Conservative lawmakers have set out red lines to David Cameron that make it less likely he’ll be able to repeat his current coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, according to a person involved in the talks.
As well as a referendum on membership of the European Union, Tory members of Parliament are demanding a rejection of the “mansion tax” on the most expensive homes and a pledge to retain the Trident nuclear deterrent in any deal after the 2015 election. Both demands run counter to key Liberal Democrat policies.
Cameron didn’t consult his lawmakers after the last election in 2010 until he’d agreed on a framework for a coalition government with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. According to one engaged in the discussions, who asked not to be named because they are private, rank-and-file Tories have agreed that this was a mistake and are insisting they’re involved next time.
“Some of them don’t trust Cameron as their leader,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said in a telephone interview today. “They felt rightly or wrongly that the coalition deal was not as good as it could have been and perhaps more importantly they were not consulted --they were very upset by that.”
The Tory lawmakers have highlighted retention of the submarine-based Trident nuclear-weapons system as one of the policies on which they’re not prepared to budge as the Liberal Democrats prepare to publish a review of the deterrent, which may call for the program to be scaled back.
The Liberal Democrats have been examining alternatives to Trident in preparation for the 2015 election manifesto. The party may propose mothballing two of the four ships that carry the missiles, ending the U.K.’s ability to keep nuclear weapons at sea at all times, a person familiar with the policy said last week.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, who’s in charge of the Liberal Democrat review, said in an interview with The House magazine that it would show “we don’t have to be stuck in the same Cold War postures of the past forever.”
Alexander told the magazine, which is distributed to lawmakers, that it wasn’t a money-saving exercise. “It’s about what is the right thing to do in the medium term for this country,” he said. “Countries are looking at how do they reduce the level of risk in nuclear weapons around the world whilst maintaining the protection for their country.”
By giving Cameron a list of their demands, the Tory lawmakers are emphasizing their lack of confidence that Cameron can deliver a parliamentary majority in 2015 as he trails the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls. The coalition talks of 2010 lasted five days, with the Liberal Democrats talking to both the Conservatives and Labour.
Asked on May 22 if he would engage in pre-election talks with Labour leader Ed Miliband, Clegg said he would instead spell out his party’s own red lines for joining a future coalition with either main party.
He declined to give specifics, though he said a mansion tax was likely to be in the Liberal Democrats’ election manifesto.
“The process of coalition formation in 2010 was remarkably painless,” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University and author of “The General Election of 2010,” said in an interview. “Next time, it will be much harder. These Tory red lines appear to have been designed at least partly to stop a Liberal Democrat coalition happening again.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who ran the Tories’ 2010 election campaign and was one of the senior Conservatives who conducted negotiations with the Liberal Democrats, said today that now is not the time to highlight differences between the two parties.
“There are some who argue -- and I speak for the Conservatives in the coalition -- that we should now be setting out all the things that we want to do as a Conservative government and spell out all the things we can’t do because of the presence of the Liberal Democrats and the coalition, and there are some of my colleagues who think the time to do that has come now,” Osborne told journalists at a parliamentary lunch.
“I actually disagree. I think that of course there will be a moment where we will have to spell out what a Conservative government would achieve, but I’m not a chancellor, and I don’t want us to be a government, who talk about the things we can’t do.”