Cameron is complacent about the Tory right flank

Internal opposition is not restricted to "one or two backwoodsmen".

The key moment in Michael Gove's interview with Andrew Marr this morning came when he was challenged on the growing opposition from the right of the Tory party to the Cameron project. He replied:

When you carry out any kind of modernisation there are always one or two backwoodsmen who will grumble in the undergrowth.

In fact, the evidence suggests that a far greater number of MPs and activists remain highly sceptical of David Cameron's modernising agenda. There are two critical divisions: the first over policy and the second over party structure. The main tensions in the first category are over climate change and Europe.

On climate change, which ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie has predicted will prove as divisive for the party as Europe was in the 1990s, we have seen that reducing Britain's carbon footprint is the lowest priority for Tory candidates. As Montgomerie points out: "You have got 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the party just not signed up to this. No one minded at the beginning, but people are starting to realise it could be quite expensive, so opinion is hardening."

On Europe, although Cameron would most likely be the most Eurosceptic prime minister in history, many activists and backbenchers remain angered by his refusal to promise a referendum on any aspect of Britain's EU membership. Unless he manages to repatriate significant powers from Brussels (which is unlikely), we can expect this issue to flare up again.

Tory modernisers are fond of reminding us that significant sections of the Labour Party never accepted Tony Blair's policy agenda. Yet there is a big difference. Following the repeal of Clause Four, there was no serious constituency of support for wholesale nationalisation. But in the case of today's Tories, the right-wing dominance of the press means that Euroscepticism and and climate-change denialism have not been similarly discredited.

Meanwhile, the Joanne Cash affair demonstrates how hostile many local activists are towards what they see as Cameron's centralisation of the party. That the debacle took place in Westminster North (not usually Turnip Taliban territory) makes one wonder how much anger there is elsewhere in the country.

It is increasingly likely that Cameron will be forced either to swerve to the right or to lead a divided and resentful party. These are equally unpalatable options for a modernising leader.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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