By Paul Goodman
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I am losing my way in the great grimpen mire of Conservative backbench groups. It's not all that long ago since Cornerstone added itself to the traditional list of dining clubs, such as the One Nation and No Turning Back. Earlier in the Parliament came the forty. It was followed by the 2020, which seemed to be a revived Green Chips group. Today, the Times (£) reports that –
"A new group of Tory MPs is warning David Cameron that he will fail to win an overall majority unless the Tories broaden their appeal beyond Europe, immigration and welfare cuts. In a challenge to the party’s old guard, the 301 group is urging the leadership to pursue issues such as poverty, the environment, the benefits of the welfare state and a more direct appeal to ethnic minorities."
The story claims that this new 301 Group – named after the number of seats the party has to win to gain an overall majority – has about 120 MPs as supporters, and that its establishment "reveals frustration among the 2010 intake with the 1922 Committee, the traditional forum for backbenchers."
Kris Hopkins is quoted as saying that many new MPs are concerned by a retreat from some of David Cameron’s campaigning on issues such as the environment. Others apparently involved include Jessica Lee (Erewash), Dan Poulter (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North) Laura Sandys (Thanet South), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) and Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe).
The Times says that some senior Tories would like the group to challenge directly the power of the 1922 Committee by running for its offices. I've asked previously whether the Prime Minister wants the Forty to be a counterweight to the '22. The 2020 was reported as a move to challenge the power of the party's right.
Elections for the '22's Executive will take place at the end of the Parliamentary session – in other words, this spring. It's no secret that Cameron's relationship with the '22 is tetchy, and no wonder: after all, he tried to abolish it after the election. Its executive is dominated by the centre-right of the party.
As I say, I am losing my way in this great grimpen mire of Conservative groups but, to use another Holmesian analogy, this story of impatience with – and perhaps a challenge to – the '22 officers is a dog that keeps barking in the night.
3.15pm Update: Kris Hopkins has made a statement, as follows –
“All successful Conservative candidates in 2010 were elected on a very broad policy platform. It was not just about so-called traditional Tory areas such as law and order, immigration and Europe; it also included commitments on the NHS, on improving our schools, looking after vulnerable people and taking action on issues of particular importance to women, families and BME communities.
“We need to maintain momentum on all of these and other areas and, in so doing, build the confidence of those who might not class themselves as natural Conservative voters.
“The 301 Plus group is not about the left, the right or One Nation Toryism.
“It is about advancing the ideas and aspirations of the modern Conservative Party and delivering for voters of all political persuasions across our country.”