The Turmoil Continues: the aftermath of the 1922 Committee elections

The Tory-led government is unpopular, out of touch and presiding over a Downing Street-created double dip recession. You would have thought that they would exercise a degree of caution and perhaps pause to reflect before blundering on.

Yet the Tories continue to drive policies that the electorate clearly disagree with. The truth is that they are more concerned with holding the Parliamentary Party together than actually listening to the people.

Look at the amount of time they have recently expended on an inward looking party election. Cameron and Osborne concentrated a great deal of effort in a failed attempt to launch a “coup” in last night’s 1922 Committee election.
They have become preoccupied with party management rather than governing the country in these difficult times. The divides within the Tory Party have been playing out since the 2010 General election, but, unfortunately for Cameron the 1922 Committee elections have brought the Tories’ infighting to the foreground.

Pressure on Cameron continues to mount; he is a torn Prime Minister. He has to please both the old guard and the so-called modernisers or the Tories will crumble under the internal, ideological polarisation of the Party.
It is far too simplistic to see the new conservative faction’s (entitled the 301 Group) good performance – they managed to get all but one of their candidates elected – as a move to a “modern” and socially liberal position within the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

The truth is, 11 out of the 18 Tory MPs elected to the 1922 Committee voted – against the Government whip – for a referendum on Europe. In any event, despite the Tory backbenchers being allegedly overwhelmingly modernisers, they still failed to take total control.

In the event, the biggest loser was Cameron, since his candidate Charlie Elphicke MP failed to get elected. Nick De Bois MP, who is aligned to the old guard, managed to defeat him, as the new joint-Secretary. Issues such as Europe, immigration and welfare will be high up on his agenda.

It is simply untrue in any event to say that the 301 Group is a more liberal wing of the Party, they are, to use Tim Montgomerie’s term, on “the reasonable right”. They are made up almost entirely of 2010 intake of Tory MPs. George Eustice and Priti Patel, for example, who form part of this Group, are well known right-wingers and they are part of a new, modern generation of Tory MPs who wish to see their influence grow at a faster pace.

No matter what the outcome of the elections yesterday, Cameron still has a long way to go to get Party unity. Most commentary on the 1922 Committee elections has not fully acknowledged the deeper divisions within the Party that have lingered in the wings since the 2010 General election.

This is not a battle between the left and right of the party; but between two right wing sub-sets. But we should not underestimate the venom which is now enveloping relationships between the two groups, most spectacularly revealed in Nadine Dorries’ comments about two ‘posh boys’. So open is the conflict now that I was hardly surprised the other day when a very senior Tory backbencher made vituperative comments about Cameron to me in the lift in Portcullis House.

The truth is over the past two years both these factions could be seen pulling 10 Downing Street in different directions. This in part explains the sense of drift and lack of vision in Downing St.

However, the announcement today that Cameron is considering his adviser Steve Hilton’s policy to cut the welfare state by £25 billion will please the core Tory old guard. The only issue they are united over is the austerity programme; one of the key policies voters are most hostile to.

No matter who won the 1922 Committee elections, the factionalism will continue. Cameron attempted to take control of the 1922 Committee once before and his renewed effort will leave lasting scars. There is an old saying in politics that if you decide to use a knife then you had better ensure that the assassination which you attempt to secure is successful.

Cameron fluffed his move. The old guard losers will be disgruntled and it may lead them to feel freer to attack the Government. Indeed, there are already rumours that the old guard are planning secret meetings in a Tory MP’s house.
Let’s be clear, the battle of ideology is only going to get worse for Cameron and to win in 2015 he needs to make sure there is relative unity. But there are increasingly audible voices which are saying that his head may be the price which must be paid to secure that unity.

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