The Guardian

Tory whips threaten to cut would-be rebel MPs’ funds

- Aubrey Allegretti Political correspond­ent

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.

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 get selected elsewhere.

And 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 ahead of 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, was said to have told some potential rebels in marginal constituen­cies that party funding to retain their seat at the next election could depend on their loyalty to the government.

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, the 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.”

There have also been more positive attempts to engage with restless backbenche­rs. Before the summer, some were invited to sit-downs 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 needed to go heavyhande­d because every vote was on a knife edge. The government’s majority is such they don’t need to go ballistic with everybody.”

The Conservati­ve party was contacted for comment. One Tory source said Spencer “is 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 is shocking if government whips are promising to hand out public money (or deny it) to MPs to buy votes’

Caroline Slocock Civil Exchange

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