Tory whips accused of threatening rebels with loss of local funding

Government whips have been accused of threatening to withhold funding from Conservative MPs’ constituencies in a bid to clamp down on rebellions in key votes.

Aubrey Allegretti 

Some of Boris Johnson’s backbenchers also claimed that would-be rebels who risk losing their seat in an upcoming parliamentary boundary review were warned they might not automatically be selected elsewhere. In addition, whips were accused of telling some in Tory-held marginals that they could lose “critical defence” funding from party headquarters worth up to £10,000.

The moves were said to have been employed to impose discipline and head off embarrassing Commons defeats before a difficult winter for the government.

While party whips have long been known for employing pressure tactics, the allegation by some Tories that there were threats to withhold town deal funding will raise questions over the fairness of its allocation.

The towns fund, designed to boost struggling areas, was announced in 2019 and 101 town deal offers have been made by the government.

In March the Guardian revealed that of the first £1bn released under the scheme, 39 of the 45 places it went to were represented by Tory MPs. At the time, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, rejected accusations of “pork barrel politics”, saying the formula was “based on an index of economic need” published by Whitehall and “based on a bunch of objective measures”.

More recently, the chief whip, Mark Spencer, is said to have told some potential rebels in marginals that party funding to retain their seat at the next election could depend on their loyalty to the government. “My pen hovered over your name,” he is alleged to have said.

Nevertheless, the pressure put on MPs appears to have worked: some would-be rebels said in private that the techniques had stopped them voting against the government when they had planned to.

Caroline Slocock, director of the Civil Exchange thinktank, said: “Every government uses tough tactics to curtail rebellions from its own side on key votes. But it is shocking if government whips are promising to hand out public money (or deny it) to their MPs to buy votes.

“Public funds should be allocated following clear criteria based on need, with due process. If these allegations are true, the government risks undermining confidence in government – something more important than winning one vote.”

There have also been more positive attempts to engage with restless backbenchers. Before the summer, some were invited to meetings with No 10 policy chiefs and asked to bring solutions for issues the government should be tackling.

Some insiders defended Spencer. One called him “the best chief whip since the days of Patrick McLoughlin”, who served during the first two years of the coalition government.

One Tory MP noted: “It’s not like the [Theresa] May government where the whips need to go heavy-handed because every vote was on a knife-edge. The government’s majority is such they don’t need to go ballistic with everybody.”

Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, said: “This shows again that the Conservatives treat public money like it’s their own. Boris Johnson is bullying his own MPs into breaking the promises they made, but it’s people in our communities who will suffer. The Conservatives aren’t interested in investing in our towns. They are only focused on taking money out of the pockets of working people with tax hikes and a cut to universal credit.”

Conservative campaign headquarters was contacted for comment. A Tory source said Spencer was “always happy to offer support to those colleagues who he finds in the government lobby” and another insisted “engagement with colleagues is totally normal”.

It comes amid speculation of a cabinet reshuffle that some believed would happen last week. Frontbenchers suspected Johnson deliberately did not play down the idea before a vote on the health and social care levy, in an attempt to keep the number of rebels to a minimum. While the threat of a reshuffle has only partially subsided, it is not expected to happen on Wednesday.

The National Trust reaches milestone in its Tamar “restoration project”

A similar project to the Lower Otter Restoration Project, but on a smaller scale at Cotehele Quay.

The National Trust is undoing flood prevention work carried out in the 19th century, and turning back the clock to create wetland habitats. From today’s Western Morning News and National Trust

A milestone has been reached in the creation of a new intertidal habitat in Cornwall.

A 15-metre breach has been made in a 19th century riverside bank on the Tamar estuary ready for the tide to flood in over low-grade farmland.

The farmland was created in 1850 when an embankment was built allowing the land to be drained for agriculture.

The National Trust is now creating the intertidal habitat and allowing the land to return to nature.

The project will also help alleviate flooding during high tides or heavy rains by creating more space for water.

Alastair Cameron, from the National Trust, said: “By creating new wetland habitat similar to that found before the embankment was built, we can make space for nature and water.

“This month we’ve made a relatively small breach in the bank and now we’ll let nature and the tides take their course. It’s really exciting to see the water flowing in now with the spring tides.” 

The new habitat will over the next decade start to attract a wide range of wildlife, including worms and a range of wild birds, such as shelduck, redshank and teal ducks.

“Over the coming years we’ll start to see changes in the habitat which should attract typical Tamar estuary species and in time we’ll see more permanent intertidal vegetation increase like reeds which will attract more and different wildlife,” Mr Cameron said. The project is being jointly funded by the Environment Agency and the National Trust.

Rob Price, from the Environment Agency, added: “We are very much looking forward to see the new intertidal habitat established over the next few years as the project now turns its focus to monitoring the benefits that this enhanced area will provide for local wildlife, habitats and people.

“This valuable work is an important part of an integrated programme of works to build the Tamar catchment’s resilience to a wide range of environmental pressures including those related to climate change.”

Brexit revenge complete: Supreme Court’s powers slashed after Remainers’ sabotage attempts

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill was voted through its final stage of the Commons by 312 to 55. It repeals the Fixed Term Act introduced by the coalition Government in 2011, returning power to call an election to the Prime Minister.

Dan Falvey, Political Correspondent 

Clipping the wings of the Supreme Court, the Bill also seeks to rule out judicial intervention.

The Bill makes it explicitly clear the decision to call an election could not be challenged in the courts.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith told the Commons the legislation “is necessary and proportionate for the avoidance of doubt and to preserve the longstanding position that the prerogative powers to dissolve one parliament and to call another are non-justiciable.”

She added: “Any judgment on their exercise should be left to the electorate in the polling booth.”

Mr Johnson pledged to scrap the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in the 2019 general election.

The decision to write into law there is no legal basis for the courts to intervene in the timing of an election is seen among Westminster as a deliberate attempt by the Prime Minister to get revenge on the Supreme Court.

In September 2019, Mr Johnson planned to prorogue parliament for a number of weeks in a bid to prevent MPs forcing him to extend the date the UK would leave the EU beyond October 31.

However, a legal challenge by a group of Remainers led to the Supreme Court ruling the prorogation illegal.

MPs were sent straight back to Parliament, where they held a vote to force Mr Johnson to beg the EU for another Brexit extension.

Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox, who was attorney general at the time of the prorogation row, spoke out in favour of the Bill in the Commons.

He argued reverting power to dissolve parliament for elections to the Prime Minister was a return to “sanity” and “normality”.

He told MPs: “I see this measure as a welcomed correction that brings back our constitution to the fundamental principles, which have existed for many, many years.”

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act has been blamed as partially responsible for the Brexit impasse in the Commons in 2019.

Under the law, an election could only be called earlier than the five year period if it was supported by two-thirds of MPs.

With the Government struggling to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament, Mr Johnson twice tried and failed to call an election.

Opposition MPs refused to give their consent to going to the ballot box, claiming they were concerned by the timing of the planned election.

While clearing all the hurdles of the Commons, the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill could still be amended in the House of Lords.

Peers will debate and vote on the legislation later this year.

Inside a £500-a-head Tory donor lunch with Boris Johnson

Where the wine was ‘rubbish’ and he made “incendiary” remarks. [Watch the video, no comment – Owl]

Henry Dyer 

  • Johnson attended a Conservative Party fundraiser on Sept. 10, the largest since the pandemic began.
  • Insider spoke to an attendee who provided an insight into the PM’s behaviour behind closed doors.
  • At one point, he joked about the UK becoming the “Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Priti Patel.

Boris Johnson was, as usual, running late.

He had just been at Downing Street to speak to the president of Chile, but more important business on the afternoon of September 10 was in the largest conference room at the InterContinental London Park Lane in Mayfair.

Johnson was the guest of honour at the first large Conservative Party fundraiser event since the pandemic began.

With tickets costing up to £500, and three hundred attendees, the lunch was a major opportunity to raise funds for the Cities Of London & Westminster Conservative Association, whose constituency covers Theatreland in the West End, the Houses of Parliament, and the commercial centre of the City of London.

The “substantial sum of money” raised was not just for the association’s work in the constituency, but also for Conservative Campaign Headquarters and other groups, according to the event’s brochure.

Insider spoke to an attendee at the lunch, who shared her experience of what it is like to attend the event, as well as photographs and video, including of incendiary remarks made by Johnson behind closed doors.