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Unusual suspects question Cameron's approach to party management

Cameron has a problem with his backbenchers. It's obvious he also has a problem with the Conservative commentariat. Some of the biggest guns in Fleet Street have questioned his judgment this weekend:

  • James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday: "It will take a long time for some Tory MPs to forgive Cameron for riding roughshod over the rules of the Tory parliamentary party."
  • Martin Ivens in The Sunday Times: "Cameron’s Lib Dem partners are faithful allies for the moment but not necessarily forever. He needs an insurance policy. The loyalty of his own Tory tribe can’t be taken for granted."
  • Charles Moore in The Telegraph: "In relation to his own party, Mr Cameron seems to be throwing good faith and good manners to the winds." 
  • Fraser Nelson in the News of the World: "Last week, I went along to a party of new Tory MPs – expecting to find them in a mood of air-punching optimism. How wrong I was. They were fresh out of a meeting with David Cameron. They’d expected an update about how coalition talks were going. Instead, Cam had come to stage a coup. He wanted to abolish the group of backbench Tory MPs, then junk some Tory pledges."
  • Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail: "There will be moments in the months and years ahead when David Cameron needs his backbenchers more than he does at present. He would be extraordinarily ill-advised if he continues to make enemies on the scale he has already done this week."
  • Patrick O'Flynn in The Express: "He is throwing Conservative articles of faith overboard like a balloonist getting rid of ballast in order to ascend faster to the heavens. An inheritance tax cut? Gone. Repealing the Human Rights Act? You must be joking. Keeping down capital gains tax? Don’t be silly. Repatriating powers from the European Union? Best not to, really."

The new PM will be particularly concerned at the attack from Charles Moore. Long (and still) a big supporter of Cameron, Moore's suggestion that Cameron is ill-mannered is quite a rebuke. Peter Oborne was also something of a cheerleader. Cameron should not dismiss Moore and Oborne in the way that he can dismiss Heffer and Hitchens.

Only four commentators regularly enthuse for Cameron; Bruce Anderson (although very critical of the election campaign); Benedict Brogan (especially during the election); Matthew d'Ancona; and Daniel Finkelstein. D'Ancona defends Cameron's treatment of his backbenchers this morning:

"The final page of the plan published by the coalition last week is also the most important, declaring that "the deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement". Cameron and Osborne know that history will judge them by their success or failure in this awesome task, and that most other criteria will seem paltry by comparison. They want to have Parliament and their party firmly under control before they begin their painful work. They are getting as many of confrontations as they can out of the way, now, when they are at their strongest. One of Bill Clinton's campaign slogans was "Speed Kills": always be first, take the argument to your enemy, rebut lies instantly. Cameron, whose campaign often lacked velocity, is now travelling at the speed of light. He is taking huge risks, upsetting people and storming ahead without fear or favour. Good: this is no time to go wobbly."

That must be Cameron's calculation. Seize control while you can. Lifelong friends form the core of his Downing Street staff. Another lifelong friend is the new Co-Chairman of the party. The 1922 Committee has been diluted by frontbenchers. Because of the Coalition, Liberal Democrat MPs are more powerful than right-wing MPs. Time will tell if this power grab works.

Tim Montgomerie


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