By Tim Montgomerie
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A number of issues are revealing – once again – the fundamental differences between the Conservative Party and the leadership of the Coalition.
Before Cameron exercised his Christmas veto the Tory party and centre right press were getting restless, even rebellious. The veto then came and suddenly the situation looked different. Very different. Cameron won his best ever centre right press. Tory MPs lined up to praise him. Cameron's opinion poll rating improved significantly.
Today the improvement hasn't been fully reversed – just as the veto hasn't been fully reversed – but this morning's newspapers make uncomfortable reading for the Prime Minister.
The choice of stories to worry Number 10 include…
- The front page splash in The Sunday Telegraph. One hundred Tory MPs have written to the PM to warn against the windfarm policy which, subsidised by taxpayers, increases average energy prices. If he turns to The Observer Mr Cameron can read that Lib Dems led by Ming Campbell are warning that "things could get very tough" in the Coalition if he appeases the Tories' green sceptics. The danger, as James Chapman has tweeted, is that pressure from the Conservatives may be counter-productive and force the instinctively more sensible Ed Davey to out-green even Huhne.
- Also in The Sunday Telegraph is a report on George Osborne's looming decision to send more money towards the IMF. John Redwood warns that more than half of Tory backbenchers are ready to oppose such a move. If Ed Balls, again, joins with the rebels the Chancellor risks defeat.
- In the Mail on Sunday James Forsyth lifts the lid on growing Tory opposition to Lords reform. He quotes one Tory who says that the parliamentary party is not ready to give the Lib Dems the permanent balance of power in the upper house.
- In The Sunday Times we learn (£) that India not only doesn't want our fighter jets it doesn't want our "peanuts" aid either. And the British public doesn't want to send it either. By 60% to 14% YouGov finds the British people oppose sending aid to India.
- Back to The Observer and Labour is focusing on the issue that produces most nightmares inside Number 10: the NHS. Ed Miliband is today launching a three month campaign to stop Andrew Lansley's reforms.
Leader-writers at both The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times have reached similar conclusions. Number 10 is drifting and putting tactics over strategy:
- The Sunday Times says Cameron is "radiating weakness from Downing Street" over issues such as free enterprise. it finishes its warning (£) with the EU issue: "The prime minister’s vacillating use of the veto in December, when he said he would block other European Union members from using EU institutions for their new treaty, gave Mr Miliband one of his better lines when he said: “A veto is not for life, it’s just for Christmas.” Mr Cameron should be flying high against a weak opponent, but he is not, and the country is beginning to notice."
- The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, lists environmental policy, aid and competitiveness as areas where the PM is getting out-of-touch with his party and the agenda that Britain needs. It concludes: "Most Conservatives believe that they are lucky to have a man as skilled as Mr Cameron in charge of both the party and the country. But there are growing, and legitimate, worries that in his eagerness to appeal to the electorate, the Prime Minister runs the risk of turning his back on the fundamental values of the party he leads."
In his Sunday Telegraph column Iain Martin lists the troubles ahead for the Coalition, notably the Eastleigh by-election and its potential to destabilise relations between the two governing parties. I do not agree with Iain that a 2013 election is likely but Cameron would be wise, as Iain suggests, to prepare for the possibility.