Since the debacle over same-sex marriage last spring, David Cameron has been striving to improve his relations with backbenchers. So he will be in the market for ideas about how to achieve this aim. Here is one.
Yesterday afternoon, Lynton Crosby addressed a meeting of Conservative MPs, and his presentation clearly echoed the one he gave political Cabinet recently – about making an emotional connection with voters, and providing security in uncertain times. Quite right, too. These meetings will apparently take place once every month or so.
Like another that took place recently, it was hosted not by the 1922 Committee but by the whips. In one sense, this is a scrap of Westminster Village detail: who cares? In another, it may be detail, but it is important none the less – at least to some of those MPs whose goodwill Number 10 wants to keep or gain. The symbolism of who hosts these meetings touches on some live and fissile questions. Who is entitled to act on behalf of the Parliamentary Party in the Commons? Is it the executive of the 1922 Committee, which Tory MPs elect, or is it the leadership? The answer might seem to be: the latter. But a moment’s reflection shows that matters aren’t quite that simple. For example, Downing Street couldn’t decide to re-form the Coalition after 2015, assuming that was in a position and willing to do so, without first gaining the agreement of Conservative MPs.
Whatever you think the answers may be, Number 10 has form in organising such events and the ’22 Executive has form in complaining about them. Earlier in the Parliament, the leadership took to having meetings arranged for the 2010 intake only, chaired by the whips. The Executive protested, and these stopped. Then of course there was Cameron’s earlier attempt to abolish the ’22 altogether.
The ’22 Executive is no happier about these latest meetings than it was about those previous ones, Downing Street is well aware of this. It would cost the latter nothing to hand ask the ’22 to host any more. It might even gain a bit of goodwill in return. And in any event, it would be the right thing to do.