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By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 09.33.24"Well, gentlemen, I see we have a good gathering tonight," said
side-burned Forth, like a teddy boy relishing a dust-up with some mods
at the local disco. "I think we ought to have a discussion of what this
group believes in.  I must say I always thought we believed in lower
taxes, locking up more criminals and standing up for Britain. But now I
am told we stand for something called REACHING OUT! He shrieked the
words with melodramatic disgust."

This morning's account in the Times (£)
of a "dinner table plot to unseat the coalition" turns out to be the second subtantial leak from the No Turning Back
Group – the right-of-party-centre backbench dining club of Conservative
MPs of which I was once a member.  The first is chronicled in loving detail
in Simon Walters's romp, Tory Wars,
and I quote from the words of the late, great Eric Forth – whose attack
on Michael Portillo opens the account. (It followed Portillo's speech to the Conservative Conference in 2000.)

Key quotes:

  • Portillo:
    "Presumably you want homosexuals and lesbians to vote for us? We don't
    want to say to them: "We don't like you, we don't want your vote."
  • Owen
    Paterson: "You are obsessed by a few issues which are of great interest
    to the metropolitan elite, but they are of no concern to most of our
    members who don't live in London."
  • Alan Duncan: "Michael is right. We have got to appeal to other groups such as ethnic minorities."
  • John
    Bercow: "If we give the impression that we are bigoted about gays or
    people of other races, then we will lose floating votes too."
  • "Redwood,
    relishing the sight of his right-wing adversary [Portillo] being
    roasted on the spit, gave it another turn. 'We are not bigots. We simply
    don't want to make these issues a big part of Conservative policies.' "
  • "David
    Davis, who arrived late, sat back and enjoyed the spectacle of his best
    friend Forth making a fool of Portillo, whom he had long held in
    contempt."

Over ten years on, how fortunate we are that these contentious issues have been put to rest!

A
word on the Times's story and the NTB itself. The Times refers to some
MPs “chuntering” about a leadership contest.  If that's all that took
place, what took place wasn't a "plot" – so the headline is a bit out
of proportion.  The Times mentions the idea of a "mandate referendum" to
precede the In-Out one to which David Cameron is committed.  There's no
great mystery about whose idea that is.  It's Davis's.  We know that because…he set it out publicly at a ConservativeHome conference last autumn.

Finally,
note the names quoted in the Times story: Davis, Redwood, Liam Fox,
Bernard Jenkin. Chris Grayling.  These names are those of very senior
MPs.  The report also says: "it is understood that about a
dozen MPs were present".  If that's right, it sounds like a gathering
consisting almost entirely of senior and older MPs.  I wonder if the NTB
is replenishing its membership.  At any rate, no member of the 2010
intake, which now constitutes half the Parliamentary Party, is quoted in
the story.

When I was a member of the NTB in the last Parliament,
about 20 or so MPs would turn up regularly, including John Baron, Mark
Harper, Jonathan Djanogly, Andrew Turner, and Angela Watkinson.  Clubs
of Tory MPs spring up all the time – for example, the Free Enterprise
Group, which gave very public advice to Osborne earlier this week – and
the more established ones must renew themselves to stay at the cutting
edge.  One thing's certain: the NTB will this morning be undertaking a
leak enquiry. 

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