By Tim Montgomerie
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This is the most rebellious parliament on record for such a young government. This is far from being all the fault of Team Cameron. Last week I described the rise of the "supercharged backbencher" and listed the many factors that explained why we are seeing a much more independent parliamentary party. This is what I wrote for The Guardian:
"Many Tory MPs feel at least as loyal to their party's manifesto as to the coalition agreement and they are forming groups to advance their concerns on crime, tax, Lords reform and other issues that motivate the Conservative base. Given the phalanx of Liberal Democrat ministers, Cameron has fewer frontbench positions with which to reward MPs. Tory MPs have noticed and concluded that they might as well focus on the concerns of their marginal constituencies. This is especially true for those facing difficult boundary reselections."
There are, nonetheless, things that can be done to improve the situation…
- At a minimum the leadership should stop doing whipping themselves. Whipping is a specialist task and should be left to the specialists. Prime Minister and Chancellors should not be pushing MPs to vote in certain ways – certainly not at this stage of the parliament.
- Greg Hands was a very good recent addition the whips office. Known throughout the parliamentary party he is seen as very principled personally and loyal to the leadership. It might also be worth Alistair Burt returning although I should imagine he'd be reluctant to leave his foreign office job. Nonetheless, few are more sensitive to the mood of "colleagues" than Burt and more aware that the whips office needs to graduate from the command-and-control techniques of a 1950s barracks room and towards something much more developmental.
- Finally there is the issue of pay and rations. There wasn't much senstivity to this point when I raised it last week in my blog on the supercharged backbencher. MPs have nevertheless now suffered at least seven years of declining real wages. Most Tory MPs have given up better paid jobs to be an MP. At a minimum the government should accept the next time an independent committee or adjudicator recommends improvements to pay and conditions. We will lose good MPs if the current squeeze continues. Adam Afriyie MP's investigation into some kind of simplification of pay, allowance and expense regimes is probably the best immediate hope for improvement.
- In another area of ‘caring for the troops’ much more could be done to ensure those affected by boundary changes are properly looked after. There is a strong sense that they are not.
> In the eighth part of the series at 4.30pm: The Conservative Alliance