By Matthew Barrett
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The 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity - the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
Thirty-nine pubs are closing each and every week. The all-party save the pub group secured a Westminster Hall debate last week to highlight the problem and discuss solutions. Contributions from MPs are extracted below.
Karen Bradley MP said pubs are socially useful: "The group shares a belief that the British pub is an important part of this country's history and heritage, and that pubs are hugely important to the communities they serve as a focus for community, social, sporting and charitable activity. The traditional public house also provides a sociable and controlled drinking environment, which is important to encourage responsible sociable drinking."
Jack Lopresto MP says the smoking ban should be relaxed: "Overall, the smoking ban has been positive. It has improved the environment of pubs no end, especially for those that rely on serving food as a key part of their business, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience for most people who are non-smokers. It has also made pubs more family friendly. But there needs to be a re-think on having a dedicated smoking area inside buildings, with extractor fans, where no children would be allowed and no food would be served. I realise that this would not be possible in every case, but it would allow many pubs to utilise extra space or even have a smoking bar and non-smoking bar or room/lounge-whatever-and end the practice of smokers being thrown outside in all weathers at any time of day or night, with the problems that can be caused with disturbance to local residents who live close by. That would generate a significant increase in business for pubs that are currently struggling and it could make the difference between a pub staying open or closing."
Thérèse Coffey MP said that pubs should offer diverse services: "We must also encourage other income streams; I think of what is happening with post office essentials. If a pub is open from 11 until 11, there is no reason why one cannot buy stamps and get driving licence forms and so on there. There are also aspects such as the internet hub. We have the digital village pump, and I know that schemes are afoot already to try to ensure that it is near the pub, so that people can use the internet there as well. Of course, we had the endorsement of His Royal Highness Prince Charles in 2001, when he spoke about the pub as the hub. On that note, I raise my glass and toast the future of British pubs. Cheers, everyone."
Two maiden speeches by members of the new Conservative intake this week have taken particular time to praise the work of social enterprises, charities and community groups.
“The challenge for the Government, met in the Budget, is to balance our books while rewarding work; to find a way in which our public services can support and raise up the people of this country who need their help, and not—as happens too frequently, despite the best intentions—hold them down. I believe that a key to that is unleashing the power, potential, leadership and creativity of our social enterprises and charities.”
“In Bedford, groups of charities have already come together in a formal coalition, Consortico, which will enable them better to compete for the contracts that local government offers. Those charities and social entrepreneurs need the Government as an ally who will enable them to overcome the inertia and intransigence of some arms of the bureaucratic state. We need the leaders of the arms of the bureaucratic state to become champions of unbundling their privileges, not intransigent defenders of their own interests.”
“It is said that courage is often found in the most challenging times. With the very difficult measures that he proposed in his speech today, the Chancellor has shown us the courage that is needed, and that he can set us on the right course. We need a House that can both strive for the most important interests of this country and amplify the weakest and quietest voices in our community. The people need a House that can be a beacon for liberty, freedom and democracy for those in the world for whom those are still ideals and not reality. We need a House that will restore probity to the public finances, so that future generations of Britons are not shackled by the excesses of this generation. The Budget has made a start.”
"One of the reasons for the high quality of life in Harrogate and Knaresborough is the quantity and range of community groups and social enterprises. I have been particularly impressed on my visits to social enterprises such as Paperworks, Claro Enterprises, Horticap and the Little Red Bus. Numerous voluntary groups do so much to add to the quality of life in our area, and there are 400 charities registered. I have seen the difference that volunteering and social enterprises make, and I welcome the Government’s support for the third sector."
He went on to highlight the importance of tackling debt:
"I heard comment after comment from people fearful of the scale of debts facing our country, knowing that the action to deal with them would not be easy. People have understood that the need to tackle the issue was urgent, but that there would be better times ahead when the consequences of the previous Government’s debts are dealt with.
"There is a lesson from Harrogate on the benefits of clearing debts. The local council has been active in repaying its debts, keen to clear liabilities and save taxpayers paying for interest. Paying interest does not appeal to Yorkshiremen and women—we are famous for liking value. Paying interest is using funds that could be put to better purpose. In this case, I believe that the money that is being saved will be used to expand the local recycling service. The contrast is stark: paying interest, or investing in environmental initiatives. In less than three years, the council will be debt free—the consequences of a good Conservative administration. It will take us far longer than that to clear the debts that we have inherited."