How George Osborne tried to make an electoral pact with the Lib Dems

Usually the first piece from a book’s serialisation contains by far the most juicy stories, but today’s extracts from David Laws’s Coalition rather top last week’s.

Here‘s George Osborne’s attempt to make an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats:

The Tories secretly tried to form a 2015 Election pact with the Lib Dems to keep the Coalition going, according to David Laws.

He says George Osborne proposed a so-called ‘coupon election’ deal with the Lib Dems, whereby up to 50 Tory MPs would have been written off, ordered to make way for Lib Dems.

If the deal had gone ahead, Clegg would still be in Downing Street in a ‘Coalition Mark II’.

And it would have made David Cameron’s outright victory last May impossible. Osborne told Laws: ‘We should be thinking of a deal in 2015 where we don’t fight each other in our key seats… a ‘coupon Election’.

‘We wouldn’t stand in places like Taunton and Wells and you wouldn’t stand in some of our marginal seats.’

Laws and Clegg turned the deal down because the Lib Dems would be seen as Tory ‘lapdogs’ – and it could spark a ‘riot’ among Lib Dem activists. Laws’ account confirms rumours in 2011 and 2012 that Cameron and Osborne wanted a Con-Lib pact to avoid defeat.

Right-wing MPs claimed it was a Downing Street plot to merge the two parties and water down traditional Tory policies. No 10 denied such a move had been made.

The term, ‘coupon election’, dates back to 1918 when Coalition leaders Lloyd George and Bonar Law regained power by using coupons to endorse coalition candidates.

This idea may seem quite fanciful now, but in the early days of coalition there were Conservatives calling for a long-term pact, most notably Tory MP Nick Boles who wrote a book about the idea.

Clegg and Laws, howevever, rejected the idea without reference to the wider party, mindful perhaps of how Ming Campbell got stung by Gordon Brown’s offer of a rather different deal in 2007 to which Campbell replied ‘I’ll have to talk to colleagues’ and then got stung by a leak from Labour followed by outrage. Instant rejection would have served Campbell and the Liberal Democrats better on that occasion, even if generally wanting to talk to colleagues is a good instinct.

You can order Coalition: The inside story of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government by David Laws here.

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