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.