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  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
10 January 2024

Can the One Nation caucus reclaim the Tory party?

To exert greater influence, the group’s MPs first need to agree on what their mission is.

By Freddie Hayward

In a grand room in the Reform Club on London’s Pall Mall last night, the One Nation caucus of Tory MPs gathered for their New Year’s reception. Despite their size (with 106 members, it is the largest Tory grouping), the caucus has been accused of failing to wield the influence of the smaller groups on the party’s right. Those self-proclaimed “five families” – from the New Conservatives to the European Research Group – pushed Rishi Sunak to go further in overriding the courts’ opposition to the Rwanda scheme.

In response, senior One Nation members have told the New Statesman that they are hoping to increase its influence within the party in coming months. The return of the Rwanda bill next week is a key test. The caucus has two red lines: the bill must ensure that migrants have a right of appeal against deportation and it must not break an international treaty. A second test will be whether the Budget in March contains “tax cuts for the many, not the few”. If a cut to inheritance tax is included by Jeremy Hunt that would be seen by some One Nation MPs as a sign of their failure to influence No 10.

But given its size, why does the caucus seem to punch below its weight in the first place? Some point to the fact so many of its members are bound by collective responsibility as ministers.

They can’t, for instance, call a press conference and launch into a bombastic tirade against the PM. Equally, having members in government increases the group’s power within government, if not in parliamentary backroom deals. “Sunak isn’t a One Nation Tory, but his cabinet is,” as one put it.

At the same time, I understand that One Nation chair Damian Green has “regular” meetings with the Prime Minister. But is it not a sign of the group’s insignificance that these meetings are so obscure compared to those with the party’s right? Some One Nation members think more MPs should be in those meetings to demonstrate to Sunak the breadth of support the caucus commands. The key is converting its large number of members, and therefore parliamentary votes, into influence.

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Debate is ongoing over whether Green is the best person to achieve that. While he carries weight as a former first secretary of state, he is not a flawless media performer. When asked whether the One Nation caucus requires fresh leadership, some members turn sheepish. Green recently told my colleague Anoosh Chakelian: “I will carry on as long as I, and more importantly others, think it’s useful for me to… I’ll do it until the election, and then we’ll see what happens. One Nation Conservatism needs to carry on.”

What began as a lofty dining club dominated by grandees such as Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames morphed into a caucus in 2019 with an eye to ensuring a liberal succeeded Theresa May. This is part of the problem. The purpose of the caucus is ambiguous. Different members believe it should be for different things. “We’re a caucus, it’s in the word, and not a grouping,” said one MP who almost blushed at the prospect of being more bullish. 

Others are pained by what they see as a right-wing takeover of the Conservative Party and think it needs to be resisted. Yet others view such an argument as “catastrophising”. Exerting greater influence might depend on first agreeing what mission the One Nation caucus actually serves.

[See also: Labour’s biggest threat is an electorate that has given up]

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