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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect