David Cameron addressed the parliamentary Conservative party last night. He took an opportunity to tell MPs to stop writing him public letters, and instead that they should approach him privately and that his ‘door is always open’. That opportunity was raised by Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, who complained about colleagues ‘banging on about Europe’ (even those who signed the letter are a bit worried about the amount of chat about Europe that it has provoked).
But the meeting itself was focused on the party’s media strategy (with a presentation from Craig Oliver) and what one present described as ‘holistic election strategy’. That involved the PM sketching out the key messages that the party needs to repeat to undermine Labour over the next few months, including reminding voters about the difference between the Tories’ long-term plan and the threat posed to the recovery by Labour. It also involved Cameron having a small technological meltdown when his PowerPoint presentation failed to work.
There was some surprise in the PM’s team that there wasn’t an avalanche of questions from backbenchers. That the most explosive question was one from a loyal MP worried about something that irritates the PM says something about the state the party is in at the moment: backbenchers want to make a noise, but they feel that those public letters are more fruitful than confronting their leader in what are supposed to be private meetings (and that, as I explained yesterday, is ultimately the Prime Minister’s fault as he constantly rewards bad behaviour by giving MPs concessions whenever they threaten trouble). But the meeting itself pleased even fairly critical backbenchers, with one describing it as a ‘New Year bromance’. Let’s see how long that lasts before real panic about those EU elections sets in.
Meanwhile, I hear that the party has been discussing its strategy for this afternoon’s opposition debate on the minimum wage. Labour is promising to ‘drag ministers to the House of Commons’ (presumably with dramatic video footage) for this debate, but it does present a genuine question for a party that is seriously mulling a wage increase: should those ministers, once they’ve been dragged to the Commons, go on the attack, or make mollifying noises about an increase? It will also be interesting to see how many MPs who are opposed to an increase make a contribution.
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