Why the rebellious Tory trend of 2012 must end, if they want to win the election
After a seven-week break, MPs arrived back in Westminster this morning – a whole fortnight before the next recess. With the imminently-expected cabinet reshuffle, all eyes will be on the political big shots over the next week. But this isn’t the only thing on the Conservative Party agenda.
In a post on ConservativeHome last week, influential Tory Tim Montgomerie wrote that “rebelliousness of the parliamentary party is at epidemic levels”. Apparently challenging the party line is the height of fashion among backbenchers at the moment. Whether it’s standing up for true political beliefs or merely screwing over the coalition, this trend is certainly ‘in’ among a significant number of grassroot Conservative MPs.
The most recent example came just a few days ago from Tim Yeo of South Suffolk. A man of principles, Yeo passionately put forward his argument for expansion to Heathrow airport in the Telegraph. This, alone, goes against the party line and coalition agreement, but it was the way with which he voiced his opinion which ruffled the most feathers. Speculation over whether the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is “man or mouse” is not the most outrageous of slurs, but it is still a dent to Cameron’s image at a pretty crucial time.
A dig at his personal credibility may be one thing, but only the serious trendsetters have been brave enough to challenge the PM’s political status. At the forefront of the Tories’ parliamentary class of 2010 was the Hereford and South Herefordshire MP, Jesse Norman. As a respected financial mind and Big Society supporter, Norman was tipped for ministerial promotion – until June of this year. Leading a charge of 90 fellow backbenchers against reform to the House of Lords, he successfully snapped a key thread within the coalition tie.
Yet, arguably the most effective defiance of the year took place outside of the chamber, when a single sentence from Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries sent Downing Street into meltdown. “Not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys that don’t know the price of milk, but two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others”, she declared. She may have been justifiably frustrated, but at that point in time – days before local elections when the government was already facing criticisms for being ‘out of touch’ – such a blunt statement was undeniably destructive.
How could any of this possibly help a party already blighted by the dreaded mid-term blues in the polls?
Parliament’s independent minds should be supported and encouraged, but outright rebellions come at a high price. The subsequent overwhelming speculation each and every time entirely undermines the standing of the prime minister and his cabinet, however freshly-seated the incumbents may be.
When the Brown ministry stood outside Downing Street on that brisk April morning of 2010, it was evident their days were numbered. There was no unity or mutual motive between the corners of New Labour in its final years. No matter how infrequently the average voter follows politics, almost everyone that turns up on polling day is able to ask themselves that vital question – do you have confidence in this government? The resounding answer in 2010 was lethal for Gordon Brown.
Defiance, with whatever reasoning, has vast consequences on personal and electoral levels. If the rebellious road to 2015 gets any bumpier, it may well bring the Conservative Party to its knees. The argument that the Tories should not be held to ransom by the Liberal Democrats is very legitimate – after all, they have a significantly larger mandate to govern. However, that mandate was not large enough to comfortably govern independently, and it is crucial that this is remembered for the duration of the coalition partnership.
This week marks a new chapter in this tale of political convenience. Openly challenging and resisting a Tory-led government will only spell bad news for the party. The decision to disobey the rule from above might be right on a personal level, but it should be taken lightly or often. Whether the coalition lasts the duration or not, it is accepted on both sides that the partnership needs to improve its potential legacy.
Defiance only prevents this each and every time, threatening the political safety of a statistically comfortable administration. It might be at the height if Conservative fashion – so were shoulder pads, once.
As conference season approaches and the reshuffled cabinet settles, some Conservative MPs are reportedly plotting their next bold move against the party whip. It might be a good idea for David Cameron to have a word with a few backbenchers as they return to grace the parliamentary catwalk. “Rebellion? That was so last season!”Tagged in: coalition, conservatives, david cameron, lib dems, Nadine Dorries, tim montgomerie, Tim Yeo, tory
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter