- Toby Melville/Reuters
- Conservative whips are lobbying against Philip Hammond, The Times reported.
- He is under pressure not to relax planning laws from his own party’s MPs.
- The move is reportedly to stop high-risk ideas being announced that could be defeated in a parliamentary vote.
LONDON – Conservative whips have reportedly launched secret petitions amongst their MPs to undermine the chancellor and prevent him from announcing ideas in Wednesday budget that could face defeat in parliament.
Tory MPs have been asked to sign a private petition calling for planning laws not to be relaxed to allow for more housebuilding, which was then shown to the Treasury, according to The Times newspaper.
Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is under pressure from Tory Brexiteers to deliver an optimistic budget, but is hamstrung by the Conservatives’ lack of a majority, worsening economic forecasts and Brexit uncertainty.
The Treasury has made it clear that reforms to housing will be a central plank of the budget. But, The Times said, Hammond is held back by the prime minister’s opposition to allow more housebuilding on the green belt, and his own reluctance to invest significant amounts in development.
Conservative MPs told The Times they had been asked by the whips to sign the petitions to prove to the chancellor the size of opposition to relaxing planning law, in an attempt to stop a rebellion in the House of Commons.
An unnamed MP said: “The whip said they themselves knew it was madness but made clear that it would be useful if they were able to add my name to the list of people opposed to this, to feed back to the Treasury.”
Another unnamed Tory backbencher said those representing seats in the south of England were targeted, and whips “encouraged us to make it known that liberalising the planning regulations would be a divisive move and would affect us disproportionately.”
They said: “This isn’t normal. It’s a function of perceived weakness in No 11, as was shown on [The Andrew Marr Show]. Hammond says things that set hares running, he lacks political antennae. This may be an attempt to inject some political thinking into the operation.”
On Sunday Hammond claimed there are “no employed people” in the UK during a BBC interview, which led to many to label him “out of touch.” He later said he had not meant it literally.
The Times has previously reported that it is unlikely there will be a concerted effort to increase building on the green belt, but that planning rules might still be relaxed in order to encourage developers to build more houses.
The newspaper said today it believes that Hammond’s parliamentary private secretary has organised a dozen members of the 2015 Conservative intake to defend the budget after it is announced.
The move is reportedly because the Treasury thinks the whips are deliberately unprepared to deal with the aftermath, leaving the chancellor open to attack.