Michael Brown: Failure of Cameron's pet candidates will strengthen his opponents' hand

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

The Tories have both "won" and "lost" this general election. Mr Cameron has the strongest mandate in terms of seats and votes. Whatever machinations take place over the coming days, it is still likely that, by the time Parliament meets, David Cameron will be Prime Minister and will present a Queen's Speech to the House of Commons on 25 May.

It remains, of course, to be seen whether Mr Cameron's offer of discussions with the Liberal Democrats results in a coalition. And if they fail, will Nick Clegg still allow the Tories to form a minority government? It all depends on whether Mr Clegg is intending to use political reform as the sole deal breaker with the Tories. Meanwhile Mr Brown will continue to squat in Downing Street – as is his constitutional right – dangling the carrot of a referendum on electoral reform under the nose of Mr Clegg.

But Mr Cameron has gained over 90 seats and polled two million more votes than Labour. He claims this is the largest number of seats gained in a single general election, by the Tory Party, since 1931; while Labour has achieved one of the worst results in its party's history. But this is a pyrrhic Tory victory. In the words of one senior Tory backbencher to me yesterday, "Cameron has pissed this election away." The Tory leader has spent more than four years "decontaminating the brand". Yet, against this backcloth of humiliation for Labour, he has ended up with less than a 3 per cent increase on the share of the vote achieved at the 2005 general election by Michael Howard, who pursued a "dog whistle" campaign highlighting, immigration, Europe and tax cuts.

This result is a recipe for Tory backbench recriminations that could poison Mr Cameron's putative premiership from the start. Particular embarrassing for the leadership were the heavy defeats for the likes of Shaun Bailey, the black candidate in Hammersmith; Joanne Cash the über Cameroon, who described her party workers in Westminster North as "dinosaurs"; and Mark Coote, the openly gay candidate in Cheltenham. These three were the poster boys and girl for the "modernisation" campaign that consumed Mr Cameron's energies when he could have been formulating coherent policies to address the economic crisis and the national deficit.

Most, though not all, Tory backbenchers, whether friend or foe of the party leader, would rather be in government than in opposition – but not at any price, and certainly not (wrongly in my view) at the price of sacrificing the first-past-the-post electoral system. This will tie the Tory leader's hands in any discussions he may have with Nick Clegg. The Tory blogger Iain Dale has suggested that Mr Cameron could offer Mr Clegg legislation on a referendum for PR – and then promptly campaign for a "no" vote. Somehow, I suspect such Machiavellian tactics would cause mayhem in the Tory ranks.

Should he cross the threshold of No 10, Mr Cameron will face as many nightmares from behind him as he will from the parties ranged opposite him. He will be under pressure to dispense with the "voodoo advisers", led by Steve Hilton, who have sought to control and sideline backbench MPs, parliamentary candidates and the party membership. As Harold Wilson recognised throughout his minority government premierships, the only place that now matters is the House of Commons and the parliamentary arithmetic.

The outgoing chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Edward Leigh, said that while the public have punished all the political parties "they have reclaimed the House of Commons for every Member of Parliament".

He continued: "The power of the executive has been diminished while the supremacy of the House of Commons will now be enhanced – every backbencher is now a player."

The post of Tory chief whip will assume as great an importance as that of Chancellor. Fortunately, Mr Cameron is well-served by Patrick McLoughlin, the former miner, who has served in the opposition whips' office since 1997. But his patience, even temperament and good judgement will be sorely tested.

The focus of Tory backbench attention will centre, initially, on the vacant post of the chairmanship of the 1922 Committee – the spokesman for the parliamentary party to the leadership. The contenders, Graham Brady, Nicholas Soames and Richard Ottoway, will be furiously lobbying the 150 or so newly elected MPs. Mr Brady is seen as the right-wing candidate – he resigned in 2008 from the front bench over his support for more grammar schools – and a victory for him would be the harbinger of party disunity from the start.

One thing is for certain, and that's that speculation on the date of the next general election will begin this weekend.

It's hello to...

Jo Johnson

Low-profile younger brother of Boris, who won Orpington in south-east London.

Kwasi Kwarteng

Ghanaian origin, Eton- and Cambridge- educated, won in Spelthorne, Surrey.

and goodbye from ...

David Heathcoat-Amory

Lost in Wells, Somerset, after 27 years. Had paid back £30,000 in expenses.

Nigel Waterson

Shadow pensions minister, and junior minister under John Major, lost Eastbourne after 18 years.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

BALTIC CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy London base...

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor