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The Syria Vote Was A Nasty Shock – But Tory Spirits Have Recovered Swiftly

Last Updated: Friday, September 13th, 2013

Just over two weeks ago, expectations for the new Parliamentary term were clear. The Conservatives were riding high after a good summer while Labour had spent the warmer months sniping at each other and their leader.

The road ahead seemed clear, and less bumpy than some of the hard miles covered over the last three years. Miliband would be embattled at Labour conference, Cameron’s charm offensive among his backbenchers would continue to build on the good mood and hopefully the economy would continue to tick up.

But then came Syria. A bloody, complex issue brought to the fore by a gross atrocity, it shattered the summer feeling just by its arrival – even before a vote had taken place.

Just when observers might have thought Number 10 had developed a better understanding of how to work with Conservative backbenchers, the wheels came off the operation.

The Whips hurried back to Westminster in the same chaotic state as the troops they had to marshal. Many MPs heard nothing about the Prime Minister’s case until less than 24 hours before the vote, by which point they had given it extensive thought and received a heap of correspondence from constituents.

Miliband’s breach of his promise to back the Government, apparently forced on him by members of the Shadow Cabinet, may have been outside the control of the Conservative leadership, but they had known for months that dozens of their own MPs had severe doubts about intervention.

There are always a few who oppose anything the Prime Minister might say, but this was mostly principled disagreement, and would be hard to shift. Little to no attempt was made to change the rebels’ minds – and Miliband cannot be blamed for that.

The result was a shocking defeat, which raised fears that the summer glow had been illusory. It seemed the Parliamentary Conservative Party had been set back by months in terms of morale and relations with the leadership.

The Government bears the bruises, but the outright strife some predicted has not come to pass. Miliband’s u-turn inspired further internal criticism of his leadership, Cameron’s swift pledge to abide by the Commons result calmed many of his critics and – most importantly – both the polling and the economic figures have delivered good news.

There are still some clouds on the horizon – the ongoing debate about HS2, worries that Help To Buy will inflate a bubble in the housing market and the impact of UKIP on Tory election results, to name but a few.

But Conservative MPs look at the continued fall in unemployment, and the steady erosion of Labour’s poll lead, and feel reassured. Fewer of them now feel that the Prime Minister is going to cost them their seat, which does wonders for the mood in the Commons.

In short, the Conservative Party goes into conference season in a far better mood than anyone would have guessed a fortnight ago.

By Mark Wallace

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

David Skelton: Let’s offer trade union members free Conservative Party membership “Conservatives are right to take on trade union leaders, like Len McCluskey, who are getting in the way of much needed reforms. But they should be careful not to make it appear that they’re hostile to trade unions and trade unionists in general. As Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests, firebrand union leaders are almost entirely unrepresentative of their members.” http://is.gd/HRA9ku

Paul Goodman: Deficit reduction. The EU referendum. Justice for England – top “red lines” for any future Coalition talks “Respondents to our poll have had their say on where those lines should be drawn. Here is mine. It’s important to remember what would happen were the Liberal Democrats – or perhaps another minority party – to step over them and refuse to move.  Cameron would have either to back down, or break off the talks.  The consequence could be a Conservative minority government…or a Lab/Lib coalition…or even a Labour minority government.” http://is.gd/XSlPla

Mark Wallace: More evidence that young voters are shifting to the right – this time on the welfare state “Again, we see a generally rightwards trend in society overall, with Generation Y among the most hardline. The stereotype of the young adopting the emotional politics of the heart is breaking down…This is a real shift in the political views of the younger generation. They are less emotional and more pragmatic about the way the state spends money. They are far more hawkish on tax and spend than their parents.” http://is.gd/NpRZXO

Stephen Tall: Seven ideas to unite liberal Conservatives and market liberals: a personal wish-list “I’m an economic and social liberal. For me, the (in)famous Rose Garden press conference in May 2010 was a genuinely exciting political event. Written off today as a moment of madness, for me it showed the radical possibilities of coalition government, bringing together two different parties with enough of a shared agenda…what follows is a wish-list, written by a market liberal who’d welcome working in coalition with liberal Conservatives.” http://is.gd/MwEGlY

Tim Montgomerie: Modern politics’ golden rule? Ignore media commentators and focus on your key messages “In many respects Abbott’s victory is Textor’s victory. Abbott’s constant repetition of a few key messages – Scrap the carbon tax; Stop the boats carrying illegal immigrants; and Build more roads – sent political journalists to sleep but they were killer messages identified by Textor’s opinion polling. Local journalists refer to him as the “suburban whisperer” – the man who reminds politicians of what real Australia thinks.” http://is.gd/XcOhk3

Andrew Gimson profiles Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother and a key figure in Tory policymaking “This was at a time when the many gifted members of the 2010 Tory intake were all, or almost all, competing to be noticed. Johnson did the opposite. A friend of mine who is the political editor of one of our leading newspapers said Johnson “has firmly and elegantly declined all efforts to get to know him”. It is true that by not sounding off on every subject under the sun, Johnson has helped to build himself a reputation for steadiness, reliability and discretion.” http://is.gd/oD244x

Matthew Elliott: Barroso’s EU plans will enable Britain to change our relationship with Brussels “Anyone who witnessed the debate about the single currency at the turn of this century would have seen commentators warning that the euro would not survive without a strong coordination of fiscal policy underpinned by a single pan-European banking system. Then, as often happens now, these sage people were shouted down – decried as xenophobes clinging to outdated notions of sovereignty. As has happened throughout the chequered history of the European Union, nations were told not to worry about the next step.” http://is.gd/YuKJbm

By Mark Wallace

 

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