Tory MPs Groups

24 Jan 2013 08:29:38

What is the Bruges Group?

By Matthew Barrett
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Screen shot 2011-02-16 at 21.54.21My series profiling the groups of Tory MPs continues with a look at a pioneering Eurosceptic group which helped backbenchers cause significant headaches for Prime Minister John Major during the early 1990s. The Bruges Group is a well-established forum for advocating looser ties with Brussels, and it has gone from a relatively small collection of Tories to one of the groups that best represents mainstream Conservative thinking on its particular policy area.

Origins of the group

The Bruges Group was founded in February 1989 to promote and uphold the ideas Margaret Thatcher expressed in her famous Bruges Speech in late 1988. Mrs Thatcher argued that the tide of opinion on the continent was towards centralising the structure of the European institutions - and this would be unsuitable for Britain's national identity and democracy. In the most famous passage of the speech, Mrs Thatcher said:

"I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world. But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. ... We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."

The group was set up by Patrick Robertson and Lord Harris of High Cross, ie Ralph Harris, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs from 1957 to 1988. Lord Harris' work promoting free-market economics at the IEA was instrumental in the creation of Thatcherism.

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8 Jan 2013 17:56:43

2020 Group of Conservative MPs offer radical policy agenda

By Harry Phibbs
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Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 18.25.13

They don't wish to call it a manifesto, but the 2020 Group of Conservative MPs have come up with a work in progress towards one. 2020 Vision - An agenda for tranformation is a collection of essays. Some have an individual by-line, some are the joint effort of a group of MPs.

Adam Afriyie has already outlined some of the thinking on economics, but the range of the paper is far wider.  The content is a mix of broad themes as well as specific proposals but I suspect Oliver Letwin will find some cherries to pick from for the 2015 manifesto. There are also items which the Government could get on with over the next couple of years. 

Here are some of the ideas I like:

  • Charles Elphicke offers some proposals on how Judicial Reviews could be scaled back. He argues that Ministers are accountable to Parliament and should be able to get on and take decisions without timewasting challenges based on "mischief."
  • Nadhim Zahawi makes the pretty reasonable point that ministers "have no formally recognized control over promotions, rewards or sanctions—of the most basic tools of management in other words. This leaves ministers in the position of being accountable to Parliament for the success or failure of a given project, but with no say over who heads the team brought in to deliver that project."
  • "We should consider the difference benefits can make between regions. Benefits in Croydon might not stretch very far but in Middlesbrough the same amount could be a favourable alternative to work."
  • "We should consider abolishing the retirement age. If you want to work and can work, you should be allowed to continue to do so. We should dismiss the notion that at a certain age we should stand aside. Saving for retirement should receive greater encouragement, perhaps through the concept of SARA (a savings and retirement account) an ISA and pension combined."

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1 Nov 2012 08:26:05

63 Tory MPs from all wings of party join new Blue Collar Conservative group

By Tim Montgomerie
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At the heart of ConservativeHome's Strong and Compassionate project is the idea that the party cannot just be about the creation of wealth. We must also be clear that the prosperity we will help to create will be a prosperity that everyone enjoys. We need to make it clear that our priority for tax relief is the lower-paid strivers. We also need to make it clear that we will ensure pensioners and others who depend upon the safety-net don't fall dangerously behind as the rest of the nation prospers. We need to address the reality that blue collar wages are stagnant. In America they haven't risen for forty years. The contours of the blue collar vote were revealed in recent polling undertaken by Lord Ashcroft.

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A new group is formally launched today that aims to think deeply about our Party's blue collar message. It has three core beliefs:

  1. The Conservative Party is at its strongest when it reaches out to voters of all backgrounds
  2. The Conservatives need the support of blue collar voters to achieve an overall majority
  3. The Conservatives must reward ordinary hard working voters who take responsibility for their own lives.

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2 Aug 2012 14:43:34

Who are Deep Blue? Matthew Barrett profiles the backbenchers seeking to represent the "sensible right" of the 2010 intake

By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs often features groups with ideological goals, such as those representing the traditional right or Thatcherite wing of the Party. There have also been profiles of newer groups with less immediately ideological aims, such as Fresh Start or the Forty. My group this week, Deep Blue, straddles both of these categories. They come from a firmly centre-right standpoint, although they aim to focus not so much on immediate policy issues but more on what the longer-term direction of the Conservative Party should be if it is to win future elections.

Origins of the group

Stride MelThe foundation of Deep Blue was the idea of Mel Stride, the Member for Central Devon. Stride decided to set the group up a few months ago, and the first meeting was held roughly two and a half months ago, after Stride took soundings and found there was "a strong appetite" from colleagues to get together.

Stride, who chairs the group, is an entrepreneur with a strong background in business and is a former President of the Oxford Union. He is PPS to John Hayes, who is the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. In my report on the Cornerstone Group, I listed Stride as a "friend" of Cornerstone, which is often seen as being on the traditional wing of the Party, while Hayes co-founded Cornerstone.

Members of Deep Blue include Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Nick de Bois (Enfield North) and Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove).

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28 May 2012 06:23:29

What is the Fresh Start Project? Matthew Barrett profiles the Tory MPs trying to forge a new UK-EU relationship

By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has usually featured groups with general ideological goals. Groups representing the traditional right or Thatcherite wing of the Party cannot be said to focus on a single area of political life. Nor can newer groups like the Free Enterprise Group, or the 2020 Conservatives. However, Fresh Start, the subject of this profile, is focused on one big area of politics: Europe.

Origins of Fresh Start

Fresh Start was formed before the summer recess in 2011, and formally launched in September last year, at an event to which all Conservative MPs were invited. Anthony Browne, in his ConservativeHome column, reported on the launch of Fresh Start at the time:

"By one count there were 104 Conservative MPs; another put it at 120 – twice the total number of Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. Either way, it was standing room only in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House last night, as much of the parliamentary Conservative party (and the odd hanger-on like me) met to discuss Britain’s way forward with the European Union."


The founders are Andrea Leadsom, Chris Heaton-Harris, and George Eustice, all 2010 intake members:

  • Leadsom, the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire, had a career in the City prior to entering politics, having been Financial Institutions Director at Barclays Bank, Managing Director of a London hedge fund and then, Head of Corporate Governance for Invesco Perpetual. Leadsom runs Fresh Start and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for European Reform (see below) from her office, and has regular co-ordinating messages with Heaton-Harris and Eustice.
  • Heaton-Harris, from Daventry, which neighbours Leadsom's constituency, was a Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands region from 1999 until 2009. He was an advocate of reform and helped found the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform (CPR). Heaton-Harris also helped publicise the case of Marta Andreasen, now a UKIP MEP, who, as the European Commission's Chief Accountant, complained about fraud and waste in the European institutions in 2002. 
  • Eustice is the Member of Parliament for Camborne and Redruth, and was a UKIP candidate for the South West of England region at the 1999 European Parliament elections. He has also been Campaign Director for the cross-party campaign against the €uro in 2000, Head of Press for Michael Howard during the 2005 election, and Press Secretary for David Cameron from when Cameron launched his leadership campaign until he was well established as leader, at the end of 2008. Eustice also played a key role in the Conservative effort to win a "no" vote in the AV referendum.

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4 May 2012 06:14:38

What is the Cornerstone group? Matthew Barrett profiles the socially conservative Tory backbench group

By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.

Origins of the group

HayesLeighCornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.

Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.

When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:

"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."

The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.

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26 Apr 2012 16:52:24

What is the No Turning Back group? Matthew Barrett profiles the keepers of the Thatcherite flame

By Matthew Barrett
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In my series profiling groups of Tory MPs, most groups I've looked at have been mostly or wholly composed of 2010 intake MPs. The next group is bit different, as it was founded more than 25 years ago. The No Turning Back group has a proud history of celebrating and promoting Thatcherism. How is the group doing now? In this profile, I'll be examining what No Turning Back, the backbench group for Thatcherites in Parliament, is doing now. 

Origins of the group

Thatcher1No Turning Back was founded in 1985 to defend Mrs Thatcher's free-market policies. The 25 founding members included, amongst others, now-Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon, now-Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, and the late, great Eric Forth.

The name of the group comes from Mrs Thatcher's famous conference speech given in October 1980:

"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.” I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends."

Key members

There are about 100 members of the group, which is chaired by John Redwood, including "quite a lot" from the 2010 intake. Members include such big beasts as John Redwood, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Peter Lilley, Lord Forsyth, and Liam Fox. Current Conservative officeholders who are members of the group include the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron's PPS, Desmond Swayne; Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mark Harper; the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers; a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly; three government whips, Angela Watkinson, Mark Francois and Greg Hands; the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Greg Knight; and the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, John Whittingdale, who was Mrs Thatcher's Political Secretary in the late 1980s.

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20 Apr 2012 06:33:09

Who are the 301? The Tory MPs who want to refresh the 1922 Committee

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

HopkinsLeeThe 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.

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17 Apr 2012 07:59:19

What is the 40 group? Matthew Barrett profiles the MPs trying to keep hold of the most marginal Tory seats

By Matthew Barrett
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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).

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3 Apr 2012 08:02:14

What is the 2020 group? Matthew Barrett profiles the Tory MPs trying to renew the Cameron project

By Matthew Barrett
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Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.

Origins of the Group:


The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.

Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."

Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".

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21 Mar 2012 05:57:45

What is the Free Enterprise Group? Matthew Barrett profiles the most influential new gathering of Tory MPs

Free Enterprise GroupBy Matthew Barrett
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The Forty. The 301. The 2020. These are some of the groups formed by Conservative MPs after the last general election. Most are largely made up of, or driven by, 2010-intake MPs. Over the next few weeks, I'll be profiling some of these groups. 

Today, we kick off with the Free Enterprise Group (FEG). The FEG is considered influential by sources at the Treasury, and George Osborne is said to think very highly of it, regarding it as the most important of the new groups to emerge. 

Origins of the Group: The group initially formed out of concern at the anti-free market atmosphere that has developed in the last few years. The behaviour of the last government, in cosying up to big business cartels and corporatist interests, often gave people a mistakenly bad impression of the free market that didn't necessarily exist twenty years ago. Polling suggests 21st-century Britons are less receptive towards free enterprise than the Chinese, Americans and Germans. There is also a wider cause - making Britain globally competitive again. The FEG's website highlights startling statistics about our place in the world: the fact that we are now 83rd in the world for regulation, 94th for taxation, and so on. This concern derives not just from the fact that we are being overtaken by emerging markets like Brazil, but also established Western economies, like Germany, have become more free market than Britain.

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