Does boredom explain the Tories’ rebellious class of 2010?

This parliament has shown what happens when you leave too many MPs unoccupied.

Maybe it’s the logical result of being in coalition, or maybe it’s a sign of David Cameron’s diminishing authority, but the Conservatives' class of 2010 has helped keep this parliament lively and unpredictable. It’s also provided us with a lot of fun. The government can’t seem to do anything without the rebels emerging from the shadows.

Fierce euroscepticism, of course, explains some of their behaviour, with Europe causing hyperactivity like no other issue. But could there be another, unspoken, simpler reason?

According to the Economist’s Bagehot, many of the 2010 intake feel neglected and underused. Overlooked for promotion, partly due to the constraints of coalition, they’ve been left with little to do, except to be a nuisance, with Europe the obvious cause to take their frustrations out on.

"The 2010 Tory intake was among the biggest in parliamentary history and excited high hopes. Its members were diverse and included high-flyers from business and academia.

"There was talk of such talents reinvigorating Tory policy, bolstering David Cameron’s standing within his party and restoring trust in politicians. Many began vigorously, starting research groups, joining select committees and blogging and tweeting like anything. But now they are stuck.

"Only a few of the new crop have been given junior ministerial jobs: mostly those—such as Nick Boles and Matthew Hancock—with long-standing ties to Mr Cameron and his coterie. Far from bolstering the prime minister’s authority, the rest have proved exceptionally mutinous.

"Overlooked for promotion, and in the rebels’ case unofficially barred, many of the brightest 2010ers are now demoralised."

A report out this week by Nottingham University revealed that of the 148 Conservatives who have voted against the Prime Minister since the general election, 90, or 85 per cent, have come from the 2010 cohort.

Independent-minded MPs, those without a "filter", as Nadine Dorries would put it, are a refreshing and much-needed change from the clones we were subjected to under the last government. Who wants to hear MP after MP trotting out the party line, when listening to someone off-message is far more enjoyable?

Tim Montgomerie has argued that the class of 2010 could end up being Cameron’s greatest legacy to his party, combining the best of popular and compassionate conservatism. But it’s their route into parliament that gives us another reason to explain their tetchiness. Montgomerie notes that many are seasoned campaigners: "One of the other strengths of the 2010 intake is that many have fought two or three elections to win their seats – often emulating the best of the Liberal Democrats’ pavement style of politics."

Anyone fattened up on a diet of Blairite/Brownite control-freakery could be forgiven for thinking that politics has entered a different era. And in some respects it has. With little chance of ministerial positions, and the odds firmly stacked against a Conservative majority in two years’ time, what is there to lose? Best go out with a bang some might be thinking. At least if a large chunk of the current crop lose their seats, they can hold their heads high and say they did things their way.

But "benign neglect" is no way to treat backbenchers, cautions Bagehot. The system is broke and needs fixing. Parliament will have to adapt to accommodate future new blood:

"Party bosses are going to have to find backbenchers more meaningful employment. This might involve, for example, beefing up the powers of the select committees to summon witnesses, or encouraging the currently gentle bill committees to give legislation real critical scrutiny. They will also have to adopt a more conciliatory approach to whipping, making it less an exercise in carpeting than in constructive career advice."

This parliament has already shown what happens when you leave too many MPs unoccupied. Rebelling becomes their only taste of power. 

Ben Mitchell is deputy editor of the cross-party blog Speaker's Chair. He tweets as @bmitchellwrites

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the 2010 rebels. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ben Mitchell is deputy editor of the cross-party blog Speaker's Chair. He tweets as @bmitchellwrites

Getty Images.
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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.