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The Scrap of the Year was between the parliamentary party and the Tory leadership — on multiple fronts

By Peter Hoskin
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Kapow! It’s time for the Scrap of the Year award, as voted for by ConHome readers in our end-of-year survey. In the end, it wasn’t so much a points decision as a total knockout. One scrap bludgeoned its way to the top of the pile, as the voting totals show:

  • The scrap between the parliamentary party and the Tory leadership, on multiple fronts: 51.8%
  • Between Nadine Dorries and nearly everyone else: 19.2%
  • Between John Hayes and Ed Davey over wind farms: 18.3%
  • Between Cameron and Boris for the leadership of Tory hearts: 10.7%

It’s the “multiple fronts” part that’s key. The entire year has been punctuated with fights, both large and small, between segments of the parliamentary party and their leadership. There have been the headline rebellions over Lords reform and the EU budget; there has been disgruntlement about gay marriage and the Budget U-turns; and there has been simmering resentment over airports and referenda. And what’s made it worse for David Cameron is that this goes beyond any band of usual suspects. The discontents have included — variably — up-and-comers from the 2010 intake, as well as grizzled backbenchers who were never overjoyed about the whole Cameroonian thing.

Of course, this should be a major concern for the Tory leadership as 2013 begins. There is, after all, the here-and-now of Coalition for them to think about: some of the government’s best laid plans have been undone by this serial scrappery. And there is also the next election: a fractious party tends to be one with diminishing appeal to the public.

So what can be done? Sadly for Messrs Cameron and Osborne, this is, to some extent, a tide that cannot be repelled. The expenses scandal encouraged politicians to be even more beholden to their constituents than to their party leaderships. And then came a partnership with the Lib Dems that is uncomfortable for many Tories, and which diluted the system of patronage that many leaderships rely on to keep their troops satisfied.

But that doesn’t mean that the Tory party has to remain permanently riven between now and the next election. In a recent column for this site, I suggested that Cameron make a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to his own party, much as he did to the Lib Dems after the last election:

This is why, as the Conservative and Lib Dem leaderships look to renew their relationship, Mr Cameron should also make a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to his own party. This doesn’t mean a dramatic public speech, nor does it mean telling Tory MPs what they want they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. But it does mean greater clarity about his brand of Conservatism, and an openness about where he agrees, disagrees and might compromise with other Conservatives. It also means a clearer sense of how any future Conservative majority administration would operate.

This wouldn’t nullify all the frustrations within the Conservative Party, of course, but it could ease some of them. After all, it’s an approach that has already brought two different parties closer, so it should help in uniting a single party. As it was then, let it be now: ‘I want us to work together in tackling our country's big and urgent problems...’”

Perhaps we saw something of this in Mr Cameron’s last meeting with the 1922 Committee — which, as it happens, was rather good-tempered.

> The seven other Picks of 2012 announced so far are Jesse Norman as Backbencher of the YearNick Clegg as Yellow B**tard of the YearBoris Johnson's re-election as Conservative Achievement of the YearOwen Paterson as the One to Watch in 2013; the benefits cap as Policy of the Year; the rise of UKIP as Event of the Year; and Michael Gove as Minister of the Year.

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