This is a story that’s going to run and run until MPs walk through the lobbies next year in the vote approving the boundary reforms: senior Tories are plotting to buy the Lib Dems off from blocking changes to constituencies by offering them state funding of political parties. The latest plot has surfaced in today’s Financial Times, with one Conservative minister telling the paper that the Lib Dems are ‘basically out of money’.
As expected, the Lib Dems are rejecting the story, arguing there is no way that the party would do a deal on party funding when their plan to vote down the boundary reforms is revenge for the Tory failure to support Lords reform. They believe the mood at their autumn conference underlined that this rebellion was the right thing to do, and continue to grow very exercised whenever someone suggests a deal might be struck. Party chairman Grant Shapps rejected the idea yesterday, too. There’s also a perception problem with offering party funding in exchange for support for the boundaries, which the FT’s headline – ‘Tories plot cash-for-seats offer to Clegg’ – sums up very neatly. This exchange would look grubby: money for a party that’s short of a bob or two in return for seats for a party that desperately needs them to secure a majority in 2015. It’s not very ‘new politics’.
But the fact that these plots are continuing in Conservative circles suggests senior party members are not quite so convinced by Nick Clegg’s tough talk on boundaries as his own party is. Like Mr Micawber, they still believe that something will turn up in time for them to distract the Liberal Democrats sufficiently to make them troop through the ‘yes’ lobby.