UK Politics

Tory MPs 'expect key role' in future coalition negotiations

David Cameron and Nick Clegg pass each other outside Downing Street Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Cameron and Nick Clegg formed Britain's first coalition since World War II, in 2010

Backbench Conservative MPs expect to be given a key role in any coalition talks involving their party after the next election, BBC Newsnight understands.

The 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers is in discussion with Downing Street over how the party's MPs should be consulted in any negotiations.

One idea is for the committee's chairman to be on the negotiating team.

The parliamentary party would then vote on any agreement that is reached with one or more parties.

There is a recognition at the top of the Conservative Party that it needs to bind its MPs to any future agenda for coalition government.

It was already expected that Tory MPs would this time be asked to vote on any agreement that is reached in a secret ballot.

But this proposal would see them far more intimately involved in shaping the actual content of the deal.

'Soreness'

Observers believe that the Conservative Party's failure to get the 2010 coalition agreement fully signed off by its backbenchers contributed to them voting down key Lib Dem demands such as Lords reform.

Many believe that in future all parties will have to sign off on a deal - as was the case with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 - if future coalitions are to function and maintain parliamentary discipline.

Conservative MPs eyeing opinion polls are increasingly resigned to the prospect that their party can only form a government in coalition with one or two other parties.

Image caption Mr Brady was elected as the new chairman of the 1922 committee in 2010

In contrast to the 2010 coalition negotiations, where the views of Tory MPs were only briefly canvassed, sources tell BBC Newsnight that this time around it is expected the Conservative 1922 committee - the body which represents Tory backbenchers - will be consulted throughout the striking of any future coalition deal.

Ideas now being discussed at the top of the Conservative Party include the possibility that Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West and the elected chair of the 1922 committee, could be part of the Tories' official negotiating team - or consulted frequently during the talks, giving advice on what would and would not be acceptable to the parliamentary party.

A senior Conservative backbench source said: "There is a lot of soreness about how the party was bounced last time around into accepting the last deal, and we shall not be bounced this time around.

"I suspect the coalition agreement has already been written by Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander in government; they are hardly strangers when they sit down for the second coalition negotiations. So to make sure it reflects what the party will wear, we expect Graham [Brady] either to be involved or to be in the room."

'Hands dipped in blood'

The matter was discussed last Wednesday at a meeting of the '22 executive.

Another source said they were wary of Mr Brady actually formally being in the room. They said: "The most important thing is that because they now know there is going to be a secret ballot of MPs on whatever coalition is agreed, the party leadership know they need to have made sure we in the wider party are happy with the content.

"By being party to the document as it is forged, we will make it more likely that Tory MPs back the eventual deal."

Some favour Mr Brady assuming a formal consultation role on a "semi-detached" basis but stopping short of joining the actual team, since they would prefer to guard their independence over the ensuing life of the coalition.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight for a film looking back at the formation of the coalition, and lessons for any future negotiations, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "If there were to be any form of coalition in the future I would have thought that the parliamentary party would now demand some sort of say in what the conditions were and whether in fact there would be a final agreement on it. That's probably in light of the experience of the last 5 years."

Former Lib Dem cabinet minister and negotiator of 2010's coalition Chris Huhne told the programme: "If you are going into a coalition, the first and crucial thing is that you have to say, it's all very well getting a group of people, who are the leadership of a party, into a room and they can agree, but are their troops in favour?"

He went on: "The first and foremost lesson, make sure everybody has their hands dipped in the blood on both sides of the coalition, or all three sides of the coalition, because you're going to need all of those votes and all of that discipline to get you through the period ahead."

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