Cameron faces political suicide if he cannot control Nick Clegg

Plans for a largely elected Lords, driven by Clegg, are only encouraging plotters against PM

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:56 ON Mon 23 Apr 2012

HAVING seen Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing leader of France, getting a black eye from the electorate, David Cameron went on a tour of the studios this morning to mount his own fightback, telling his unruly Tory MPs they should focus on "the big picture".

Cameron was clearly unsettled by being grilled for 20 minutes on the BBC's flagship Today programme by presenter John Humphrys over the Abu Qatada deportation farce, the Budget backlash, and the "morally repugnant" tax dodges of the wealthy.

The example of Sir Philip Green came up - the head of Topshop, who was hired by Cameron to advise on financial waste, but who sidesteps the taxman by keeping his assets in the name of his wife in Monaco.

"It's been a difficult month," said the PM. "I think what really matters is keeping your eye on the really big decisions that really matter, and the big picture."

He insisted the priority for the Con-Lib Dem coalition was to dig Britain out of the deficit (hence today's headlines about the need for a further £16bn in public expenditure cuts) as well as pushing for social and business reform. "We are not just a bunch of accountants," said Cameron, getting increasingly hot under the collar.

The latest flashpoint with MPs of his own party is reform of the House of Lords, driven by Nick Clegg.

On this issue, Cameron refused to give much ground, saying it was a "reasonable, rational reform". He gave a hint that it could be blocked, however, after admitting all the parties were split on the issue. "It can only go ahead if the parties work together and act rationally and responsibly."

He also refused - like Nick Clegg - to back a referendum on the issue.

None of this is likely to impress Tory rebels such as Nadine Dorries who warned on ConservativeHome that Cameron could be ousted before the next election if he gives more ground to Clegg, the Lib Dem leader.

Even Sayeeda Warsi, joint chairman of the Tory Party, is asking Cameron for permission to attack Nick Clegg in the media.

A joint committee of Parliament will propose today a largely elected House of Lords, reduced to 450, with four-fifths of the 'Senators' elected on proportional representation and a fifth appointed. Clegg wants it entirely elected and cut to 300 but he is prepared to compromise. Big deal. Critics rightly say an elected upper chamber will challenge the power of the Commons.

But the really big issue for the Tory rebels is a suspicion that Lords reform is part of a cunning plot by Clegg to seize the balance of power in the new Senate by giving the Lib Dems the chance, using voting by PR to pump up their numbers, to secure a controlling wedge of seats.

Five Cabinet ministers are said to be opposed to Lords reform, including Lord Strathclyde, Schools Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond. Six Parliamentary Private Secretaries are threatening to resign and 100 Tory MPs have angrily warned they could vote against the Queen's Speech.

Conservative party donors are said to be ready to withdraw their financial support for his party if Cameron persists with this act of political suicide.

Nadine Dorries says if Cameron persists, there will be a palace coup to get rid of him. "If he places his own desire to remain in No 10 for a few more years over the long-term future of the party, it is almost certain Cameron will not lead the Conservative party into the next election." ·