By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
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 Paul Goodman
This morning's reports of Andrew Lansley's Commons statement yesterday haven't missed that he was unsupported in the Chamber by the presence of senior Cabinet colleagues. (The Prime Minister was en route to Pakistan.)
What some may have missed is the strong support given to the Health Secretary by Conservative backbenchers. Some it, clearly, had been organised in an operation by the Whips - but not all. By my count, Lansley received ten questions specifically supportive of his plans -
"Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As the Secretary of State may know, I still have a faint link with the NHS and medicine in general. The GPs I have met in my constituency and elsewhere are very much in favour of the proposals. In contrast, the complaints are circular letters that have been well organised. Does the Secretary of State agree that GPs will be devastated if there is any reversal and backtracking?
Monday's debate on the Strategic Defence Review saw three more maiden speeches from new Conservative MPs.
"My own military experience is as a serving Territorial Army soldier. I am a Gunner with 266 Commando Battery of the Royal Artillery. As a mobilised reservist, I had the huge honour and privilege to spend a year serving with the mighty men of 29 Commando Regiment, five months of it in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 9.
"As a private soldier, Gunner Lopresti, I spent my tour in Helmand, where I saw at first hand what decisions made in the House of Commons can mean for the men and women on the ground. I worked with the Rifles for a bit of my tour of duty as a member of infantry force protection on the Medical Emergency Response Team, who work in the back of a Chinook helicopter. I watched some awe-inspiring young people fly in and out of danger to pick up and treat casualties, sometimes in the very worst of circumstances and sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I learnt exactly what our future decisions could mean. I also worked alongside a remarkably brave and inspirational soldier, a Lance Bombardier from 29 Commando, whose foot and lower leg were blown off by an improvised explosive device while he was driving a Land Rover with no mine protection in 2006 and who, less than two years later, was back doing a second tour of duty with his regiment as part of 3 Commando Brigade. That was just amazing.
"My experience is what will inform my thinking when the debate on the shape of our military future takes place. Our new Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will certainly have the support of this new Member of Parliament if our Government honour their commitment to renew and strengthen the military covenant, but I will also reserve the right to be a critical friend, not only mindful of Britain's place in the world and our international duties and obligations, but conscious above all of our duty properly to equip and care for those who put their lives on the line for our country. This country needs many culture changes; let us ensure that the ongoing welfare of our servicemen is among them."
Steve Brine, who gained Winchester from the Lib Dems, delivered his maiden speech on his wedding anniversary, and told the house that he hoped that it was "just about a good enough reason for not wining and dining Mrs Brine this evening":
"My constituency has a proud military tradition, and I look forward to making my voice heard in the House on defence matters. The city has no fewer than five military museums, including the Royal Hampshire Regiment museum. The Royal Hampshire, now the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, is based in Winchester and counts a Brine, my grandfather, as part of its proud history. The city will be very much focused on the brave men and women of 11 Light Brigade on Wednesday this week, when we host the royal welcome home parade from Afghanistan. I will be there, of course, as will several Front-Bench Members. I assure the House that we will give the brigade the best Hampshire welcome home.
"In my constituency we are proud of our military history, but it is not all about museums, and it must never be. The Army is still firmly in my constituency at Worthy Down camp, which is still-for now, at least-the home of the Adjutant General's Corps. My constituency also includes the Army training regiment, whose future I am keen to secure as contracts are considered and reviewed for initial support and logistics training.
"The strategic defence and security review is a marked opportunity for our nation to re-engage not only this House-we have certainly done that this afternoon-but the wider public in the invaluable work done by our armed forces to secure our national security. While I am in this House, I intend to be a clear and persistent voice in favour of ensuring that the new Government honour their promise, as I know they will, to repair the military covenant for the sake of our men and women in the field, as well as the families back home living in places such as Worthy Down camp in my constituency."
Finally from this debate came the Commons debut of Rebecca Harris, the new MP for Castle Point in Essex. She said how much she was looking forward to seeing members of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglians - better known as the Vikings - joining the Armed Forces Day parade in her constituency today:
"The Vikings recruit in and around my constituency and are just back from a third tour of duty in Afghanistan, where they have fought bravely, helping to provide security to the Afghan people and to us in the UK in turn. They lost five of their number and many more were injured. I had the privilege of receiving last week a briefing at county hall from their senior officers on their achievements during the mission, and was greatly encouraged by the progress they have made on reconstruction and development, on winning over the local community leaders, and on investment in the training of the Afghan national army and police. More than 10,000 Essex people turned out last week to give them a proper Essex welcome, demonstrating their heartfelt support for those who bravely put their lives at risk on our behalf.
"However, that support has not stopped those same people from asking searching questions about the mission and equipment, and about the care we give to the injured and their relatives, both in mind and body. Some ask why we are in those locations, what we realistically hope to achieve, and whether all the money and personnel could be better deployed in protecting our domestic security in a more direct way. Like many others, my constituents have experienced terrorism first hand and its changing character over the years. The IRA sought to detonate an oil storage tank on Canvey in the '70s, and many of my constituents work in London and were affected by 7/7.
"I hope the defence review gives us a proper chance to look hard at our priorities as we consider how best to make our country secure again, with the background of a diverse and rapidly changing security threat, and the realities of our economic circumstances. My briefing from the Vikings showed clearly the principle that security can be won and maintained only through the combination of military and policing action, negotiation and diplomacy, and aid and investment, and that one should not undermine or work against the other. I hope that the strategic defence and security review, while determining the future shape of our defence and armed forces, will also give the British public confidence that when our brave men and women are sent to war on our behalf, it is for this country's security interests."