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This Week’s Curtain-Raiser For The Battle For The ’22

Last Updated: Friday, February 10th, 2012

The victory of George Hollingberry over Chris Kelly in this week’s by-election for a vacancy on the 1922 Committee’s Executive didn’t exactly make national headlines – understandably enough.  But appearances are deceptive: this apparently narcoleptic event was actually part of a lively drama that could impact on the future of the Government.

David Cameron has a famously tense relationship with his backbenchers – and with the committee that represents their interests: very simply, he sees its leadership as being in the hands of Conservative right-wingers who have never been reconciled to his leadership and would bring him down if they had a half-workable excuse to do so.

Fear of this prospect explains his gambit after the last election – effectively to close down the ’22 as an independent instrument by his frontbenchers gaining the right to vote in its elections.  The Prime Minister was worried by the prospect of the election as its chairman of Graham Brady, a former Europe spokesman who had resigned over education policy.

The move caused such a row that Cameron was warned that Brady would probably win the contest anyway, even if the front bench did vote.  He quickly backed down and Brady was duly elected – making him one of the very few Tory MPs who have been seen to outwit the Prime Minister.  The other elections to its committee were also a triumph for the right.

The veteran MP Nicholas Soames is now its sole representative of the old left of the party.  The officers include one of the party’s leading Thatcherites – such as John Whittingdale, a Vice-Chairman and her former private secretary – and some of the leadership’s most outspoken critics – such as Christopher Chope and Mark Pritchard, the two Secretaries.

Cameron’s relationship with the ’22 is thus best described as minimalist: the courtesies are observed, but that’s about it.  In the wake of the revolt of 81 backbenchers over an EU referendum, for example, he didn’t consult the executive about a response.  However, the Prime Minister is far from being the only critic of the executive.

The 2010 Conservative intake is now almost 50 per cent of the Parliamentary Party – and, given its minimal presence on the Government payroll to date, represents a majority on the backbenches.  It voted in the elections for ’22 executive members before it had found its feet in the Commons.  And many of its members are exasperated by what they see as its fusty character.

There are signs that Downing Street wants to exploit this mood.  David Cameron has taken a personal interest in a new group called “the forty” – a body of Tory MPs representing the forty most marginal seats.  Greg Barker, one of Cameron’s most loyal Ministerial backers, helped to oversee a “green chips” group during the last Parliament.

This has now metamorphosed into a “2020 group”.  The formation of a new “301 group” – named after the number of seats the party will have to win at the next election to form a majority Government – was reported as a challenge to the right of the party.  Kris Hopkins, speaking on behalf of this group, intimated that the party is in danger of retreating to a right-wing comfort zone.

There is a strong sense at Westminster that Number 10 and senior Whips are encouraging these initiatives, and took a keen interest in last week’s by-election.  Hollingberry was seen as the candidate of the left and Kelly as that of the right – although the result may have had as much to do with the former’s gregarious character as with ideology.

None the less, his win can be seen as the first move in a surreptitious fight back by the party establishment.  However, there will be no definitive Downing Street plan at this stage for the next round of ’22 elections – which will come soon at the start of the new Parliamentary session – not least because trying to control 307 Tory MPs is like trying to herd cats, only more difficult.

The consensus of the sources that I’ve spoken to is that a direct challenge to Brady is unlikely.  However, the leadership has Chope and Pritchard in its sights.  It would also like to see Peter Bone, perhaps Cameron’s most outspoken backbench critic, off the executive.  If all three were voted off Number 10 would have a new narrative for the lobby.

Namely, that the right is a paper tiger and that the backbenches are now onside.  It would be hard to argue with this in the event of such an outcome – especially if Bone, Philip Hollobone and Philip Davies, two other independent-minded right-wingers, are voted off the pivotal backbench business committee by their Conservative backbench colleagues.

However, the party’s centre-left is now better represented in the Government than on the backbenches – and some of its most able new intake members, such as Mary Macleod and Anna Soubry, are already Parliamentary Private Secretaries: that’s to say, MPs with their feet on the lowest rung of the Government ladder, and thus traditionally barred from voting in  ’22 elections.

It’s worth noting that a by-election for a Tory place on the public accounts committee also took place this week.  It was won by Stewart Jackson, a right-wing MP who resigned as a PPS over the Europe referendum vote.  One shouldn’t need a reminder that the result of the coming ’22 elections is impossible to predict.  But Jackson’s win serves as one none the less.

By Paul Goodman

  

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

Tim Montgomerie: The unnecessary and unpopular NHS Bill could cost the Conservative Party the next election. Cameron must kill it.     “ConservativeHome supports the Government’s radicalism on schools, welfare and the deficit. We’d like to see much more ambition on competitiveness and changing Britain’s relationship with Europe. The NHS Bill is not just a distraction from all of this but potentially fatal to the Conservative Party’s electoral prospects. It must be stopped before it’s too late.” Read more: http://is.gd/mguzZn

Paul Goodman: Tax breaks for childcare is a bad idea.   “Some better-off women are already set to lose out from the removal of child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers…Tax breaks for childcare would simply create a new set of complainants. The best course the Chancellor could take would be to look at radical ways of improving childcare supply – and forget about demand-side initiatives that are fraught with political perils and unfair consequences.” Read more: http://is.gd/VWALEi

Samuel Kasumu: The Conservative Party must do much, much more to become a party for ethnic communities.      The Party still suffers from a very low level of support amongst ethnic communities. If anyone thinks this is an insignificant issue, we need only look at the last general election. Conservatives received 16% of the overall votes of Black and Asian voters, and Boris Johnson is currently having some tense times in his quest for re-election.” Read more: http://is.gd/ibgYer

Stephan Shakespeare: We enjoy our fantasies of bold leaders but comforting, pragmatic governments tend to be re-elected.    “We enjoy our fantasies of traditional leadership – captains on the bridge of the ship seeing further than anyone else – but no one in a position of public decision-making feels comfortable being seriously out of tune with the public. The most secure way to stay in Numbers 10 and 11 is to make comforting noises and have a slightly better economic policy than the other guys. It’s profoundly uninspiring, anti-romantic and grindingly dull, but it’s probably sensible.” Read more: http://is.gd/rycC1b

Chris Pincher MP: Wind farms are expensive, unreliable, damage local environments and subsidise foreign industry.   “But fundamentally, the problem with on-shore wind is that it cannot be relied upon to deliver the energy we need, when we need it…Concentrating on on-shore wind simply because it is the most “mature” technology fails to provide us with a secure energy supply which benefits British companies and which is supported by the public.  We must shift our focus and be prepared to cut its subsidy.” Read more: http://is.gd/YqOamr

David Binder: Introducing transferable allowances for married couples would be more progressive than taking people out of tax.”   The LibDem flagship tax policy of increasing the personal income tax threshold would have the highly regressive effect of helping better off families disproportionately in comparison to poorer ones. The progressive transferrable tax allowance on the other hand would do the opposite. It would also begin to reform our system in the right way, laying down the foundations toward move to a system that recognises not just individual income but also family responsibilities.” Read more: http://is.gd/zxjask

Tim Montgomerie: Tory members say deregulation should be top growth priority.   “In the latest ConservativeHome readers’ survey we asked respondents to rate a list of measures in terms of their importance for the competitiveness of the British economy. A zero rating equalled of no importance and ten equalled top importance. The table below summarises the results.

Radical pruning of red tape for small businesses: 9.07

Getting out of expensive EU policies like the Common Agricultural Policy: 8.29

New generation of nuclear power stations: 8.0

Delay of policies that are increasing energy prices: 7.94
End of national pay bargaining: 7.13

A no strike deal in essential public services: 6.97

A no strike deal in essential public services: 6.97

Sacking of bad teachers: 6.95

New airport capacity: 6.9

Break up of the Eurozone: 6.87

The abolition of the 50p tax rate: 6.46

Linking the retirement age to life expectancy: 6.02

Profit-making schools: 5.14

A regional minimum wage: 4.98

Lower tax on income and investment, paid for, if necessary, by higher taxes on pollution and expensive properties: 4.93

High speed rail: 4.0

Toll roads: 3.59″.          Read More: http://is.gd/YhAvZ0

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