28 Sep 2014

Defections and resignations – a rocky start to the Tory party conference

They’re waving union jacks in the hall of the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham but in a hectic high-octane three weeks of politics this flag was nearly ditched. In the short period since then, Parliament has voted authorising military action against Islamic State forces, another Tory has defected, Labour’s had a bit of a flop of a conference and there’s a minor sex scandal and resignation overnight.

The Tories had hoped to grab the headlines today with announcements on welfare cuts – a lower cap for benefits and an end to JSA for under 21s. Their message for the week – the plan they have been banging on about for some time is important for each and every one of you, whether you’re a pensioner, in work, young … whatever. Senior Tories claim they don’t recognise from their own polling Labour’s claim that Tory talk of “the plan is working” rubs voters up the wrong way.

In the Conference hall, Grant Shapps, Party Chairman, showed his anger at one of the big distractions: Mark Reckless’ defection to Ukip. He said the former Tory MP had “lied and lied and lied again” to colleagues. It’s a measure of the frustration his former allies feel but also a measure of the tension still around Tory high command about who is next. Everyone seems to think the defections haven’t finished. No-one believes for sure the denials that are tweeted out by suspects – MEP Daniel Hannan, MP Nigel Mills and others.


Senior Tories say they will contest Reckless’ seat much more hopefully than they are fighting in Clacton – a lost cause to the Tories in most people’s minds. At the top of the Tory Party they are kicking themselves that they ever allowed Mark Reckless to contest a parliamentary seat in their name.

David Cameron doesn’t intend to offer more definition on his renegotiation strategy to baying backbenchers on the grounds that it won’t shift many votes (and he doesn’t have much wriggle room anyway). Instead, he will hammer home the message about his offer of an in/out referendum on the basis that Tories still come across countless voters who haven’t got the already much repeated policy promise.

Senior Tories don’t think the cyber-antics of Brooks Newmark will dominate headlines for long. But they are acutely aware that the saga coinciding with divisions on Europe has echoes of the John Major years when sleaze and Tory divisions dominated headlines month after month.

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3 reader comments

  1. Harry Blackbarry says:

    “The Tories had hoped to grab the headlines today with announcements on welfare cuts”

    It really is shocking that a Channel 4 News reporter should be sucked into Tory Party propaganda. Why is the word “welfare” used in the statement above when the thing that the Tories are looking to cut is social security?

    No Tory MP ever utters the words “social” and “security” consecutively these days. Why? because that is something positive which we would all want for ourselves and families whereas “welfare” has been distorted to mean, “something for nothing”. And lest anyone thinks I’m being pedantic, I believe that language is important especially when trying to convey a message.

    Incidentally, the welfare state as envisaged by William Beveridge included: Health (the NHS), Education, Housing, as well as social security benefits for sickness, unemployment and pensions.

  2. Alan says:

    The emotive rabble rousing, a hallmark of party conferences, continues to be reported as though serious discussion. Skewed stats and political survival direct budgetary decisions. Independent research identifies contractual/military and internal governmental costs as the largest leeches upon society. Unfortunately the media makes little attempt, to do any other than applaud deception.

  3. fleche_dor says:

    “Armistice” sounds like a bit of a misnomer, as the original lasted some twenty one years before the main signatories were at war again. If the period between John Major’s premiership of fratricidal behaviour over Europe is the benchmark then twenty years are up. However, if it is the Cameron leadership of his party that is referred to then that may only be described as a running sore that is fast in danger of turning gangrenous. The solution for the PM may be similar to that required

    From the comments by Grant Shapps and his colleagues at tpc14, it would appear that even the Prime Minister’s enforcer of discipline in Chief, Michael Gove was unable to extract the necessary committments from all Conservative MPs and make them stick.

    Nigel Farage boasted loudly of another six to eight likely Twould-be” Tory defectors at the time that Douglas Carswell defected. At the rate of the current Tory to UKIP MP defections, it would appear that approximately one a month is due between now and the next General Election.

    NF remained very tight-lipped and defensive indeed, when asked about these additional likely future Tory to UKIP dissidents in the pub with Mark Reckless. A very stark contrast, perhaps as he feared the Tories smoking out the remaining defectors in double quick time thus blunting his bandit, blunderbuss pre-election tactics, through a short, sharp Tory anti-Euro purge. Presumably, the last thing that either major party leader wishes is a regular stream of defections to UKIP, running all the way to the General Election. The by-elections would prove a major headache, leaving Farage in total control of the political and democratic agenda.

    Cameron has three main options: limp on fighting each defection and by-election as it comes, beholden to the Tory fringe and Farage faction, or take complete control of the situation, and most importantly his party, forcing the remaining doubters out into the open immediately and probably out of his party too.

    William Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan continue to argue for a third option, one which the PM has repeatedly refused to contemplate; an electoral pact with UKIP, which would mean an immediate end to the current coalition government.

    In making his decision, Cameron needs to be brave and remember the very grave dangers of the type of nationalism that underlies UKIP policies and in particular its role in the conflicts of the 20th Century of which the Armistice was so infamously a part.

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