By Tim Montgomerie
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The rebelliousness of many on the Tory backbenches has been well documented on ConHome's Parliamentary pages. We've also recorded the unhappiness of many Tory members about certain government policies (although not, significantly, its main priorities). One thing we've not really covered is the perhaps obvious but no less significant fact that – at the top of the Tory tree – the Conservative leadership has rediscovered the party's once great weapon of loyalty and party discipline.
For as long as I can remember ex-Tory leaders have caused trouble for current Tory leaders. Heath and Macmillan, for example, provided regular headaches for Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was a famously unhelpful backseat driver to John Major. Hague couldn't escape Thatcher's shadow. Look at the situation now, however. Each one of the party's ex-leaders is very supportive of Cameron. The PM regularly talks to John Major, especially about security and foreign policy issues. Major was unofficial spokesman for Cameron at the time of the Coalition negotiations. Michael Howard is an important behind-the-scenes influence and engineered the extended leadership process that gave Cameron the opportunity, in 2005, to thwart the frontrunning David Davis. Then, of course, there's Hague and IDS – two pivotal members of Cameron's Cabinet. For those with a subscription to The Times I've written an OpEd column about all of this today.
This loyalty at the top is an important fact and it's not always a comfortable thing to deliver. Michael Howard was furious at Cameron's grammar schools policy in 2007 and was within an ace of writing a piece for The Daily Telegraph saying as much. He held back for fear of tipping the grammarsgate affair into a full blown crisis. The decision in November 1990 to oust Margaret Thatcher was understandable for many reasons but it was the wrong thing to do. If one of our country's greatest ever Prime Ministers could be toppled then any leader was vulnerable. That great act against a three-times-election-winner has meant that for nearly two decades the Tory Party almost became unleadable. Perhaps, finally, we are past that point. As I was preparing my Times piece it was noticeable how Hague and IDS both see themselves as ready to be the frontline defenders of Cameron should he ever run into any kind of leadership trouble. They will be manning the ramparts if the Tory leader needs them. The Conservative Party must never again, their aides say, do what it did to Thatcher.
Finally, by way of footnote, Hague and IDS are quite different characters and perform different roles for the PM. Hague is much closer to the Cameron-Osborne leadership and IDS plays more of an ideological, agitating role. Both share one thing, however – they work fifteen hour days and only can do so through a serious commitment to keeping very fit. IDS prefers competitive sports. Hague is more of a gym person. The Welfare Secretary can't play football with the Commons team anymore because Cameron has scheduled Cabinet for when the largely Labour group of MPs play each other. He does still wake up every morning, however, and do fifteen to twenty minutes of sit ups and press ups. The Foreign Secretary meanwhile will arrive in a foreign destination at 6am and be in the hotel pool or gym for a good hour before starting any meetings. Neither touch much alcohol and they eat small portions. Lots of soup in IDS' case. You have to be fit as well as loyal at the top of today's Conservative Party.