Hammond Tells U.K. Tories to Stop ‘Navel-Gazing’ Over Coalitions

U.K. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned Tory lawmakers to stop “navel-gazing” about whether they could ratify any future coalition agreement or risk failing to win a parliamentary majority in the 2015 election.

The remarks are a rebuke to members of Parliament such as Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee that represents rank-and-file Tories in the House of Commons. Brady said in an interview with The Times newspaper published Sept. 27 that Prime Minister David Cameron “fully understands and accepts” the need for the party to have a say if there are talks with the Liberal Democrats on sharing power again if one party alone can’t form a government.

Following five days of negotiations in 2010, Cameron agreed on coalition terms with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in Britain’s first two-party government since World War II. While the Liberal Democrats held a special conference to secure the agreement of party members, Tory lawmakers were simply gathered into a room and told by Cameron that the deal had been done.

“I’ve no doubt that if there were any discussions like that, the party would want to have discussions internally,” Hammond said in an interview yesterday at the party’s annual conference in Manchester, northern England, when asked if there would be a vote of the whole party before any coalition terms are accepted. “Our focus is on winning the next election. We are not going to spend the next 18 months navel-gazing, talking about what to do if there is a hung Parliament. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Clegg’s Case

Some polls during the last month have put the Tories neck and neck with the opposition Labour Party, opening up the possibility of another coalition government in 2015. Clegg, who’s now deputy prime minister, attempted to make the case at his party conference two weeks ago for a permanent role for the Liberal Democrats in government, saying he’d spent his entire life watching Labour or the Tories “mess it up.”

In the interview, Hammond also ruled himself out as a possible successor to Cameron at the head of the party. Asked if wants to lead the Tories, he replied, “no.”

“The party works best as a team and different players in the team have different strengths that they can bring to bear,” Hammond said. “I know where my strengths are. I am very interested in my role in defense. I think that’s where my strengths are best deployed.”

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