By Tim Montgomerie
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Matthew Parris has spent the last 48 hours asking forty Tory MPs in the most marginal constituencies nine questions. He lists the answers in his column for today's Times (£). Thirty of the forty MPs took part in his survey. One refused to take part. Nine never got back to him. Here are the nine questions and the thirty respondents' replies...
Immigration. Has Mr Cameron got it about right? Or further “crackdowns”?
21 said he'd got the balance about right. Nine weren't sure or wanted more crackdowns.
Euro-referendum: should the date be brought forward?
25 said Cameron should stick to his current timings.
Euro-withdrawal: would the Forty like the Party to get off the fence and recommend this?
28 said not yet but some in this number wouldn't rule it out if the PM couldn't get better terms.
Human rights: scrap our Human Rights Act? Withdraw from the European Convention?
Mixed views on this question but Matthew Parris reports, in my view crucially: "My respondents’ only (and common) hesitation was that the PM must not promise what cannot be delivered." Mark Field MP has already spoken powerfully about the danger of over promising and not delivering on the ECHR.
Taxation: a substantial tax cut before the next election?
All wanted tax cuts but 23 ruled out a tax cut that wasn't properly funded.
Welfare: substantial new spending cuts before the next election?
Nineteen said no; eight said yes.
NHS: further structural market-based reform or privatisation before the next election?
23 said no.
Overseas aid: cut it this side of an election?
26 said the Coalition must stick to its promises on 0.7%.
And gay marriage: jettison the Bill?
28 said no believing a U-turn was now too late.
Finally, I asked whether in their own constituency (and whatever their own opinion of the Prime Minister) they found David Cameron to be, on balance, a vote-winner or vote-loser.
On this question all thirty of Mr Parris' respondents voted the same way: "Every one of them believed that Mr Cameron was an asset for them with the general voter."
You can read Matthew Parris' full article here (£) but his key message is that the Tory MPs who appear on TV moaning about the Coalition and David Cameron generally represent safer seats and are not representative. His article concludes with these words from one of his respondents: "The biggest divide in our party is not Left versus Right; it’s safe versus marginal."
By Paul Goodman
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Roughly six months ago, Laura Kuenssberg broke the news of a new group of Conservative MPs called "The Forty" - that's to say, the 40 Tories representing the most marginal seats. Some of them were irritated by whichever one or ones among them told Kuenssberg that "they even sit in a circle in part to show there is no hierarchy". She also wrote that the Prime Minister "has been to some of their meetings", and this gave rise to further cause for annoyance, since members of the 1922 Executive, as I reported at the time, worried aloud that he was using them as a foil against that right-of-party-centre body.
One might have thought that the Forty's discussions would focus exclusively on campaigning, as they swopped ideas and tips about how to hold on to their constituencies. But the group is spreading its wings wider. It last week it published a policy pamphlet by Amber Rudd, the MP for Hastings, called Planning for Change. It is prefaced by the words of David Mowat, the MP for Warrington South, who said at the group's initial meeting: "Welcome to the club that nobody wants to be in." Given the rumblings from the '22, it's bound to be asked: is this an alternative manifesto from the centre-left of the party?
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