By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
Like Young England or the Fourth party, groups of Conservative MPs come and go – suddenly brought into being by time and chance, they can vanish as swiftly as they appear. Since like the rest of us they sometimes like to eat and drink while they think and talk, they tend to form dining clubs to join all four activities together.
At least three of the present ones are of long-standing. The One Nation dates back to 1950: Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell were both members, and leans left of party centre. The No Turning Back was founded in the 1980s, and leans the other way: Michael Portillo and Francis Maude were members, but fell out with other MPs over modernisation. (I suppose I should declare an interest: I'm a former member.) A stupendous breach of confidentiality led to a very full account of one row finding its way into Simon Walters's "Tory Wars". Nick's Diner, founded by Nicholas Scott, was described to me by one member as consisting of "the hard left".
Cornerstone was formed during the 2001- 2005 Parliament by John Hayes and Edward Leigh. And now another group has apparently come into being. Under the headline, "Centre Left MPs launch Cameron supporters dining club", Michael Crick reported recently that a group called Conservatives 2020 is being organised by Greg Barker, the Climate Change Minister and early Cameron supporter.
He named other supporters as "the Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell (who actually ran David Davis’s campaign in 2005), Hugo Swire (another early Cameroon), and many MPs from the 2010 intake, including Claire Perry and George Freeman". It is worth pointing out that this initiative may not be quite as new as it looks. The Mail on Sunday reported as long ago as 2008 the foundation of a "Green Chip Club", one of the organisers of which it claimed was…Barker. It said that the Green Chips were "founded last summer to shore up support for Mr Cameron".
This news was reported under the uninflammatory headline: "In Dave's groovy new Tories, you're no-one if you're not in the Green Chip Club". (The most influential dining group of centre-left Conservatives formed after the 1979 election was the "Blue Chips".) "Conservatives 2020" is a more discreet name and thus marginally less unlikely to excite the attention of Sunday tabloids.
Tory MPs have recently been involved in the publication of three books. Matthew Hancock (reported to be a member of the new group) and Nadhim Zahawi have written Masters of the Universe. Chris Skidmore, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss clubbed together to produce After the Coalition. David Davis, John Baron and Brian Binley are the first three names on The future of conservatism (to which I've contributed a chapter). I hope that the new or not-so-new group gets writing and publishing. These labels of party "right" and "left" can be as misleading as they're unavoidable, but the more ideas from all quarters, the better.