David Cameron last night moved to soothe a festering row with Conservative MPs who have accused him of trying to stifle dissent on his backbenches. He backed off from moves to allow ministers to vote in elections to the party's 1922 Committee, whose membership has traditionally been limited to backbenchers when Tories are in office.
A contentious rule change to open the committee to ministers was last week forced through by 168 to 118 votes. The vote provoked fury among Tory MPs – already dismayed that cherished policy commitments were ditched in talks with the Liberal Democrats – who threatened legal action to reverse it.
Last night, Mr Cameron proposed a compromise designed to take the heat out of the row as he instructed ministers not to take part in tomorrow's elections for the committee's chairmanship.
The move will be seen as a boost to the chances of Graham Brady, the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, who is gaining a reputation as a leadership critic. He is standing against Richard Ottaway, the MP for Croydon South, regarded as more of a loyalist.
However, under the compromise, ministers will be allowed to take part in other committee votes.
The Tory leadership last week defended the move, arguing that the committee's rules had been changed in the same way when Winston Churchill led a coalition government during the Second World War.
Mr Cameron denied he was "picking a fight" with his backbenchers, but insisted it was better for the party to pull together – particularly as the coalition government faced daunting challenges. He said: "I think it is much better to have one organisation in the party which has one mind and – to coin a phrase – we are all in it together".
But the party leadership has been taken aback by the ferocity of some MPs' reaction to the move. Mr Cameron was said last night to accept it would be "illogical" for ministers to vote in elections for the post regarded as the Tory backbench "shop steward" and to regard his proposed compromise as fair.
The Government will today set out plans for its legislative programme over the next 18 months. Priority will be given to the Great Repeal Bill, which includes plans to scrap the universal DNA database and limit the use of CCTV cameras. A separate Bill will abolish ID cards.
An early Commons rebellion could come over the Parliamentary Reform Bill. Alongside moves to hold a referendum on changing the voting system and introducing five-year fixed parliaments is a move to raise the threshold for a Commons vote to dissolve Parliament from a simple majority to 55 per cent.
An Academies Bill will allow more schools to become academies and an independent body to make economic forecasts as a priority.
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