Commentary (The Times)

SDP-Liberal Alliance: "Steel tells of talks with troubled senior Tories" (dissident Conservatives including junior ministers) [plus Gilmour attack]

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 7 Dec 1981 (p2)
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1p
Themes: Conservatism, Elections & electoral system, Public spending & borrowing, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties

Steel tells of talks with troubled senior Tories

By Anthony Bevins, Political Correspondent

Mr David Steel suggested yesterday that a significant number of Labour and Conservative MPs would be prepared to support a Liberal-SDP Alliance government in the Commons after the next general election.

He also disclosed that he had had talks with “a lot of Conservatives” who were worried about the direction of Mrs Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. It is understood that such conversation has included junior government ministers and senior Conservative backbenchers.

The Liberal leader said on the BBC radio programme The World This Weekend: “If we have to form a minority government, then it is extremely important that we have enough people in the other parties who are prepared to see us there for so long as it is necessary to get electoral reform and then, possibly, have another election on the new basis after a few years.”

He had told a meeting in London on Saturday: “If we are denied a Commons majority, there will be plenty of other MPs ready to work with us, if we have shown the right spirit.”

But he pointed out yesterday that that did not involve coalition government.

The question of support for an alliance government has been mooted by Mr Edward Heath, the former Conservative Prime Minister, and Mr Steel said yesterday: “I would see no difficulty in working with him after the next election.”

Many Conservatives, he maintained, were openly looking to the possibility that the Government would be defeated at the next election.

One prime Conservative candidate for such a dialogue Sir Ian Gilmour, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, said on Saturday that the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to uprate supplementary benefits in line with inflation had been a denial of Toryism; and was both offensive and socially unacceptable. The refusal has caused considerable disquiet on the Conservative benches in the Commons. But even more upset could be caused by a little noticed announcement last week that child benefit could also be allowed to fall behind.

Sir Ian Gilmour was said last night to be considering an abstention against the Government tomorrow night.