Dr Liam Fox and David Davis launch new right-wing campaign group Conservative Voice in symbolic fashion
The language was bland but the symbolism striking.
Two of the biggest beasts of the Tory right - who fought David Cameron for the Conservative crown - sitting side by side and united in a cause.
Alongside them leading members of new 2010 Tory intake - promising to say “whatever we want” to help the party win outright at the next election.
Even the venue had been chosen with imagery in mind: St Stephen’s Club in Westminster – the very place where David Cameron made his ‘big open offer’ to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the first place.
This was the launch of a new rightwing Tory campaign group called Conservative Voice today - and while there may have been no public disloyalty on display there was no shortage of knowing smiles and wry asides.
The unspoken message: Labour is not the only opposition that Mr Cameron faces.
The group is the brainchild of Don Porter - a former chairman of the Tories’ voluntary wing - who wrote earlier this year that Cameron’s “detoxification” drive had seen the party “lose touch with its grassroots and with the values that brought it so much success”.
He has gathered together supporters including not the only the former leadership rivals David Davis and Dr Liam Fox but also an impressive array of bright young Tory talent.
Among them Dominic Raab, Robert Halfon and Stephen Barclay - members of the 2010 Tory intake - who spoke out in favour of the group’s aim to unite activists and MPs who “support the Conservative agenda of individual aspiration, small government, low taxes (and) a broad rather than deep relationship with Europe”.
While none of the panel took the bait of openly criticising the Prime Minister at its launch today the group will be wearily watched by Downing Street.
Because unlike other Tory affiliates Conservative Voice it intends not only to be a talking shop for Conservative ideas - but to actively campaign and raise money for candidates who share their views.
It could also become an unofficial focal point for those in the Conservative Parliamentary party opposed to Mr Cameron’s leadership and who might potentially be prepared to coalesce around a challenger should Tory poll numbers not improve.
In addition the group already a tie up with ConservativeHome, the Tory grassroots internet site owned by millionaire businessman Michael Ashcroft, and should it secure his financial backing it could become a significant force in the Conservative landscape.
“We took the line that we would not be a membership organisation and we also took the line that we would welcome donations and we would not set limits on those donations,” said Mr Porter tellingly.
“We have no big donors so far.”
Dr Fox, who has become something of a standard bearer for the concerns of the Tory right since being forced out of the Government last year, said Conservative Voice was about advancing a Tory agenda which was difficult for ministers to pursue because they were in Coalition.
“There are limitations to what ministers can say given the constraints of coalition,” he said. “There are no limitations on what we can say.
“Clearly, as we move towards the next election, there will be a need for us to differentiate our brand and set forward a clear Conservative message. I think we have been doing that quite successfully in recent days.
“I’m not at all surprised that the Lib Dems want to set out what they believe in. We also have very
Mr Davis insisted that far from being disloyal it was “very healthy that we are able to espouse viewpoints which are distinctive”.
“Clear Conservative messages have appeals far, far beyond the Conservative party. Partly what this [group] is about is trying to get that message across in new ways for all those people who are potential supporters of the Conservative party.”
The group were keen to stress that both Downing Street and Conservative Central Office were fully aware and supportive of their supportive their plans.
But the united front was somewhat undermined the maverick Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries who was seated in the audience.
“We need a kill Cameron strategy,” she said.
Not the message they wanted to portray. But a sentiment that some of them might privately share - politically at least.
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