By Tim Montgomerie
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It's blame-and-bash-b-b-b-b-backbenchers week on Fleet Street. Matthew Parris kicked it off last Saturday with his attack (£) on the "spittle-flecked" "Rabid Right". Ian Birrell joined in in yesterday's Evening Standard. And in today's Telegraph Peter Oborne throws his keyboard at lots of Tory MPs with surnames beginning with 'B'…
"The backbench rebels (an unfeasibly large number of whom have surnames which begin with the letter B – Binley, Bray, Burns, Baker, Baron, Bingham, Bone, Bridgen, Burley, Bebb, Blackman, Blackwood, Brady, Brazier, Brine, Byles) appear to have fallen for the illusion that if only the Conservatives move sharply to the Right before the next election, all will be well and a tremendous victory will be won."
In reality a good number of Mr Oborne's Bs are largely very loyal to the Tory leadership but it's not so much fun to let facts get in the way of a bit of alliteration.
The traditional Right is not perfect. ConHome recently ran a series on some of its failures. I recently admitted some of my own errors. What would be dangerous, however, would be for this bash-the-Right Fleet Street narrative to also become the dominant mindset within the Tory leadership (if it isn't already).
The biggest errors of recent years were the pursuit of the wrong kind of modernisation, emphasing liberalism rather than social justice; the decision to match Labour's unaffordable spending plans; to put combating climate change ahead of controlling household energy prices; to give a cast-iron promise to hold a vote on Europe and then not find a way of delivering on it in some way; to not talk about immigration in the election campaign; to agree to TV debates and to give the Lib Dems equal status in them; to put the Big Society at the heart of the Tory manifesto without market-testing it; to dismiss the idea that UKIP was a threat to the Tory Party; to not begin this parliament with a serious growth agenda; to negotiate a Coalition Agreement that allowed the LibDems to get their vote on AV but the Tories not to get the boundary review… The backbenchers were not responsible for any of these errors.
In the decisions to appoint Lynton Crosby and Neil O'Brien David Cameron has acknowledged that he needs to adopt a different, more blue collar-friendly strategy. At yesterday's end-of-term meeting of the 1922 the different direction appeared to get a good reception from Conservative MPs.
A final confession from me. I support equal marriage. I think it will rapidly become as uncontroversial law as civil partnerships. I don't think it will be a big issue at the next election if Cameron can find other ways of reaching out to churchgoers. But I badly underestimated the clear upset that the proposal has caused throughout the parliamentary party and the party in the country. When David Burrowes MP predicted a rebellion of 100 backbenchers at the start of the year he was right. Number 10 would benefit from having a few more people like David at the 8.30am and 4pm daily meetings. David is hugely popular with his colleagues and an advocate of the strong and compassionate conservatism that represents the best future for our party. He is currently PPS to Owen Paterson. If Owen will forgive me I'd argue that David would be better working for the PM, inside Number 10, helping him repair relations with his backbenchers rather than escalating already serious tensions.