Think Cameron’s small majority will hold him back? Not with his new army of loyalists

New Tory MPs are mostly fully paid-up members of the Prime Minister’s fan club

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

Time was when the Conservatives believed that a small majority — which puts a government at the mercy of backbench rebels — would be worse than no majority at all. They dreaded the prospect. But now, well into their third month celebrating a majority of just 12 seats, it’s clear they’ve forgotten their fears about how precarious things could be. They talk as if they can now do anything — including implementing their manifesto in its entirety.

It won’t take long for David Cameron to discover the truth. In any controversial vote, people will rebel — it takes just seven of his 331 MPs to bring defeat. The Prime Minister worried about this before the election because he knew what his Commons colleagues could be like: independent-minded at the best of times, downright sadistic at worst and desperate to humiliate their leader. Now he has 74 new MPs among those old troublemakers. But can he rely on them?

I’ve got to know the 2015 intake of Conservative MPs over the past few months, and I’ve been struck by just how keen they are to show their gratitude to Cameron. No one expected the Tories to win the election, but many of the new MPs didn’t even expect to win their own seats. Some of the most memorable images of the general election were of the giddy astonishment of Andrea Jenkyns, who beat Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood, and Tania Mathias, who crushed Vince Cable in Twickenham. Less well-known, but equally surprised, are the 25 other Conservative MPs who took seats from Lib Dems.

The double whammy of getting elected without expecting it and into a majority government means that the new MPs are mostly fully paid-up members of the David Cameron fan club. They argue that while they knocked on many doors, the Tory leader was able to reach even more voters during the election with his strong brand and clear message. They have none of the misery felt by the 2010 intake, who were angry that Cameron had failed to win against Gordon Brown in the middle of a recession — those MPs were quick to grumble, and (later) happy to rebel. The 2015 intake don’t want to cause trouble for the man they credit with getting them into Westminster.

Instead of having conspiratorial pints of beer with rebels in Commons bars, the members of the new intake are more likely to be found in a departmental ‘support group’: a Westminster equivalent of cheerleaders who ask sympathetic questions in the chamber. Funnily enough, the most popular support group is the one around George Osborne (the Scotland Office has attracted less interest). Osborne has taken great care to woo new MPs with lunches and drinks in the No. 10 garden. His charm is effective: many of them seem quite besotted, either with the Chancellor or what he can do for their career.

When they boast (as most do) about being ‘independently minded’, they mean that they talk a lot about local issues, rather than, say, undermine the Prime Minister’s European policy. I have never had as many conversations about trains as I have with the new intake of Tories. Take James Cartlidge, the new member for South Suffolk. His Wikipedia page includes the boast that he ‘has taken a train journey from Sudbury to Marks Tey to highlight issues to people travelling by train’. The trip takes just under 20 minutes.

The 2015 intake seem less interested in the intellectual debate which so captured the 2010 Tories. As one senior Conservative puts it, those elected five years ago ‘were ambitious, yes, but they were ambitious about achieving their vision of free market conservatism’. They were (and remain) a dry bunch, fond of writing pamphlets and books about public service reform.

When James Forsyth profiled the 2010 intake in The Spectator, he described them as the ‘new radicals’. Their newly elected colleagues would hate such a label. They are the New Realists. One of them, Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier who now represents Tonbridge and Malling, says: ‘We are a pretty pragmatic bunch, actually. We want to “do” something, whether it’s as a minister or as a backbencher: we’re ambitious in that sense.’

They are also, curiously, nowhere near as keen to describe themselves as ‘Thatcherite’. Few will use the term at all. This isn’t because they’re a bunch of wets: one MP says, ‘It’s such a loaded term. It sounds like what you mean is you’d like to go and beat some miners up.’

Instead of beating up miners, the new realist Tories are keen on rebranding their party. They often cite Tory deputy chairman Robert Halfon as a hero for the way he extracted more changes in policy from the Treasury while still on the back benches than most ministers can hope for in a lifetime. And they largely support Halfon’s plans to appeal to ‘blue-collar voters’.

Some of them are from similar backgrounds: Scott Mann, the 38-year-old MP for North Cornwall, was a postman. Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, is a nurse who describes herself as ‘working-class’, as is Kelly Tolhurst, a marine surveyor who usurped Ukip’s Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood. Many boast that they were the first in their family to go to university; others don’t have degrees at all. There are former doctors, teachers, and police officers — and not many former presidents of the Oxford Union.

Few are political animals who have worked as advisers or have family in Parliament; many were local councillors. While this freshness impressed voters, it has attracted a few sneers from veteran colleagues. One Tory elected long ago says that a lot of the new intake ‘don’t know what they think. They just looked at their MP and thought, “Oh, I think I can do that job.” No one familiar with what being an MP is like thinks that.’

But this, of course, is exactly what the supremely pragmatic David Cameron thought about being Conservative leader — and it doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm.

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  • WFB56

    Great, the “Invasion of the Sycophants”.

  • Clive

    Tom Tugendhat – he can’t be in any way related to his uncle, Christopher Tugendhat, baron and former member of parliament and EU commissioner can he ?

    The curse of the unusual surname.

    You will have to advise those with such names to change them by deed poll to ‘Cameron’ or ‘Osborne’ or something less uplookable.

    It’s a wonder Tom did so well.

    • stuartMilan

      Turdinhat, perhaps?

    • Frank

      The proverbial dead donkey with the right badge would have been elected in this Kent constituency.

      • dolusbonus

        You mean Tonbridge & Malling, I presume…. Well my MP in Kent is a faceless, pudding-jowled nonentity by the name of Damian Green who represents Ashford in Kent.

        Ashford, about the safest of Tory seats would re-elect the Elephant Man if he wore a blue rosette.

        • Frank

          Sevenoaks is as bad.

  • GraveDave

    Why is there no mention of this anywhere else?

    Tories charge £2,500 a head for access to ministers at party …

    http://www.theguardian.com › Politics › Conservatives

    17 Sep 2014 – Tickets for the inaugural Conservative business dinner in 2010 cost£1,000 each, and attendees at the 2012 event – including payday loans …

    Before Cameron took power in May 2010, he had promised a “new politics” that would restore public trust and reform party funding to “clean up our messy politics”. Cross-party talks on the issue have collapsed.

    All the parties are now in a race to raise money before the election, with their autumn conferences providing a lucrative opportunity for them to sell advertising, exhibition space and sponsorship of everything from lanyards to hotel key cards.

    Same old – same old…

    • Clive

      I don’t understand why you dislike this

      It’s all public and above board which is the campaign contribution transparency everyone wants

      If you mean the access to minsters – what’s new ?

      Party supporter influences on ministers have been around since parties began. Remember the ‘beer and sandwiches’ the unions used to have at Downing Street ?

      Whether it costs money or not is neither here nor there. Business – mostly Big Business – will influence the Tories and the unions will influence Labour.

      • stuartMilan

        the ordinary citizens can’t stump up the cash of course, and so are free to observe the ruin of our country and its democracy, but regrettably not from a safe distance

    • Jaria1

      I certainly wouldnt thhink of that phrase when descibing the Labour perty at this juncture..
      What ever possessed them to offer three heated up failures for their lesder.
      Were they not aware what McLusky had been planning since the last election.
      Labour are fighting a rearguard action a challenge from the lrft.

    • Jack Rocks

      I think there should be a donation limit of £100 per person, per year. If parties want to raise a lot of money, they’ll need a lot of members.

      All parties are guilty of this.

  • Frank

    Dear heavens, this is such light-weight piffle, please engage your brain before putting finger to keyboard. Cameron is off. Cameron therefore doesn’t really matter to any of “his” MPs, he is toast, the walking version of the famous blue Norwegian parrot. Meanwhile this country faces growing problems and having a disengaged PM is not a brilliant situation (was he ever engaged?). If the 2015 intake of new Tory MPs don’t understand this, then we really should insist on an IQ test for candidates.

    • Otto von Bismarck

      You’re mistaken. The Cameron/Osborne double act continues and lumbers on unhindered, as it has done since 2005. Disloyalty to one is seen as disloyalty to the other, as Cameron has set Osborne up as his successor almost from the very start. New MPs with a preference for a Ministerial career therefore are very keen to get in with that crowd, as it will be continuity Cameroonism if George, as looks likely, wins the leadership in 2018 or whenever it is Dave steps down. Cameron therefore matters; his political philosophy (such as it is…), his personal hold over the party etc are stronger than ever.
      George won’t bring in backbench rebels from the cold if/when he takes over from Dave, therefore there is no benefit to new MPs in rebelling against or ignoring the established order. Of course, if any of them like a gamble, they could always throw their lot in with Boris who’s long campaign is already beginning to falter. Though the odds are now widening, were Boris to win the leadership he would I’m sure remember their support at such a difficult stage.

      • berosos_bubos

        Modelled on brown’s strategy

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    They’ve been MPs less than six months, what do you expect? Give them another year and see if they’re still as keen on DC.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    ‘There are former doctors, teachers, and police officers — and not many former presidents of the Oxford Union.’

    Aye, that may be true, but lets see how many of those types make it to hold any of the Great Offices of State. The sad truth is the jobs that actually matter are almost always held by the same types of people (Private school, Oxbridge, former ‘Special’ Advisors etc).

  • Junius

    I live in a previously safe LibDem constituency that changed hands at the last general election. The reason I voted Tory rather than LibDem this time round was partly because I did not want a nationalist party I could not vote for forming an alliance with Labour, and partly because the Tory candidate seemed by far the best person for the job.

    In his mid-20s, having grown up in the constituency, a teacher by profession, he seemed the antithesis of the typical Tory. And, what do you know, he will donate the whole of his MP’s pay rise to a local charity with which he has long been associated.

    Of course, cynics will say that this is early days and just wait until he has been MP for a couple of year he will be as bad as the rest of the troughers and only in it for himself and so on and so forth.

    We shall just have to wait and see. What I am sure of is that without the affable and charismatic David Cameron as leader, the Tory party would not have been able to throw off its narsty image and would not have won a clear if small majority, and my new MP would still be a teacher. And I bet he will agree with me.

    • Paul

      That’s fair enough that you did not want a party you could not vote for being in Government…but, the Scots overwhelmingly rejected the Tories, 1 seat out of 59 and ~14% of the vote. Do you think it’s then fair that they lord over Scotland now?

    • slyblade

      So three hundred thousand immigrants pouring into this country annually,
      £1 .5 billion national debt, HNS overstretched to braking point, no room on the roads ,no seats on the trains, not enough houses, not enough schools, dumb down exams, high energy cost, people dying in hospitals for the lack of water whilst billions spent in overseas aid and you write a post like that!!! no wonder this county is f*”^~d with people like you allowed to vote

      • Junius

        Just three points from your semi-literate tirade:

        When my aged mother recently suffered a stroke, she endured no shortage of water during her month-long stay in an NHS hospital; indeed, she was presented daily with a menu of dishes from which to choose. Her praise for the NHS nursing staff, including immigrants from Romania, Poland and Nigeria, knew no bounds. For their part, they were enchanted when she remembered their names. After her discharge she was loaned an adjustable bed – which she is still using; and for six weeks she was regularly attended by a community stroke team based at the NHS hospital, including physios to help her recover the use of her limbs.

        Whenever I travel by train – admittedly off-peak – I never have a problem finding a seat.

        Whenever I travel locally by bus – again, admittedly off-peak – there are rarely holdups, except when there are road repairs and suchlike in operation, and then only for a few minutes or so.

        I cannot help but conclude that one of us inhabits a parallel universe.

        • slyblade

          “When my aged mother recently suffered a stroke, she endured no shortage of water during her month-long stay in an NHS hospital; indeed, she was presented daily with a menu of dishes from which to choose. Her praise for the NHS nursing staff, including immigrants from Romania, Poland and Nigeria, knew no bounds.”

          Just because you mother got good service doesn’t mean the whole of the NHS is ok, just shows your myopic view on life. Breaking news African mum of quintuplets let off £145,000 NHS bill: Health tourist who came to UK to give birth says no one’s asked her to pay

          Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3214709/African-mum-quintuplets-let-145-000-NHS-bill-Health-tourist-came-UK-birth-says-no-one-s-asked-pay.html#ixzz3kCQ2yPSn

          This under a Tory lead Government !!!!!

          Just because you travel off peak you don’t see the cattle class some of us endure daily and pay exorbitant price for substandard service, clearly you are the type of person closet in your own world and cannot see anything further than your own world. This may seem a harsh criticism but a lot of people think only what directly effects themselves and not the rest of the country as a whole.

          I note you failed to comment on the rest of the post like mass immigration, government borrowing, cuts to armed forces, the list is endless.

          Time to see the bigger picture and what is going on the country as a whole. This Tory Government is a shambles and i say this as life long conservative, what Cameron has done the the party i was a member for over thirty years who canvassed for them and stood by them through thick and thin is nothing short of disgraceful.

          of course you are free to vote for who you like that is democracy but at least look at the bigger picture and what he is doing to this country. He is destroying our Anglo Saxon culture from within.

        • Martin Keegan

          You seemed to have missed a much more obvious inaccuracy in your interlocutor’s “tirade”. It is six hundred thousand immigrants pouring into the country annually, not three hundred thousand.

          • berosos_bubos

            800k new ni no.s for foreign nationals last year

          • Mike Nelson

            And a greater inaccuracy was the claimed ‘£1.5 billion national debt’. If only that were true. Unfortunately, it’s (about) £1.5 trillion.

  • Jaria1

    Its all very well slamming the Tories but who would you vote for in their place.
    Cameron must have had a senior moment with his list of those that should be rewarded with a seat in the Lords. It has to be manna from heaven for the likes of Corbyn who could be forgiven if he thought that conservatives too would get fed up with the hierarch ignoring them.

  • Lady Magdalene

    The ONLY reason Cameron got a majority was because Miliband was a dork and English voters were terrified of a Labour/SNP Coalition, with the far more competent Sturgeon pulling Miliband’s strings.
    Cameron ran a woeful campaign …. but the BBC, Channel 4 and press did his dirty work by launching a completely unjustified propaganda campaign to vilify UKIP.

    • Jack Rocks

      Don’t be silly. Farage banging on about evil foreigners was what did for his campaign. 4m people voted for UKIP – and that was their peak. Since Farage resigned and then unresigned, who can take him seriously?

      • Isage000

        Peak UKIP has been prophesised every year for the last decade. But UKIP support in the general election rose spectacularly more than any other party across the nation, despite the press smear campaign and the incumbency pressure to force one to vote Con or Lab in the FPTP system for PM. The latent eurosceptic sympathetic support should not be underestimated, as witnessed by UKIP’s success in the EU elections last year.

        • Jack Rocks

          I don’t think it has, no. What’s it at right now, 9%? Oh dear.

          UKIP is not euroscepticism. There are far more Tory voters who’re eurosceptic than there are UKIP voters.

          • veritas

            Quite true. I know some of them. They said to me that it broke their heart voting Tory at the GE. Now they are saying ‘never again, UKIP next time’.
            Incidentally, I belong to no political party.

    • Are You Sure

      The SNP threat will still be there in 2020 but with Corbyn at the helm it will be far more frightening than with Miliband.

      The economy will be in far better shape and austerity will be over.

      Boundary changes will have fixed Labour’s unfair advantage in the North.

      Get used to a tory government, they ain’t going anywhere.

  • Isage000

    The nation was forced to support Cameron under the ‘either or’ pressure of Realpolitics- Constituency FPTP incumbency. Cameron’s A list 2010 and the recent 2015 syncophants were largely selected for their high loyalty ‘stooge’ rating, not local constituency popularity.

  • veritas

    ‘But this, of course, is exactly what the supremely pragmatic David Cameron thought about being Conservative leader — and it doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm.’
    But considerable harm to the country.