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Cameron woos the '22

By Paul Goodman

CAMERON-DAVID-RED-TIEThe Prime Minister got off to a turbulent start with the 1922 Committee in this Parliament.  First, he sought to abolish it by merging it with the Party's front bench, apparently in order to stop Graham Brady being elected as its Chairman.  Next, he backed down, perhaps because of the scale and range of the criticism his move provoked, perhaps because he was told that Brady would win the poll in any event.

At any rate, the right of the party swept the board in the elections.  Brady was elected.  Charles Walker, John Whittingdale, Brian Binley and Mark Pritchard are officers.  Five of the six Executive members first elected in previous Parliaments are from the right.  Walker, Binley and Priti Patel have been elected by backbenchers to the Party's Board.

It's fair to say that the David Cameron and the '22 Executive don't always see eye to eye - on the AV referendum, for example - and it will be worth watching the forthcoming backbench committee elections closely.  The Prime Minister was thus on a charm offensive when he addressed the '22 earlier this evening, promising, as Tim tweeted earlier, to build a better relationship with the Parliamentary Party.

Cameron didn't quite burst into a chorus of "All you need is love".  But he went out of his way to say how well he was working with Brady, and that they were meeting frequently in private.  (The Prime Minister also dined with the '22 Executive recently.)  For the first time, he publicly acknowledged that the former Shadow Ministers who didn't make it to office - over 35 of them - were entitled to feel "disappointed".

Tensions over the relationship between the Prime Minister and his party surfaced during questions - over AV, perhaps inevitably.  The '22 Executive has already tasked one of its members, Bernard Jenkin, to discuss the details of the AV bill and referendum with the Government - and reservations have been expressed about the proposed lack of a turnout threshold, and timing.

Some Conservative MPs believe that the referendum shouldn't take place on the same day next May as Scottish, Welsh and local elections - since, they argue, this will artificially inflate turnout and influence the result.  Cameron referred to the need to keep the Coalition together and the Liberal Democrats on board, saying that some could be "tetchy" and "scratchy".

Those present were apparently cheered by his recitation of the Government's Tory-led initiatives: Eric Pickles in particular got a big plug.  The tone of Prime Minister's appearance this evening showed that he's aware that a gulf opening up between him and his backbenchers would be dangerous - for him, for the Party, and for the Government.

Time will tell whether or not it does - and whether the Coalition's a partnership of two parts, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, or a partnership of three: the Liberal Democrats (particularly their left wing), the Cameron/Clegg Government leadership, and the Conservative backbenches.

> Related link: How Cameron can show more ♥ to his party


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