am.

Although I think some sort of LibCon arrangement is still most likely, a LibLab pact is now a very serious possibility. Paddy Ashdown insisted that a minority LibLab government could provide stability. He said that the pact would not need an absolute majority, only the ability to outnumber the Tories. The total number of Tory MPs is 306 but the total number of Labour and LibDem MPs is 315 (258 + 57). The former Liberal Democrat leader thought it very unlikely that the minority nationalist parties - largely of the left - would vote a LibLab government out of office. These minority parties would, in these circumstances, be bought off with pork-barreled politics of the worst kind. It's also true that a LibLab pact would be very vulnerable to being held to ransom by malcontents within either the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties.

It was clear that Lord Ashdown's heart is in a LibLab deal. We may yet have to stomach a LibCon pact, he said, but described the Tories as "rabidly anti-European".

OSBORNE LOOKING UP Interviewed just before Lord Ashdown, George Osborne said that voters "should not see things as a straight choice between two strong and stable governments." A Liberal-Conservative arrangement, he said, would have a solid majority and a Prime Minister who'd been through the TV debates. A Liberal-Labour arrangement would be inherently unstable because it would rely on nationalist votes and it would lack legitimacy because it would be led by another unelected Labour leader.

Mr Osborne said that the Tory-Liberal talks had gone well. He said the Tories were already signed up to two of Nick Clegg's key demands before negotiations even began; a premium for poorer pupils and a greening of the economy. He said that the Tories had moved towards the Liberal Democrat policy of taking the poor out of income tax and, on the Liberal Democrats' fourth goal of political reform, had offered a referendum on AV. This, he continued, was in addition to other political reforms including the power for voters to recall dishonourable MPs. Mr Osborne claimed he had the support of Tory MPs for the AV referendum. Not so fast, George. One frontbencher texted me last night to say that "a substantial body of MPs do not support the AV offer". The Tory leadership could probably force the parliamentary party to vote for it but only by creating enormous ill-will. On CentreRight, 'The Lurcher' questions the need for Cameron to have conceded AV.

David Blunkett, former Labour Home Secretary, warned his party of the consequences of a LibLab pact: "A massive defeat for Labour at the hands of an electorate who would blame us for flouting the will of the substantial minority."

Tim Montgomerie

10 May 2010 20:01:25

Tory MPs give Cameron AV plan a muted reception - but there's no revolt

Accounts of the reaction of this evening's Parliamentary Party meeting reaction to one of the most sensational about-turns in the Party's history are starting to trickle out.

One might have expected the newly-elected Conservative MPs to rise up in revolt against Team Cameron's astounding about-turn on the alternative vote.

After all, it's been executed in a last-ditch bid to keep Clegg on board for a deal. And its cost at the polls could be many Tory MPs who come in with less than half the total vote.

However, it appears that those present didn't want to do anything that would make it more difficult for David Cameron to cross the threshold of Number 10 - a possibility that seemed tantalisingly close earlier today.

I understand that, as anticipated here, "big beasts" were called earlier to back the leadership's position, including ex-Cabinet Minister Stephen Dorrell and former Shadow Cabinet Minister Oliver Heald.

John Whittingdale, a key player on the right of the Party, was also broadly supportive.  John Hayes agreed with Stephen Dorrell.  A Times story earlier today referred to Cornerstone backing for the leadership.

It may be significant that Edward Leigh, a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and important figure on the right of the Party, didn't oppose the move.

He seems to have emphasised that it would be important for Conservative MPs to be able to campaign against AV both in Parliament and during any referendum.

David Cameron apparently made it clear that in his view any AV system would apply to a smaller number of seats.  Both the Conservatives and the Liberals are committed to cutting the size of the Commons.

Such a reduction would in itself boost the Party's chances of winning an election, given that under the present system we have to be roughly 10 per cent ahead to gain a Commons majority.

It shouldn't be presumed that Team Cameron can carry their plan on the basis of this evening's meeting. Commons discontent tends to gather force behind the scenes, rather than come out in the open.

Paul Goodman

10 May 2010 14:15:17

Team Cameron wanted a coalition but a minority government remains most likely

There is a lot of speculation in the media at present. Earlier today, for example, The Telegraph reported that Mr Cameron was ready "to trade reform of the voting system for a two-year deal with Nick Clegg that would deliver economic and social change". A very senior member of Team Cameron told me that that was "without foundation".

Having worked the phones today my inclination is the same as last Friday. David Cameron will be Prime Minister of a minority government but with the Liberal Democrats agreeing a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement that will ensure the Conservatives will get core business passed. This was the wish of the vast majority of Tory members.

Some members of Team Cameron wanted a formal coalition - 'the change coalition' as it has been described by Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale. That is unlikely.  Too many Liberal Democrats regard a formal coalition as electoral suicide. It would see them lose all prospect of victory in Lib/Lab marginal seats.  The only way they could be persuaded into a coalition was a very strong commitment on proportional representation. Team Cameron has toyed with the idea of offering a PR referendum for the Commons and PR for the Lords but they are aware that the party in the Commons, Lords and in the country would be very unhappy with any such concessions.

Aides to David Cameron are nonetheless pleased with the negotiations. The conversations between Cameron and Clegg have been "warm". Britain is likely to have a second election within a year but the good personal relations between senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and a range of concessions (including some cross-party working groups) should be enough to give Britain a stable government in the forthcoming months.

Tim Montgomerie

10 May 2010 09:00:38

We are currently witnessing the best advert against changing the electoral system

More than 80 hours after the polls closed last Thursday night and we still don't have a new government. And there was me thinking that saving General Election Night would mean we get a new Prime Minister by dawn on the Friday morning...

Seriously though, the situation in which we find ourselves is of course unprecedented and unnerving as we are used to the current electoral system delivering a clear election result, with a majority government.

As Allister Heath describes in today's City AM:

"If that’s the new politics, I already miss the old kind, warts and all. What we witnessed yesterday was embarrassing: groups of exhausted men meeting in secret locations in Whitehall; behind-the-scenes discussions about the future of the country, with everybody tearing up their manifesto promises; and all the while Gordon Brown, who has been humiliatingly rejected by the electorate, remaining defiantly in power, clinging on as long as possible, his lame duck Chancellor somehow supposed to represent us at crucial EU bailout talks. Nobody is happy: not the Lib Dem voters who backed Nick Clegg’s party because they don’t like the Tories; not the Tories who backed David Cameron’s party because they loathe the Lib Dems."

But what we must not forget is that this situation is very much the exception to the rule. First Past The Post has in the main always delivered a decisive result, with a Prime Minister re-appointed or turfed out within hours of the votes being counted.

And we must not allow those who want to change the electoral system to claim that the result of last Thursday's election proves the need to introduce PR for Westminster elections.

If anything, it is a demonstration of exactly why we should not change the electoral system.

For it must be remembered that proponents of proportional representation actually want to institutionalise the very confusion and chaos which we are currently witnessing.

  • They want to ensure that no party ever wins a Commons majority again;
  • They want to make the behind-closed-doors horse-trading a fixture in the days after every future general election;
  • They want to create a system whereby no party can ever seek to implement its programme as manifestos would merely becomes a list of aspirations ready to be sacrificed in an inevitable post-election negotiation.

No electoral system is perfect, but, as Labour MP Tom Harris blogged at the weekend, "first-past-the-post is a bit less rubbish then the rest".

There are of course those who bleat that the current system is unfair to a party which gains a smaller proportion of seats as compared to the votes it gained.

But what would be equally, if not more, unfair would be for that small party to hold disproportionate sway - permanently, after every general election - as to which is the majority partner in the coalition government (also giving almost perpetual power to that smaller party, as has been the case for the German FDP over the decades).

Jonathan Isaby

9 May 2010 17:51:56

William Hague says that the talks with the Lib Dems will reconvene in the next 24 hours as David Cameron makes himself available to Tory MPs this evening

Picture 21
William Hague and the Conservative negotiating team have just emerged from the Cabinet Office after talks with their Lib Dem counterparts which began at 11am today.

Mr Hague said that there had been "positive and productive discussions" on a whole range of issues, including political reform, the economy, reduction of the deficit, banking reform, civil liberties and the environment.

He said that the teams would be meeting again in the next 24 hours, but that they had already agreed that economic stability and reduction of the deficit would be central to any agreement that might be made (Danny Alexander on behalf of the Lib Dems echoed this statement virtually word for word ten minutes later on leaving the building with his colleagues).

Mr Hague, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin and Ed Llewellyn then headed to the Commons to report back to David Cameron who is in his office there, where he has separately made himself available to Conservative MPs wanting to discuss the matters in hand. It seems that any Tory MP is welcome to attend.

It isn't clear whether there'll be a series of small meetings, or a single larger one.  It may be that Team Cameron is assuming that not many of the newly-elected MPs will yet be in London.

This arrangement is very much ad hoc.  The Whips have certainly been ringing round MPs today asking them for their views on the Conservative-Liberal talks. We gather that reports that the Whips are canvassing a free Commons vote on proportional representation are a bit wide of the mark. This has certainly been raised as an option by both Whips and other MPs variously, but there's been no concerted attempt by the Party leadership to push it.

The nature of both this evening's invitations and the Whips' ring-round suggests that Team Cameron is in listening mode, at least for the moment.

It is unclear when precisely the talks teams will reconvene, but the next fixed date in the diary is 6pm tomorrow night for that meeting of the full Conservative Parliamentary Party.

> WATCH: William Hague's full statement at the end of today's negotiations

6pm update:

It has just emerged that Nick Clegg met Gordon Brown at the Foreign Office this afternoon. According to the BBC's Nick Robinson, this was done with David Cameron's knowledge, and enabled Clegg to update Brown on progress with the Tory/Lib Dem talks. Clegg and Cameron spoke on the phone earlier this afternoon.

8.45pm update:

The BBC is reporting that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have had a face to face meeting in Parliament this evening which lasted 45 minutes, further to their phone conversation at 2.30pm this afternoon..

Jonathan Isaby and Paul Goodman

9 May 2010 13:57:56

Tory Reform Group backs a formal Lib-Con coalition as being "in the national interest"

Picture 17 The Tory Reform Group, representing the centre-left of the Conservative Party, has given its backing to the prospect of a fully-fledged coalition between the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Its chairman, Tim Crockford has just released the following statement:

"The Tory Reform Group congratulates all Conservatives on the election results last Thursday. The Party fought its best campaign in a decade and achieved its best result since 1992. There can be no doubt that the country has rejected Gordon Brown and the Labour Party.

"It is essential that a stable Government is formed at the earliest possible opportunity. The TRG supports David Cameron’s attempts to form a Government inclusive of Liberal Democrats. David Cameron achieved a swing towards the Conservatives comparable with that of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and gained more seats than at any General Election for eighty years.  All Conservatives should recognise the success that his modernisation of the Party has brought and should support him in creating the stable administration this country so desperately needs.

"The TRG believes that the country needs a strong Government which can be confident of introducing urgent measures to tackle the enormous deficit which is the legacy of New Labour as well as restoring civil liberties, addressing the challenge of climate change and ensuring a progressive One Nation Government. The next Government must be able to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons and command a Parliamentary majority. The TRG therefore believes that a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats is in the national interest."

Jonathan Isaby

9 May 2010 11:53:33

What David Cameron will tell the Parliamentary Party tomorrow

As I tweeted yesterday, David Cameron has called a Parliamentary Party meeting tomorrow at 18.00 - probably in the Commons, but the venue's to be confirmed.

During the last Parliament, such gatherings, chaired by the Chief Whip, replaced the weekly 1922 Committee meetings of all Conservative MPs, chaired by the '22 Committee Chairman, as the main vehicle for leadership announcements.

The decision to drop the Lisbon referendum, for example, was broken to the Parliamentary Party at a special meeting.  Michael Howard, and other very senior loyalists with a right-of-Party-centre reputation, spoke in support - and were called to contribute early, in a manoeuvre that was clearly pre-arranged.

I suspect that tomorrow's event will have a similar flavour.  Cameron's most unlikely to breeze into the room and announce: "I say, chaps: I've been thinking of offering that Norman Baker a Cabinet seat - what do you all think, eh?"

This isn't to say that he won't ask for questions.  He will.  But the pattern of the meeting's more likely to be as follows.

Cameron will sweep in.  If the venue's Committee Room 14, or another room in the Palace of Westminster, the yet-to-be-sworn-in MPs will bang the desks.  If they're Whips, Shadow Ministers, or new boys who want to be either, they'll bang the desks especially loudly.

Cameron will then thank them for coming - and all for their hard work before and during the campaign.  He'll then say that it's a pity that the Conservatives are just short of a majority, but that the result was an amazing achievement - biggest swing outside Alton Towers, more seats than a furniture factory, and so on (Much banging of desks.)

He'll stress that his offer to Clegg has safeguarded Tory positions on key issues - defence, immigration, the EU.  And on cutting the deficit.  He'll rule out supporting PR - though whether he'll also rule out a referendum on it is a compelling question.

He'll go on to say that he knows everything hasn't been perfect.  But that colleagues have run a great race, and the winning post is in sight.  And that he wants his colleagues to have the great privilege of serving the British people as Ministers.  (Some desk-tapping and "hear hear"-ing, as each present ponders his chances.)

He'll finish by saying that the eyes of the nation are on them.  Sliding pound, market turmoil, chaos in Greece, volcanic ash, and so on.  Time for discipline. Time for unity.  Time to get Brown to send for the removal van. (Loud cheers and noisy desk-thumping.)

The Chief Whip will then ask for questions, requesting that they be kept brief.  "Big Beasts" will pile in, proclaiming that David will be remembered as the Party's greatest leader since Edward IIII, that he deserves support, and that it's time for discipline and unity.

Those unhappy will then get the chance to have their say.  Don't be surprised if they're in a minority. Whether this is so or not, the key point is this: Cameron's prime purpose won't be to seek the views of others, but to tell them his own.

Does this mean that he'll have a deal with the Liberal Democrats to announce? Not necessarily.  So why's he calling the meeting in the first place?  Because he knows that regardless of whether a deal's in place, or is hanging in the balance, or has fallen through, it's important to keep the initiative.  After all, it's better to call for such a meeting than to have others call for it - probably off the record but possibly, and far worse, on it.

Paul Goodman

9 May 2010 09:59:33

Michael Gove says he would give up his Cabinet seat to a Lib Dem to make a deal happen

Michael Gove pensive 2010 That was indeed what Michael Gove said at the end of his interview with Andrew Marr this morning.

The shadow schools secretary repeatedly refused to prejudice the negotiations with the Lib Dems by prescribing what Tory red lines would be on issues, not least the voting system - although he reiterated the party's call for equal-sized constituencies and for the introduction of recall ballots.

But he did say that the national interest must come first right now and that he wanted the Conservatives to form "as strong a relationship as possible" with the Lib Dems. He said that he was respectful of what the Lib Dems wanted to do, would listen to their priorities and that they should be given a fair opportunity to shape the agenda.

He praised his Lib Dem counterpart, David Laws, for being as "thoughtful", "flexible" and "motivated by idealism", before suggesting that there may be options in between fully fledged coalition with the Lib Dems and a minority Conservative government.

Watch this space...

> PoliticsHome has more extensive quotes from Mr Gove's interview

Jonathan Isaby

9 May 2010 08:32:48

More coalition talks planned for today after Cameron and Clegg's first face-to-face meeting

TV Debate Clegg and Cameron More than 48 hours after the electorate gave Gordon Brown his marching orders and he remains in Downing Street as talks between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continue.

Yesterday evening David Cameron and Nick Clegg met alone at Admiralty House for 70 minutes, for what a Tory source described as a "constructive and amicable" meeting.

At 11am this morning the teams of negotiators from the two parties will meet again, with it now confirmed that the first meeting of the new  Conservative parliamentary party will take place tomorrow evening at 6pm. It is, however,   too early to say whether there will be a deal on the table by then.

In his email to Tory members yesterday, David Cameron appeared to suggest that Conservative policy on Europe, immigration and defence is non-negotiable, while hinting that he was willing to work on implementing Lib Dem policy of taking the lowest paid out of the tax system.

The Sunday Telegraph reports a source close to the Tory leader as saying that there was also "leeway" on "schools and green issues as well as reforming Britain's political system".

But the biggest sticking point on both sides will most likely be the opposing positions on the voting system for the House of Commons.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox - outside the negotiating team, but the most senior Tory to have hit the airwaves yesterday - has said that the government of Britain should not be "held to ransom" by the Lib Dems and their demands for proportional representation.

I suspect that the differences between the parties on this issue are irreconcilable as far as the party memberships are concerned.

My instinct remains that the most likely outcome of these talks is that David Cameron will take his place as Prime Minister, presiding over a minority Conservative administration (without Liberal Democrats in government), but with Lib Dem agreement not to vote down a Conservative Queen's Speech.

After all, the Lib Dems are not in strong position, having lost seats at the election and aware that they could be squeezed into oblivion in the event of a second general election coming sooner rather than later. They also realise on the issue of PR, that the number of Labour MPs backing the existing electoral system means that there is in fact a Commons majority in favour of First Past The Post.

Jonathan Isaby