Leading article

The Tory rebels have two choices: shut up or lose the election

Worryingly, some of them prefer the second option

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

Things could scarcely be going better for the Conservatives. Every week seems to bring more news of the recovery. High street tills are ringing, employment is at an all-time high and Britain’s economy is growing faster than that of any major country. No wonder the Labour party’s opinion poll lead has been reduced to one vulnerable point. Two years ago, the Conservatives had almost given up hope of winning the next election. Now, it looks within their grasp — if they keep it together. And therein lies the problem.

Two groups of people are working hard to deny Cameron victory. One is the Labour party high command, which is so far proving ineffective. The other is a band of Tories who are working to sabotage the government in pursuit of their own fantasies. At their heart is a determined group that loathes Cameron and wants him gone — and some of whom have convinced themselves that having Miliband in office is a price worth paying. He’ll be out in five years, runs their lunatic logic, with a more conservative Conservative party elected in 2020. And with a fair wind, Britain will be better by 2025.

What started as principled and purposeful rebellions against Lords reform and military intervention in Syria has descended into childish self-indulgence. Bernard Jenkin’s letter asking for new powers to block legislation from Brussels has its merits. But to ask for it now, via a letter to No. 10 supposedly signed by 95 MPs, is pointlessly destructive. The Prime Minister has already promised a referendum on EU membership within four years, and a ‘no’ vote would end these regulations. To send such letters now, in the last 13 months of this Parliament, serves only one purpose: to suggest that once again the Tory party is at war with itself.

This week’s Immigration Bill gives another example of pointless rebellion. The Bill toughens up the current law a little, but that wasn’t good enough for the rebels. They decided to introduce a hopeless amendment: retrospective controls on Romanian and Bulgarian newcomers. This particular battle was lost several years ago and to re-enact it now is worse than futile. It makes the Tories look naive to the point of idiocy: unwilling to understand or accept what it is to govern. The quality of many rebel proposals is disgraceful. The alternative Queen’s speech put forward by Peter Bone, including ideas such as a Thatcher memorial day, would have embarrassed a university Conservative association.

Any Tory who believes that economic recovery is a licence for self-indulgence should remember the 1997 election. The British economy was then, as now, staging a remarkable recovery — but the message heard by the public was of Tory sleaze and infighting over Europe. The lesson of 1997 is that an economic recovery does not speak for itself.

Voters expect unity from a party, quite rightly. If it cannot govern itself, why should it be entrusted with a country? In his memoirs, John Major wrote of the ‘bickering, squabbling and backstabbing’ that ‘afflicted Conservatism almost like a death wish’. Apparently it never really went away.

The squabbles have not, so far, caught the public’s attention but if Jenkin, Bone and company continue in this vein, the idea of the Tories as divided will become a regular theme in the media. Perhaps some rebels feel they can’t back down now, especially if they fear a Ukip challenge in their constituency, but they must know they have become repetitive and tedious on the subject of Europe.

It’s not just the rebels who are to blame. MPs are not without self-regard, and if David Cameron had shown the slightest interest in his backbenchers or seemed to value their opinion at all, there might have been no rebellion. Even now he can’t bring himself to listen to them. His lieutenants think they can buy off dissenters with tiny concessions — but this, of course, just encourages them. The Immigration Bill was itself an attempt to assuage those Tory rebels furious at losing out to Ukip in the Eastleigh by-election.

There’ll be more fury to assuage in the run-up to the European elections in May, when Ukip will in all likelihood come first and the Tories third. Some angry rebels may even revive fantasies of installing Boris Johnson before the general election. The Mayor of London would be the first to express incredulity at such plans. He has no truck with his party’s capacity for pointless self-destruction. The Maastricht rebels who tormented the Major government at least had a purpose: they were trying to stop something. Today’s rebels just want to add exclamation marks to policy already in place.

But 2015 is not 1997: a Tory defeat is not inevitable and the stakes are far higher now. Blair’s government was socialism lite; Miliband’s Labour is the real thing. He proposes 52 per cent tax rates and wants to govern by issuing edicts to companies. He wants to inflict on Britain the agenda that François Hollande has visited on France. Is this what the rebels want?

For everything there is a season. There is a right time for honest Conservatives to rebel — especially when the Prime Minister is being forced down the wrong route by his coalition partner. But there is also a time to rally behind a leader and his agenda, for the sake of the country. It should be clear to all but the most purblind Conservative MP that that time has come.

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  • Chris Quin

    I had, until recently, been a life-long Tory voter.

    Cameron is hated by people like me because he has betrayed us by entering into a Coalition with people we despise and by being relentlessly pro-European at a time when the EU has show itself to be a malignant force maintained for the benefit of a power-crazed elite in Brussels.

    I now have a party which does not espouse liberal, pro-European values to vote for and I am going to do just that.

    If this whole thing is about loyalty then Cameron was the first to break ranks.

    • Pier66

      Good good Chris KEEP VOTE TORY….other ways we could go worst with egg and balls!!!

      • barrydavies

        I presume you are not British pier66

  • Unity behind a pointless Brussels stooge, a man who is happy to go on radio and say “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do, the EU rules won’t allow me to do that”, shout their support for a pointless rubberstamper?

    Great. FABULOUS. You do that, Tory MPs. Out here in the country, that just shunts thousands more votes to UKIP.

    • Taminavalu


      • Is that your idea of a reasoned response?

      • Dan Tubb

        All the Cameroons can do is insult the base. So I am not surprised by the “Dickhead” comment in the least. Cameron himself probably says far worse about us in private.

      • Baron

        What else did she tell you, Taminavalu?

    • Pier66

      Frank, I like UKIP…I means agree with many things with Farage….the problem is that I DO NOT WANT LABOUR BACK IN….

      • Then the best thing you can do is campaign hard for UKIP now. A brilliant showing for UKIP in May will prove to even the most timid little Tory that they cannot win with Dave in 2015, and we might be rid of the man by September.

        • Pier66

          Well I am campaign hard for Tory,
          next May I really hope a strong signal against this EU.
          I think that Ukip is going to upset all the situation!
          What do you think Ukip will get as percentage?
          We want keep with Dave in charge for long time,
          economy is going well again thanks the chancellor, crime is down, free schools up
          we must be more tough really though about Eu and immigration….
          but it was a labour fault!
          We need to do more much more for the north.

          • barrydavies

            Dave is a proven liar, he claimed at the tory party conference 2013 that people were drinking from flower vases at Stafford hospital, this has been shown to be a pure fabrication, mainly due to the fact that all flower vases were withdrawn 10 years before the incident, despite thousands of complaints about his repeating this lie he has still not apologised for it, you want this smart liar you must be mad.

          • crosscop

            In my opinion, his lies that neither the murder of Lee Rigby nor the Nairobi Massacre had anything to do with Islam were far worse. I wonder how long it will be before he tells it again.

          • barrydavies

            Well I’m sure that other people can come up with other examples as well, it seems that if his lips are moving he is lying.

          • Dan Tubb

            “economy is going well again thanks the chancellor”

            The economy is doing well in-spite of the Chancellor. Just because his meddling is not as bad as Labour’s was, does not mean he is actually helping, just not hurting as much.

          • barrydavies

            Depends what part of the country you live in to say the economy is doing well.

          • Baron

            The economy’s performance is a dead cat bounce, Pier66, after the 7% GDP loss there was bound to be a turnaround, a car, a carpet need replacing at some point come what may. It won’t last until the election, you’ll see.

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          You see Frank, you know what I am going to say – apologies for saying it here too. It’s a simple one-liner. It has had absolutely astounding support so far which makes no sense at all when read in conjunction with the other comments out there. You know how it goes. It goes like this:

          Vote UKIP in May, get independence as soon as September.

      • sarah_13

        I agree Pier66. Nigel is great, he’s really played a blinder getting the anti-eu position well known, but the only beneficiaries of people voting UKIP at the general election with be Labour and they will win the next election. Labour are being very canny with this anti rich (whoever they are), anti aspiration and basically anti anything narrative. Balls’s 50 p tax rise is an example. There is no economic rationale behind it it is purely to pander to peoples negative feelings and desire to blame someone for the mess the country is in, which is in fact labour’s 13 years of incompetence. If labour win the next election, Len McCluskey and his pals will effectively be running the country, he is already joining forces with the likes of the mayor of Tower Hamlets in order to get as many people signed up to the unions as he can, the 16 year old vote is one of his pet policies in order to sign young people to immature to realise the consequences up to the union movement. If labour win there will be no eu referendum, there will be labour place people on every charity and quango in the country further propagating the left wing anti tory arguments, more of them at the BBC, if they don’t quite win but get in coalition they’ll probably change the voting system unilaterally and the house of lords ill thought through reforms will got through. I believe if the labour party win the next election the centre right will never get into to power again. I will vote tory for a tory majority I really hope the many sensible people who are considering voting ukip will vote tory.

    • amicus

      I see what the writer meant when he referred to lunatic logis.

    • greggf

      “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do, the EU rules won’t allow me to do that”

      Cameron just has no idea what an affront to the many – hopefully, most soon – such an admission by an elected Prime Minister is!

  • VacantPossession

    Don’t you mean the Tory leadership should listen up or lose the election?

  • A_Libertarian_Rebel

    Why have the comments – numbering at least in the high 30s when I looked and added one – which were already below this article on its first publication mid-afternoon yesterday, mysteriously disappeared?

    Orders from Cameroon Central in No 10?

  • Pier66

    treaties signed commitments are, and it is not easy to change quickly and easily at our own pace. When Blair signed these treaties things in Europe seemed to have a great future, then as a cyclically occurs crisis distorts everything.
    Here you should insert a clause in the treaties …. except treaty retained various crisis!
    Most of EU PM, are not intention to change the things…in my view, and that’s very bad. Maybe if Tory win election they could call a referendum early….

    • barrydavies

      Blair signed the constitution against the wishes of the people who wanted a referendum on it, simply changing its name didn’t make any difference to what it did, the eussr has never looked as if it has a great future.

  • Dan Tubb

    “lunatic logic”

    I’m used to Cameron insulting life-long Tories for believing in Tory values but I’m disappointing to see that a Spectator editorial has now decided to start the name calling of the Tory base. Yes I absolutely despise Cameron, no I don’t want to abandon everything I believe in just to put party ahead of country.

    I do hope this is a guest article not an editorial, if it is you can look forward to me cancelling my subscription in disgust at the insult.

  • icini123

    Too late, the die is cast now. Short of a miracle there is no way the Tories can win in May or in 2015, That’s a dead parrot, it’s gone, deceased, stiff as a board.
    Unless you actually want Labour in, your best bet is to vote UKIP and hope they get to hold the balance of power, persuade Dave to ***off to Brussels and agree to prop up a minority Tory government or something similar. There is no other realistic choice.

    • Baron

      Compelling logic, icini13, and right, too.

      The number of people who want the status quo to continue is larger than that who want a change to a smaller State, in which the individual rather than the apparatchik decides.

      You have those, around 5mn in number, who receive benefits (not many vote though), you have a greater number of those who administer the system of benefits, sits in quangos, do outreaching and stuff, and on top of it, you have those in the private sector hooked up to the taxpayer’s purse, the wind monstrosity makers, the NHS suppliers, in short, the crony capitalists, people who wouldn’t have a business or a job without the State, or rather the taxpayer, paying for it.

      The only thing that may save the day is a massive popular switch to UKIP, even if id doesn’t translate into seats.

  • barrydavies

    Maybe the europhiles should shut up and give the tories a chance, not that we want them or the lib sums or the labour party which could just as easily be one party as they all have the same policies.

  • cambridgeelephant

    “Two groups of people are working hard to deny Cameron victory”

    Er……..No !

    From the moment Cameron and Osborne agreed with Brown and Blair, that the whole political/economic debate was about “sharing the proceeds of growth” – their words not mine – there has only been one group intent on undermining a majority Conservative Government – and it’s not me ! It’s not even Nigel Farge : and it’s not the ghost of Margaret Hilda Thatcher either.

    So quit whining. Cameron is his own opposition. And in that sense he shares the affliction with little JM.

    But don’t try to palm the blame for the fact off onto the rest of us.

  • Baron

    As the Del boy said, Fraser, au contraire, if they shut up they are toast, the whole Tory lot of them.

  • AJConstantine

    Not sure the main assertion is correct and for two reasons.

    (i) I recall when the media coverage of politics when Labour was in government was obsessed with the Blair/Brown split. It may have looked ugly for Labour but all the media attention was on Labour and the other parties were ignored.

    (ii) While some patriotic Tories argue for our democracy (aka as anti EU membership) and tougher immigration policies many of us who have no time for Cameron and his liberal and unpatriotic attitudes still retain some hope about the Tories.

  • John Hawkins Totnes

    high street tills are ringing. But there is more to life than money.