Editorial: Tory plotting shows MPs do not have enough to do

The fact is that David Cameron is going nowhere. Nor is George Osborne
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The Independent Online

Conservative MPs in unspecified numbers are stirring. Not only are they plotting and speculating about a change of leadership, but they also speak of the possible need to sack the Chancellor, too. Quotes are surfacing, largely without attribution, about the importance of preparing now for a successor to David Cameron, were he to lose the next election. Similarly George Osborne, if the economy slips back into recession.

What is striking is that none of those involved in such machinations appears to be planning for Mr Cameron's removal before the election in 2015. And as no one knows what the outcome of the vote will be, any grooming of potential leadership candidates now is almost comically premature.

Speculation about the Chancellor is equally disingenuous. The Prime Minister is dependent on him, as an ally and as a friend. There is, therefore, no remote likelihood that Mr Osborne will be sacked. Nor is he going to be moved. Mr Cameron's restive MPs know that, and their comments are simply aimed at further destabilising him now.

Indeed, all the plotting that would appear to be aimed at the future reflects, in fact, the dissenters' discontent with the present. Their restlessness also has immediate consequences, unnerving the leadership and conveying the impression of a fractious parliamentary party, akin to Labour in the 1980s.

Some of the scheming is spurred by specific policies. Mr Cameron's support for gay marriage is fuelling real discontent, and next week's vote will reveal the extent to which the Conservatives are split on the issue. Similarly, the Prime Minister's speech on Europe last month has done little to soothe the insurrectionary mood. Evidently, Eurosceptic MPs remain wary of the leadership's motives even though they have secured a commitment to a referendum after the election.

The explanation for the current agitation goes well beyond policy, however. Mr Cameron lacks the authority he would have acquired had he had won an overall majority. And his failure to do so also limits his powers of patronage: there are fewer ministerial posts to offer as a reward for loyalty. Even so, the electoral outcome and the Coalition Government that followed cannot justify the self-indulgent plotting. Much of the Conservative manifesto is being implemented. And Mr Osborne is cutting public spending more deeply than Margaret Thatcher, still the heroine of many MPs and activists.

The more prosaic – and more damning – explanation is that MPs simply do not have enough constructive work to divert their attentions. The Commons chamber is often nearly empty. Most of the significant legislation of this parliament is already passed. And a lot of members know they will not be ministers any time soon – or, in some cases, any time at all – and struggle to find satisfaction elsewhere. Some choose to fill the vacuum with conspiracy. But they thereby make the case for a thorough-going review of the role they occupy.

It is unthinkable that there is no more profitable activity for MPs than to engage in silly plots that are not going to go anywhere. Such childish troublemaking highlights, yet again, the need for a more grown-up parliamentary politics with the executive held more closely to account. More powerful select committees and more extensive scrutiny of draft Bills would help. Fewer whipped votes, propelling the Commons cham-ber into the limelight, would also be welcome.

Mr Cameron may have many flaws as a leader but he will take the Conservative Party into the next election. Tory MPs know that. Rather than wasting energy on absurd speculation about who will replace him, then, they would be better to focus on doing their jobs.