Tory MPs turn on Cameron and Osborne

"At the root of much of the catastrophe we have become is George Osborne," says Tory backbencher Nad

Ever since David Cameron entered into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, there have been rumblings of discontent from the right wing of the Conservative Party.

Thus far, it has not spilled out into an all-out rebellion, but it appears that the disasters of last week may have been too much for some. Cameron was reportedly confronted at a private meeting with the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers, who told him that fundamental changes were needed for the party to win an outright majority at the next election.

Further to this, several MPs have voiced their concerns to the Daily Telegraph, both on and off the record.

Rather than the standard Euroscepticism and social conservatism, MPs have expressed concern that government policies -- from pasties to jerry cans -- are not being communicated properly to voters, particularly those in marginal seats. They are also calling for a full time Conservative Party chairman appointed from the Commons, as opposed to the current arrangement where two peers share the job.

But what is really interesting is the level of personal criticism of Cameron and George Osborne, who are both lambasted for being out of touch and surrounding themselves with other public schoolboys. This perception is shared by voters -- a ComRes poll this weekend found that 72 per cent of voters believe the government is out of touch -- but coming from within the party, it is particularly damning. The backbenchers have called for a ministerial reshuffle to promote more MPs from working class and northern backgrounds. Mark Pritchard, a member of the 1922 executive, said that the reshuffle should "make the government a little less foie gras and a little more fish and chips", while a senior MP speaking off the record said:

The PM is surrounded by people who look like him, and that is a serious concern. It stops him getting the full range of advice. His reshuffle should ensure that the government looks more like the Conservative Party as a whole.

Osborne, in particular, is under fire, with MPs calling for him to end his dual role as Chancellor and head of Conservative political strategy. It is suggested that doing both roles is undermining his competency in both, allowing careless policies like the new tax on pasties to blow up into national controversies. Backbench MP Nadine Dorries condemned the Chancellor in extraordinarily strong terms:

Many people now look at the Conservative Party and are reeling with the realisation that this modern party is one they don't know, didn't vote for and no longer represents their views. They don't recognise the values, are confused by the policies and repelled by the elitism. At the root of much of the catastrophe we have become is George Osborne. He drives the liberal elite agenda.

Cameron has staked an immense amount on his faith in his friend Osborne, who frequently chairs the No 10 meetings that run the coalition day to day. Downing Street's strategy appears to be to wait it out and weather the storm: a spokesman insisted there would be "no big change" to the way Cameron runs things. And this could well work: as James Kirkup points out, Tony Blair survived a crisis of confidence over fuel, and went onto win the 2001 election. But with the odds stacked against a Tory majority, it is important that, at the very least, Cameron gets his own party on side.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.