A clash of loyalties: PM faces balancing act after elections setback

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David Cameron among his party members, who want a shift to the right
David Cameron among his party members, who want a shift to the right

David Cameron faces a major test of his premiership this weekend, as Conservative backbenchers put pressure on him to retreat on Lords reform and gay marriage.

The prime minister is expected to reaffirm his commitment to coalition government with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats at a question-and-answer session on Tuesday - but will have to placate Tory MPs angry with their party's electoral setbacks last Thursday as he does so.

Mr Cameron could significantly water down reform of the House of Lords by bowing to calls for a referendum on the issue, creating the possibility that the transition to an elected upper chamber may depend on a public vote in as late as 2015.

Plans to legalise gay marriage supported by the Lib Dems could also be deferred. A No 10 source told the Sunday Times newspaper: "Gay marriage is something we genuinely want to do but because of everything that has happened, now is not the time."


Wednesday's Queen's Speech, in which the coalition's legislative agenda for the next year will be unveiled, is expected to be themed around family values to placate Tory frustrations.

Those were vocalised most dramatically by outspoken backbencher Nadine Dorries, who hit out at the "arrogance" and "bad manners" of Mr Cameron and chancellor George Osborne.

"Unless we change dramatically what we're doing now we could see even bigger losses this time next year," she told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"The [Tory] MPs in the house of commons will not sleepwalk into the next general election.

"Either we change what we're doing dramatically and provide what people are asking for or I think what will happen is Conservative MPs will start filing their letters of no confidence."

Mr Cameron's problem is that such concerns appear to be spreading beyond the 'usual suspects' of right-wing Conservatives who have spent the last two years complaining about the coalition's agenda.

"We are going to have to start talking about the sort of things that make the Lib Dems uncomfortable, such as deregulating the labour market, renegotiating our place in Europe and a faster deficit-reduction plan," senior backbencher Bernard Jenkin told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Mr Cameron's former leadership rival David Davis told the Observer he wanted to see a more "Conservative flavour" to the coalition.

"I think if you ask the man on the street what his priorities are, House of Lords reform and gay marriage would not be among them," he told the Observer.

"It would be jobs, cutting taxes, prosperity, growth. It is the economy, stupid. That has never been more true."

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the backbench 1922 committee, told the Sunday Times: "It would be high risk to continue to take our natural supporters in the country and the Conservative party for granted. If the public believe that our priorities are not their priorities, and it sticks, no amount of relaunches will suffice."
 

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