The Tories sink deeper into the mire

Arrogance, incompetence and now infighting; this is what has defined the Conservative-led government.

Brutally honest debates on the ConservativeHome blog give fascinating insights into just how badly things are going for the Tories.   David Cameron is battling for the survival of his administration as a purposeful government with a clear political agenda. But more importantly it is increasingly apparent that – as I have previously written – the Conservative Party is facing an existential crisis (available here)

The Lords Reform vote this week showed a clear glimpse into the Prime Minister’s predicament.

Of course there were the usual suspects rebelling – the Tory old guard – but there were also a significant number of rebels that are members of the modernising so-called“301 Group”.

Cameron had seen this group as one of the pillars of his brand of Toryism. Only a few months ago he attempted a coup against the old guard-dominated 1922 Committee, tactically relying on the 301 Group modernisers to make significant gains in order to impose control on the Committee.

The outcome of this attempted putsch was not quite what Cameron had wanted – as we know Charlie Elphicke MP, a Cameron loyalist, failed to beat Nick De Bois MP – and so the modernisers and Cameron loyalists only made limited progress.

However, a dozen or so of the relatively small 301 Group rebelled against the Government on Lords Reform on Tuesday. These included Angie Bray MP, the PPS of my opposite number Francis Maude, who was sacked as a result. Given the fact that Cameron had only recently sought an alliance with this group, he must feel particularly anxious about the future.

Paul Goodman (one of the key bloggers on Conservative Home) claimed that the motivation behind a rebellion was to bolster the Prime Minister’s position.  But David Cameron has not seen it that way. As we know he was furious with Jesse Norman MP’s faintly ludicrous address to Tory rebels stating that a vote against the Government could actually help the Prime Minister.

It may be that a primary motivation in some of the rebels’ minds was the thought that Cameron is leading his government to electoral defeat and to a loss of their seats.   A number of them are in fairly marginal constituencies.

The truth is that David Cameron is losing a grip on his party. The complex balancing act that he has to play within his Party as well as with the electorate is leading to a number of false steps.

But this is not simply a problem of internal political management. The public and a growing number in the Tory Party see the Conservative leadership as increasingly toxic. Remember Cameron was elected to the leadership in 2005 to change the Conservative brand to make it more acceptable to the electorate, modern and less backward looking.

And the two factors which particularly weigh in the publics’ mind when they look at the Conservatives is the fear that they will damage the NHS and that they will only look after the rich and privileged in our country. The spring budget and the NHS reforms have clearly helped to re-toxify the Conservatives and Cameron’s leadership, leading to consistently polling results.

Some of the rebels were predicted to be future stars in the Conservative Party, which they may still be. They may view the Conservative Party leadership as unlikely to win in 2015 due to this re-toxification.

The analogy of rats deserting a sinking ship comes to mind.

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