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8 May 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:21am

The Tory civil war begins

Party’s right calls for ballot of members before any deal.

By James Macintyre

It appears my prediction that the Tory party will seek to limit David Cameron’s offer to the Liberal Democrats, possibly disallowing him from putting an electoral reform referendum on the table, is being proved partly right today.

From the Press Association:

David Cameron should ballot the Conservative membership before entering into any deal with the Liberal Democrats, the website of former party chairman Lord Tebbit said today.

An unsigned article published on the Critical Reaction blog accused the Tory leader of trying to freeze out the membership at a time when Liberal Democrat rules require a formal endorsement mechanism to be activated before any deal is agreed.

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And it claimed that Mr Cameron’s “utterly flawed” strategy had landed the Conservatives in a “disastrous” position, and a deal with the Lib Dems would have the sole purpose of “saving his skin as party leader”.

Mr Cameron is due to meet Conservative MPs on Monday evening, but it remains unclear whether he will give them a formal say on any deal reached by his negotiating team of shadow chancellor George Osborne, shadow foreign secretary William Hague, policy supremo Oliver Letwin and chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.

The article published by Lord Tebbit’s website called on Mr Cameron to “show that he can think on his feet and tough-mindedly act — call a ballot of the party membership on any deal cooked up with Clegg”.

The article accused Mr Cameron of “ignoring, slandering and taking advantage” of grass-roots Tories in his efforts to modernise the party.

And it described as “sheer effrontery” Mr Cameron’s praise yesterday for members’ efforts in the election campaign.

“Cutting a deal with Clegg is about one thing and one thing only for Cameron — doing whatever it takes to save his skin as party leader,” said the article.

“If all of a sudden activists are fit to be applauded, they’re plainly still nowhere near enough the salt to be allowed to endorse whatever deal Dave cuts with Nick.

“And we know this because of course even MPs aren’t up to that. Compare Clegg’s approach with ours: the Lib Dems have assembled their MPs this weekend, ours aren’t due back until Tuesday, and no process of formal consultation is planned even then. Why not?

“Lib Dem party structures formally provide for an endorsement mechanism after due process; we aren’t even contemplating putting it to a vote of our members, no matter what honeyed words a desperate Cameron mutters their way right now.”

Challenging Mr Cameron to call a ballot, the article asked: “What has the salesman of the century got to fear? Didn’t he believe all that direct democracy rhetoric? Isn’t this the post-bureaucratic age?

“Aren’t Tory activists more than just rhetorical ciphers, being possibly, just possibly, members of a society bigger than that comprising by Dave, Oliver and Ed Llewellyn? Shouldn’t they, in all humility, be asked their opinion too?

“We’ve had five years of Dave’s way and no other way, and it’s got us where we are.”

As I said yesterday, the two ambitious young leaders, Cameron and Clegg, may possibly be keen to secure a deal. What remains very unclear is whether their parties will let them do so.


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