- David Cameron flies home from holiday this week
- Several Tory MPs are revolting over rail fare increases, planning and Sunday trading hours
David Cameron will fly home from holiday this week into a political firestorm, with Tory MPs launching fresh rebellions on three fronts.
MPs are in open revolt over soaring rail fares, demanding the Treasury acts to soften the blow for hard pressed commuters.
Backbenchers are also threatening to block plans to kickstart the economy by letting developers build on greenbelt land and permanently extending Sunday trading hours.
Tories fear all three issues will undermine support in marginal constituencies and torpedo hopes of a Tory majority at the next election.
It emerged last week that most rail fares will rise in January by 6.2 per cent – 3 per cent above inflation – and some routes by up to 11 per cent.
MPs representing constituencies in the Kent and Essex commuter belts want Chancellor George Osborne to repeat last year’s help, when the Treasury capped rises at 1 per cent above inflation.
Sir John Stanley, who represents Tonbridge and Malling, accused ministers of ‘exploiting commuters’ and using rail fares as ‘a disguised form of taxation’ since the extra 2 per cent goes straight into the Treasury’s coffers.
Witham MP Priti Patel called on ministers to ‘do more’ to get a better deal for travellers.
‘Our commuters are paying a lot of money to commute to work and they’re getting a poor deal,’ she said.
Even Tory deputy chairman Michael Fallon, a close ally of Mr Cameron, has called for rail operators to show restraint.
Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, has written to Transport Secretary Justine Greening – who has also called on the Treasury to help – demanding action. He said: ‘It is a simple cost-of-living issue.’
Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, said: ‘Household living standards are already squeezed and people who have to commute are feeling very aggrieved.’ Miss Crouch has also joined the backlash against plans to rethink planning laws.
Senior ministers have discussed proposals to build on the green belt to help boost housebuilding and major infrastructure projects.
But those proposals contravene a promise in the Tory Party’s last election manifesto and are opposed by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Miss Crouch said: ‘It would be quite wrong for the Coalition to take away the green belt from the next generation.’
Fellow Tory Chris Skidmore, who has campaigned to protect the green belt in his Kingswood constituency, said: ‘We have a duty of trust to protect greenbelt land for future generations.’
Mr Cameron is also under fire from MPs, unions, supermarkets and the Church over the suggestion that extended Sunday opening hours, put in place for the Olympics, will be extended permanently.
Downing Street and Mr Pickles have vowed to study whether the change – which extends maximum opening hours for big stores from six to eight hours on a Sunday – has helped boost the economy.
Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King yesterday said the usual restrictions were ‘a great British compromise’ and that ‘relaxing Sunday trading laws is certainly not a magic answer to economic regeneration’.
He was backed by Bishop of Oxford the Right Reverend John Pritchard, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the Association of Convenience Stores, who signed a letter describing a permanent relaxation as ‘alarming’.
A No 10 source said: ‘We will look at the impact but no one has decided to do anything.’
On rail fares he said: ‘We are aware this is a big cost of living issue but it is incredibly expensive to do what we did last year. Long-term we are committed to the principle that the rail system should be paid for primarily by rail users rather than taxpayers.’