Tory backbenchers warn against long-term coalition

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Disquiet on the Conservative backbenches about the prospect of prolonged coalition with Liberal Democrats surfaced today, with one MP warning David Cameron he could not take "mainstream" Tories for granted for much longer.

Backbenchers voiced unhappiness at indications that some in the party want to see the Tories enter a non-aggression pact with Lib Dems in the next general election, or even fight the campaign as a coalition.

One MP - Wellingborough's Peter Bone - even suggested the coalition should be ended as soon as the immediate economic crisis is over, and an election called as early as 2012 to give voters a chance to elect a full-blooded Conservative government.

And there were rumbles of discontent that coalition government has meant giving up too much ground to Lib Dems on totemic issues such as Europe, law and order and immigration.

Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries cited a book by Cameron ally Nick Boles arguing for an electoral pact with the Lib Dems, as well as a speech by former prime minister Sir John Major calling for the coalition to continue beyond the election, as signs of a concerted effort to continue to extend the life-span of what many Tories believe should be a strictly temporary cohabitation.

Ms Dorries told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Some of us feel very much as though too much has been given away to a few people to achieve too little.

"There is an emerging trend in the party where people appear to have been strategically placed to talk about the idea of going forward into the next election as a coalition. You see that happening from some of the 2010 intake - Nick Boles writing his book - and from John Major.

"That's almost strategic - someone new, someone old - and some of us are unhappy about this. We are not idiots, we know what's happening and we don't want that because there are Conservative issues that we see being subsumed by the coalition."

Mr Bone told Today: "I accept we need a coalition Government until the economic crisis is over and we have dealt with it, but that might be done within the next two years. Then I see no point in the coalition Government at all."

Asked if he would like to see a general election after two years if the economic situation has stabilised by then, he replied: "Yes, I would prefer people to have the opportunity to say 'Do you want a Conservative government, a Labour government or a Liberal government?' I don't think anyone voted for a coalition."

Ms Dorries warned the Tory leadership not to take their backbenches for granted and assume that their current restraint from speaking out on "core" Conservative issues will go on forever.

"It wouldn't be wise for anyone to take Conservative backbenchers for granted in the way that they have been," she said. "We have mainstream core Conservative principles that for the good of the coalition and the country we are suppressing, but it wouldn't be wise to think that that's a position that we want to continue with in the long term."

Other backbenchers told Today they were worried that too much ground was being given on issues like Europe, with North-West Leicestershire's Andrew Bridgen saying he "would have liked to see a stronger referendum lock", and spending cuts, with City of London MP Mark Field pointing out that Tories were having to sacrifice cherished constituency projects.

The Today programme said Mr Cameron could expect to hear some of these complaints aired when he addresses Tory MPs in the House of Commons today.

Tory sources said Mr Cameron will address the backbench 1922 Committee this evening.

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