Growing factionalism within the Conservative Party will be thrown into stark relief next week when modernising young Tory MPs attempt to mount a generational coup against older troublemakers.
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The 301 Group – named after the number of MPs that the Tories are likely to need at the next general election for an overall majority – has launched a push to gain key positions on the party's 1922 Committee of backbenchers.
The 301's leaders argue that the 1922 Committee's officers, who represent rank-and-file MPs' feelings to the Prime Minister, have allowed themselves to become an "awkward squad" and are less interested in offering positive suggestions to David Cameron.
The acrimony reflects the tensions among Conservative MPs who have been rocked by last week's local election results and the public backlash against George Osborne's Budget.
The 301 Group wants the Committee's leadership to be less destructive about the Government and put a greater focus on campaigning. It is one of several groups to have launched since the last election, underlining the self-confidence of new Tory MPs.
Downing Street will be relieved if it succeeds in ousting some of the 1922's old guard in next Wednesday's elections. The modernisers are fielding Karen Bradley, the MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, and Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover – both campaigning politicians who captured their seats from Labour at the election – for the two posts of Secretary. Their aim is to remove Christopher Chope, the former minister who has been a thorn in Mr Cameron's side since the election. The second post is currently held by Mark Pritchard, a fierce critic of the Prime Minister, who is stepping down from the position.
The group is putting forward nine candidates – all newly elected MPs – for the committee's 12-strong executive and is endorsing three other serving members. High-profile names standing with the group's blessing include Mr Cameron's former press secretary, George Eustice, now the MP for Camborne and Redruth, Priti Patel, the MP for Witham, and George Hollingbery, the MP for Meon Valley.
Among the MPs who could lose their posts are Peter Bone, Julian Brazier, Philip Davies and Bernard Jenkin, who have all recently criticised the party's direction under Mr Cameron. Their chances of survival have been hit by the decision to allow parliamentary private secretaries – MPs who are ministerial aides – to vote in the election.
One Cameron critic said yesterday: "There's no doubt that No 10 wants as much control of the parliamentary party as possible. They have previous form in trying to take over the '22."
The party has been hit by a new bout of in-fighting after the outspoken MPs Nadine Dorries and Stewart Jackson were heckled at a stormy meeting this week of the 1922 Committee.
Their supporters insist they have the right to speak out on the party's direction, but critics retort that their public disloyalty is exacerbating the Tories' woes.
The 301 is among five backbench Tory groups that have been launched since the general election.
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