Summertime blues: Tories bemoan holiday season from hell

The actions of Baroness Warsi, Boris Johnson and Mark Simmonds didn’t help, but as the economic revival fails to move the polls, the natives are getting restless over a lack of direction from the centre

The Tory MP sitting out in the sunshine on the House of Commons terrace was of anything but a sunny disposition. “Tell me what we stand for,” he lamented. “What reason are we giving voters to elect us for another five years? We can’t just be about the economy and not being Ed Miliband.”

If Labour had the wobbles last summer, then this year it is the turn of Conservative MPs and activists to fret.

There are growing murmurings of discontentment in Tory ranks about the party’s lacklustre performance in recent weeks, and worries that the leadership has committed too many unforced errors.

Party strategists had certainly not planned it this way. As MPs departed for their summer break, Conservative headquarters was a hive of activity. Conservative Campaign Headquarters had drawn up plans for a blitzkrieg on marginal seats that would see every Tory Cabinet minister visit a target constituency to highlight the Government’s economic record.

There would then be themed weeks on welfare, employment and education through August to fill up the political “silly season” and highlight areas of Tory strength over Labour.

But one minister and a mayor didn’t get the memo – or decided to ignore it.

First off was Sayeeda Warsi, whose position in the Government was symbolic as Britain’s first Muslim Cabinet minister. Downing Street had known for weeks how unhappy she was about the Tory’s position on Gaza but had chosen to ignore rather than placate her. And so when she did resign, she decided to inflict maximum pain on Number 10.

Boris Johnson unveiled his true ambitions Boris Johnson unveiled his true ambitions (PA)
With images of the civilian casualties still very much in the public mind, her charge that Mr Cameron’s position was “morally indefensible” struck a chord. And by releasing her resignation statement on Twitter in time for the lunchtime news, she ensured saturation coverage all day and in the following morning’s papers.

The next day the Tories had been hoping to get the focus back on the economy, with a speech by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid – helpfully – highlighting the Government’s economic record by contrast with that of Labour. But then Boris Johnson (without clearing it with Downing Street) used a question and answer session to reveal he was planning to come back to Parliament at the next election. The implicit message was: I reckon there’s a decent chance Cameron will lose in 2015 and I want to be leader.

To be fair, Downing Street could not be entirely blamed for either the Johnson or Warsi bombshell. But the decision to announce the nomination of two big Tory donors as new members of the House of Lords last Friday was entirely self-inflicted. 

So was its handling of Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds’ resignation last Monday. Rather than let him go in the reshuffle, they allowed him to stay on to chair the UN Security Council. And when they did announce his departure, they didn’t check what he was going to say.

Unhelpfully, rather than issue a bland statement, he inflicted maximum negative publicity on his party by explaining he was quitting because the £27,875-a-year parliamentary rental allowance was not enough to pay for the “lifestyle” he wanted. It was a statement that – along with the “crony” peers – played entirely into a public narrative that the Tories have been desperate to avoid.

Baroness Warsi said the PM’s position was ‘morally indefensible’ Baroness Warsi said the PM’s position was ‘morally indefensible’ (Getty Images)
But what is also worrying for MPs and activists is the paucity of the Tory grass-roots campaign. Local parties are still not seeing a decline in Ukip support – but they are seeing a decline in their own membership. Some marginal constituencies have lost between 15 and 30 per cent of their local activists, and those are the seats where Labour did best at May’s local elections.

Those who are still there worry that they are not being given anything to campaign “on” by the centre that will mobilise their vote and help persuade others to switch.

“Everybody is awaiting something big and exciting at party conference,” said one activist. “The twitchiness that people are feeling is based on the fact that the economic news isn’t giving us a lead in the polls which everyone predicted would come.

“People want a big message and something easy to set them apart from Labour. Economic handling is one thing, but having a sweetener to promise would make it easier to campaign.”

A Tory adviser in Westminster added that another part of the problem was that every speech, announcement or comment had to be cleared by the party’s election chief, Lynton Crosby. “Basically if it’s not about the economy, welfare or immigration, he’s not interested. It’s demoralising and not the sort of campaign a lot of us want to run. We’re not giving people a positive reason to vote for us.”

Tory HQ says these criticisms are unfair and insist the party has been working “incredibly hard” over the summer in difficult circumstances. It says  the attention of those ministers not on holiday has been rightly focused on foreign affairs and that they have got a clear, consistent message of “getting on with the job”, which will pay dividends next May.

Only time will tell. But if after the party conference season the Tory poll ratings are still languishing at between 33 and 35 per cent, there will begin to be public calls for a strategic rethink.

“We are always being reassured that as the economy improves so will the poll ratings,” said a backbencher. “But it is getting near the point when we need to see the evidence.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Turner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established manufactu...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executives - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A young, vibrant and growing co...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral