Tories fear 'betrayal' by Cameron over electoral reform

Senior Conservative MPs fear that David Cameron is diluting their party's opposition to electoral reform in an attempt to boost Nick Clegg's chances of winning a Yes vote in the referendum due in May.

They are worried that the Tories will run a "softly, softly" campaign against a switch to the alternative vote (AV) system, even though Mr Cameron promised his MPs that the party would fight hard to retain the present first-past-the-post system.

The Independent has learned that the Conservatives have so far earmarked only £250,000 for the No campaign – a small proportion of the £5m both sides in the referendum battle will be allowed to spend in the 10 weeks before the public vote. Baroness Warsi, the party's chairman, is expected to be challenged about its commitment to the No cause today when she addresses the weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs.

There are growing fears among Tory backbenchers that some Cameron allies would be privately relaxed about a Yes vote in the referendum, since it would give Mr Clegg a big prize and almost certainly ensure that the Coalition lasted until the next election in 2015. In contrast, a No vote could provoke demands from some Liberal Democrat activists for the party to pull out of the Coalition.

Tory traditionalists also fear a switch to AV would increase the chances of a permanent alliance between the two Coalition parties, as favoured by some Tory modernisers. Under this system, people mark the candidates in order of preference – the last-placed person drops out and second preferences are redistributed until one candidate secures more than 50 per cent of the votes.

Traditionalists believe the introduction of AV would lead to an informal anti-Labour pact, under which Mr Cameron encouraged Tory supporters to make the Liberal Democrats their second choice, with Mr Clegg urging his party's backers to put the Tories in second place.

Mr Cameron's critics are already alarmed by the Tories' decision to soft pedal in last month's by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth, where thousands of natural Conservatives backed the Liberal Democrats, ensuring they came second behind Labour and avoided a humiliating third place.

The critics are worried that, as The Independent revealed last week, some Tory Cabinet ministers advocate similar tactical voting at the next general election designed to save the seats of the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs. They say that would infuriate and demoralise Tory activists in those constituencies. Mark Pritchard, secretary of the 1922 Committee and MP for The Wrekin, said yesterday: "The Prime Minister has made explicit commitments on his role in the No to AV campaign, which I am sure he will honour. There is a need for greater clarity and encouragement on where and when finding for the campaign will be given by Conservative Campaign Headquarters. Some funds have been allocated but many colleagues increasingly feel these are insufficient."

Brian Binley, the committee's treasurer and a member of the Conservative Party's board, said that there was "real concern" among Tory MPs that the party might soft pedal in the referendum.

"There has been serious concern about the general unwillingness of the party to get behind the No to AV campaign. I am sure David Cameron is intent on keeping his word. I and other Conservative MPs who oppose AV would like to see a more robust attitude."

Fears of a permanent Liberal-Conservative alliance are contributing to a sullen mood among many Tory MPs. Their other complaints include allegations of bureaucracy and delays at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the new body which handles MPs' expenses. Mr Cameron has given IPSA until April to put its house in order.

Backbench Tories are also rebelling over the party's whipping operation, claiming they are ordered to remain at Westminster to ensure the Government wins big majorities in Commons Commons votes while their Liberal Democrat "partners" are allowed to return to their constituencies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...