The happiness, or unhappiness, of Conservative MPs is a complex business. Issues, personalities, promotion prospects, flattery, insults, constituency considerations and various other factors tally up one on side of the ledger or the other for each individual, and collectively the mood shifts. That influencing and measuring those shifting sands is such an inscrutable process is made all the more important by the fact that the outcome of the process matters hugely – particularly for a Government with a small majority, a referendum on the way and a leadership contest which will take place at some point after that.
It’s fair to say recent weeks have seen the leadership lose points with a lot of people on the backbenches – the £9.3 million pro-EU propaganda push, the Treasury’s assault on the possibility of Brexit and now the decision to abandon a long-sought trade union reform apparently in a bid to secure union backing in the referendum have all harmed the relationship. One Conservative MP recently summed their feeling up by telling me: “It’s enough to make you question whether some people are real conservatives” – a dangerous notion to have floating around the Commons tearoom.
Downing Street’s occupants aren’t stupid, though. So it’s worth watching out for instances of them offering concessions to their own MPs, and taking steps to score a few points on the happiness side of the balance.
Paul noted recently that there’s a lot of discontent among MPs about the way in which the Fourth Money Laundering Directive encourages banks to treat politicians and their families as “politically exposed persons”. Various Members – led by Charles Walker – expressed concern about being hassled in their personal finances, and it’s easy to see why they’d be annoyed.
Yesterday, Walker tabled an amendment seeking to exempt them and to provide a route to appeal banks’ decisions to designate people as being subject to this extra scrutiny. Harriet Baldwin, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and then the Chancellor were both happy to commend him on his campaign and lend the Government’s support to the amendment.
In itself, it doesn’t wash away the bad feeling over other issues, but it will certainly do something to improve the mood of many MPs.