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.”

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam