Theresa May faces a backlash from MPs loyal to David Cameron

MPs who followed the former Prime Minister fear his successor is pulling the party to the right and are preparing for a fight 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Saturday 17 September 2016 00:00
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Theresa May faces a stand-off with MPs loyal to David Cameron who fear she is abandoning the politcal centre and moving the Conservatives to the right.

Despite being in office for just two months, the Prime Minister is being eyed with concern by some Tories who feel they won their seats only because of former leader David Cameron’s liberal agenda.

At the same time Ms May is under pressure from the right wing of the Conservatives to maintain a strong position on leaving the European Union.

She also faces potential revolts over her controversial grammar schools plan and the constituency boundary review, which could see Tory MPs losing their seats.

Mr Cameron surprised many in Westminster when he announced he would stand down as an MP this week, saying he did not want to be a distraction for the new Prime Minister – something that was already starting to happen.

Labour had gleefully passed round a string of Mr Cameron’s quotations on how he disliked grammar schools hours after Ms May announced she would let new ones open. But while Mr Cameron will be gone, his legacy on the Tory benches remains.

One Tory MP said: “Some of the people from the 2015 intake feel they won their seats thanks to David Cameron, particularly those in Lib Dem marginals.

“A lot of them are saying ‘well hang on a second, we won because the party is in the centre ground, appealing to the mainstream. Are we beginning to see it being pulled back to the right, which is something that would see me damaged in my seat?’"

Theresa May says grammar schools are why she and Jeremy Corbyn are in leadership

The MP added: “There is also a gang of people who have been here for a while longer saying they are going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

For some, concerns about Ms May's direction were confirmed by the grammar schools policy, which some believe was brought in too quickly for such a sweeping change.

One backbencher told The Independent: “You’ve got Brexit and you’ve got the boundary review. It seems like the wrong time politically to bring grammars in too, and I'm not sure if it's the right policy in an educational sense either. It’s just come out of the blue.”

Some suggested there are at least 20 Tory MPs who are not yet prepared to give complete backing to the plans for a string of different reasons.

After the statement by Education Secretary Justine Greening on the issue in the House of Commons, several MPs did raise muted concern. One MP said afterwards: “We were all pretty well behaved in the statement because it’s not Justine’s fault that this has been brought forward.

“But there were people speaking up and sounding a note of caution that you would not expect, that doesn’t bode well.

“Despite what [the ministers] think, the feeling is that they will have to water a lot of this down to get something through.”

Another MP from a traditional Tory area said: “There is a danger that people who back these policies are thinking that what works well in an urban setting also works well in a rural one. But that isn’t the case. Free schools for example have had very little impact in rural areas.

“I’m not in principle against grammars. But there are real fears that if people don’t get into the school near them, they will have to travel miles and miles to get to another comprehensive.

“There is going to have to be a lot of explaining and a lot of extra measures brought in to address those problems.”

Another experienced MP explained that the shape of the Tory benches in the Commons had drastically changed and would take getting used to for Ms May.

The MP said: “In the past in terms of the story in the press, it has been the Conservative Government and then the awkward squad.

“Now you have the Government and you have the hard Brexiteers who will be awkward on Europe, but then you have the people on the other side shut out from the Cameron days – two outside strands of opinion on the backbenches.”

The boundary review, which Ms May has said she was still committed to taking forward, provides a further flash point.

Despite an operation underway to find compensation for MPs who may lose their seats, either with a new seat or potentially even a job outside politics, members are on tenterhooks.

One MP pointed out: “Some people are just saying ‘I won’t vote for it’. They are going to have a lot of work to do, it wouldn't surprise me if they just let it die.”

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