28 Aug 2012

Tim Yeo gets personal

Tim Yeo’s very personal attack on the prime minister is a bit of moment. Not because Mr Yeo has a huge following. He’s antagonised a lot of fellow Tory MPs over the years who don’t like all his pro-green policy positions. 

Some of the language about Mr Yeo I received in text messages from Tory MPs today was pretty strong and anatomically impossible. Some related to his fondness for flying to far flung golf courses. Tory MPs have even speculated that this all has something to do with Mr Yeo wanting to curry favour with Labour MPs to keep his committee chairmanship. So why does it matter?

It matters because an awful lot of Tory MPs would sign up to the most personal bit of Tim Yeo’s article when he paints a picture of David Cameron as an effete Etonian type with no political passion:

“The prime minister must ask himself whether he is a man or a mouse … does he want to be another Harold Macmillan, presiding over a dignified slide towards insignificance? Or is there somewhere inside his heart – an organ that still remains impenetrable to most Britons – a trace of Thatcher, determined to reverse the direction of our ship?” 

One Tory MP said: “That strikes a chord with an awful lot of people… There’s a sense amongst a majority of the Tory MPs not in the government that he (the PM) is a little too comfortable in office and it’s all he really wants.”

When Parliament is in session, your ear is constantly bent by Tories in and out of government saying the PM lacks passion, has no centre, no fire in the belly and any number of variations on that theme. A right-wing MP with no sympathy for Tim Yeo said the PM was in for a “very rocky time” on Europe and gay marriage and lacked a feel for the party’s centre of gravity.

As for the Heathrow promise, David Cameron had long ago decided he could not extricate himself from the “no third runway” manifesto pledge. In Jakarta in April I asked him if he had tied his hands with that manifesto line and he said: “we tied our hands by saying we’re not going to build a third runway at Heathrow … and that’s a promise we made and a promise we’re going to keep.”

Opinions on whether it was the right thing to do have shifted in the Cabinet and amongst close advisers, but as with the pre-election promises to the elderly on winter fuel allowances etc., the judgement’s been made that the soundbites from Cameron’s own lips are too blunt and explicit to reverse – they would be played back at him for the rest of his political career and, he thinks, might actually shorten it.

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