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

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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue