A day after David Cameron bounced through a vote to end a long-standing tradition by which Tory backbenchers meet each week, the consensus is that this will come back to bite him.
Under the changes — which were voted on just 15 minutes after being announced — government ministers will be allowed to attend meetings of the 1922 Committee.
Cameron’s argument was that “we’re all in it together” (where have I heard that before?), and there is no need for two separate voices within the party. He has been accused of rushing through the reform to prevent the rebellious MP Graham Brady from becoming the committee’s chairman.
But if the move was intended to suppress the power of disgruntled backbenchers, who caused John Major such headaches, it was misguided.
Over at ConservativeHome, the former Tory MP Paul Goodman has analysed the numbers and worked out that a majority of the Conservatives’ backbench MPs voted against the change:
Let’s assume that every minister voted for David Cameron’s proposed 1922 Committee change. Then subtract that 76 from the total of 168 Conservative MPs who did so. Which leaves 92. In other words, only 92 backbench Tory MPs voted for the leadership-backed plan, while 118 voted against.
A week ago, Cameron retained the goodwill of most of his MPs, despite failing to win the election outright and forming a coalition with an opposing party — on what many of them regarded as dubious terms.
Much of that goodwill has vanished since yesterday, driven out by resentment, grievance and anger. Tory MPs not usually prone to excitement are citing their leader in the same sentence as Kim Il-sung and Robert Mugabe.
Meanwhile, on the Guardian‘s website, Tim Montgomerie points out the hypocrisy of this centralisation of party management, in the light of the fact that Cameron’s big idea is decentralisation.
The reform may have got through by a hair’s breadth, but the 118 MPs who voted against the reform must not be underestimated. It is a large number. And all this before the Queen’s Speech.
The rule change may have been a paranoid move, intended to suppress unruly backbenchers. But it could have the opposite effect on party members, who were largely shut out of the coalition negotiation process (just compare their involvement to that of the Lib Dems).
These concerns within the Tory party are very real. During the election campaign, those outside Cameron’s circle were reportedly already angry at his presidential style of running the party, and the way in which he shut out all but the chosen few.
At the moment, the onus is on retaining stability and getting on with the hard-won business of power. But, as one MP told the Guardian, Cameron has “lit a fuse”. It could yet ignite.