By Tim Montgomerie
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There have been reports in the press – see today's Independent (following yet another Paul Waugh exclusive) – that an "81 Group" was being formed to organise last week's rebels. Mark Pritchard MP is quoted as saying that "it is not a formal grouping, a faction or a party within a party but an informal caucus of like-minded MPs from both the left and right of the party who want to put the country first." Dan Byles tweeted disdain for Paul Waugh's discription of the group last night. Tracey Crouch MP, another of the 81, has gone further with a letter to Mark Pritchard MP and copied to others. She tells Mark that she does not want to be part of any "bash the PM' group. The full text of her letter is below.
Since my election you’ve shown me genuine support for my abstention on tuition fees, my election to the 1922 Executive, the party’s initial views on boundary changes and my fight with the FA; it is support that has been much appreciated. In return I supported you on the motion to ban circus animals, which was a victory for animal welfare in these modern days and is an issue I shall continue to campaign for.
However I was horrified to read in the papers and on twitter this morning that my vote for the EU referendum motion last week is being turned into something it was not, namely an attempt to bash the PM on Europe. I voted for the motion last week for reasons that Zac in particular articulated so well in the chamber: we need to restore trust in politicians and if we promise to do something, albeit in loose terms, then we should do it. I also voted for the motion because not only has our relationship with Europe changed since the referendum on our entry into the EEC but I believe the millions of British taxpayers under the age of 50 who contribute to the funding of the EU want a say on our future relationship with Europe – which incidentally should not necessarily be interrupted as wanting to get out of the EU but taking ownership of our relationship with the EU. Finally, despite accusations of it being fundamentally flawed, I supported the motion because I was attracted to the fact that it included the 3 options of In, Out or Renegotiation. I personally think that a referendum, which secured a popular vote on the latter, would give the Government a strong mandate to take on the European institutions. I did not support the motion because I want to see us leave Europe and I fear the establishment of your “81 Group” is painting those of us who reluctantly defied the whip in order to represent the very many constituents who contacted us on this issue as anti-European.
By using the label of the 81 Group it undermines the principled stance that some us took and looks to the media as an organised faction against the PM. While I think the Government should be doing more to articulate its policy on repatriating powers from Europe, I have no desire to be part of this faction and would like to strongly disassociate myself with the Group. I see the work that George & Andrea are doing on the EU as enough in terms of backbench representation and that no further formal or informal groups are required. Last week should not be seen as the start of some sort of Tory Spring – I voted for a referendum not a revolution!
I have copied in some colleagues from the 2010 intake who voted for the motion last week, many of whom defied the whip for the first time in doing so, some of whom don’t agree with my less than anti-EU views but may well share my disappointment that the vote is being taken down a path that it was not intended.
I am chairing a conference later this morning and sadly won’t be at the 1922 Exec this afternoon due to the AGM of the APPG Dementia and/or the amendment on knife crime in the chamber. I’m also slipped for a ministerial visit tomorrow but happy to chat over the weekend. In the meantime, please do reconsider either the name or the aims of this 81 Group – I really do believe it is not helping our cause, either as a group of people who want a referendum or a team of colleagues who want a Conservative Government.
TRACEY CROUCH MP
Chatham & Aylesford"
I don't think Mark Pritchard ever claimed to have all 81 MPs signed up but I'm sure he'll clarify the status of the group soon.
11am Mark Pritchard has sent this letter back:
Thank you for your email.
I agree with you entirely.
This name has not come from me. I understand it came out of a centre right meeting last week (which I did not attend). I also understand that the name had been blogged about several days before today’s comment.
It is not a term or name that I created. Others have done that.
The comment I made to the press was inclusive and rebuts the idea of a ‘formal’ group or any faction but recognises that perhaps on other major European votes, some of the MPs who voted for the Motion last Monday, may or may not vote along similar lines in the future.
I am happy to chat.
I like Tracey Crouch but it might have been better to have picked up the phone to Mark first and get to the bottom of the nature of the 81 Group. I think it's also unfair to say Mark Pritchard is simply a "PM basher". Regardless of this, the organisers of the group will certainly now need to proceed with greater caution. They must be careful not to present themselves as a bigger group than they are.