By Paul Goodman
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They are Peter Bone, Douglas Carswell, John Glen, Anne McIntosh, and Bob Stewart. The new group was formed in the aftermath of the same-sex marriage bill second reading vote. The video above is introduced by my former constituency Chairman in Wycombe, Bob Woollard, who says that "it seems as though a cohort of moderniers have got the Prime Minister's ear and, frankly, I think it's time these modernisers packed their bags and went." Here are some quotes from the MPs:
- Peter Bone: "The leadership seems to be disconnected with the grassroots."
- John Glen: "We must reconnect before the general election in two years time."
- Douglas Carswell: "It's fantastic that this initiative is being launched, and I'm fully behind an initiative that brings in and support our grassroots."
- Anne McIntosh: "We want to be as welcoming as we possibly can to represent all the views expressed in the Conservaive Party."
The film's talking heads place a very heavy stress on the same-sex marriage bill, confirming that by pushing the measure without a manifesto commitment – and in the absence of any substantial public pressure – the leadership made a major strategic blunder. Voters may have forgotten about the issue by 2015, but many activists who opposed the measure won't have done. And the party needs a strong presence on the ground.
This the real significance of this new initiative, and the test for it will be whether it can mobilise party members to demand a bigger stake in how it's run: after all, whose party is it, anyway? I'm as strong an opponent of the same-sex marriage move as anyone – I've cut the money I give to the party over the issue – but Grassroots Conservatives won't flourish if it concentrates its fire on the issue. It may do if it makes Reviving the Party its leitmotif.
I think that is the message that Carswell, Glen and McIntosh are sending in the video: have a look at their contributions again. At any rate, its formation is a warning shot to David Cameron. Party membership may be as low as 130,000. UKIP's may he as high as 30,000. That isn't an unbridgeable gap. With party members dying, leaving or not rejoining, UKIP and apathy – plus voter disdain for the whole political class – threatens the party's future.
I give Bob Stewart the last word: "These are the people that are the Conservative Party and we have to listen to what they have to say, and if we don't – watch out."
The group's meeting will take place today during the conference lunchtime break in the Grand Connaught rooms (the same venue as spring forum) in the Ampthill Room.