Editorial: Another week, another bout of Conservative Party in-fighting

Between the high-profile grandees, the existing cabinet ministers and the obstreperous backbenchers, Mr Cameron has found himself with nowhere to hide

Share

David Cameron was in a tricky enough spot last week, forced to pretend it was, if not desirable, then at least acceptable that more than 100 obstreperous backbenchers voted their “regret” at his Government’s legislative programme. Between the high-profile grandees (Lord Lawson, Michael Portillo) and the existing cabinet ministers (Michael Gove, Philip Hammond) all voicing their scepticism on Europe – and implicitly criticising the Prime Minister’s renegotiation strategy in the process – the ghosts of John Major’s strife-riven leadership were abroad once more.

If Mr Cameron hoped that the Queen’s Speech vote would be a cathartic letting off of steam, he has once again misjudged his party’s mood. Never mind that, as with Mr Major’s “bastards”, the Prime Minister might justifiably view the Eurosceptics tearing his party to unelectable shreds as “swivel-eyed loons”. That an as-yet unidentified figure closely allied with Mr Cameron is reported describing activists in such terms only emphasises the yawning gulf between the leadership and the rank and file.

There is, of course, always tension between the politicians who must win elections and the grass-roots party for whom compromise is a betrayal. But with the Tory chairman forced to deny the “loons” quote and Mr Cameron’s own attitude now under intense scrutiny, the strains start to look more like civil war. Indeed, even as the Bow Group, a high-Tory think-tank, talks of “crisis”, the gap between the modernising Mr Cameron and the unbending traditionalism of both party activists and, crucially, swathes of MPs appears increasingly unbridgeable. 

Nor will the coming week prove any easier, offering, as it does, another chance for rebels to flex their parliamentary muscles – this time over gay marriage – and for leaders-in-waiting to nail their colours to the mast. There has been no shortage of posturing already. Mr Gove’s hints on Europe are no surprise; for all his wide-eyed denials, the Education Secretary was always a contender. But it was the Defence Secretary who made last week’s most audacious bid for Tory hearts.

Not only was Mr Hammond explicitly anti-EU. Just days later he berated the Prime Minister for wasting time on gay marriage, earning a sharp put-down from a rattled No 10. And all this against the backdrop of spending review negotiations in which the Defence Secretary is very publicly setting himself up as the defender of military spending .

With the marriage Bill back in the Commons today, Mr Cameron faces yet more rebellion and dissent. Euroscepticism may have begun what Geoffrey Howe described yesterday as the Tory party’s “long, nervous breakdown”, but the row over gay marriage is emblematic of how deep the discord now runs. Barely any of Mr Cameron’s new-look, hoodie-hugging Conservatism survived the twin pressures of recession and realpolitik. Same-sex marriage remains, in his view, an electorally vital nod to modernity and the middle ground. But even that is one nod too many for his party.

So far, Mr Cameron’s attempts at conciliation have repeatedly failed. The gay marriage plans are set to be watered down. And each concession on Europe – from the referendum pledge, to the free vote on the Queen’s Speech, to the Private Member’s Bill that swiftly followed – has only upped the ante. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the majority of voters support same-sex marriage and, as the open letter from business leaders in this newspaper today makes clear, the referendum question is a distraction from the real issues for Britain in Europe. Not only is the Conservative Party splitting itself in two – it is leaving the electorate far behind.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit