David Cameron received a rapturous banging of desks at the final meeting of the year for the 1922 Committee this evening. My sources have given me a run-down of what was said.
Backbenchers were, I hear, very cheered by some of his words, particularly on his 2015 strategy. The Prime Minister told his MPs that the important thing to avoid is fighting Labour on their own territory. That means resisting being dragged into ding-dongs about payday loans and other pet issues that Labour likes to raise (the problem with this is that it creates a vacuum for Labour to invent its own description of what the nasty Tories think when the reality is different, but at least this is a plan rather than a lack of awareness of the issues). The Conservatives, he told the meeting, will need to say at the next general election that the have a long-term plan while Labour has no plan at all. The party will focus on its welfare reforms, its tough stance on immigration and argue that living standards are already being improved by getting the economy right. The message, he said, will be that voters mustn’t give the car keys back to Labour.
None of this is particularly surprising. But what he said next was enough to cheer backbenchers a great deal, and is something the PM needs to say as often as possible. Cameron said that the Conservatives need to make the case that they would be more radical by governing alone and that this radicalism would be put at risk not just by Labour but also by a hung Parliament. There are many MPs who suspect the Prime Minister does not really think that and would rather use the Lib Dems as a convenient excuse for not doing things he doesn’t want to do anyway. So the more he tells his backbenchers that he fears another hung parliament, and the more he talks about that ‘little black book’ that he revealed in his Spectator interview, the better.
He also tried to reassure the troops on pay, saying that he had sympathy with those MPs who are having to commute between two homes and pay for a great deal out of their own pockets. But the solution needed to be one from Ipsa, not taking pay back into Parliament, he said.
In his question-and-answer session afterwards, he explained that the delay in the benefit curbs that he announced today was because the proposals had to be checked out properly by government lawyers, told a disgruntled rural MP that ministers were happy to consider the imbalance in funding that many rural areas suffer from, and told one backbencher concerned about the fate of the Wharton Bill in the Lords that the party would have to make its case for the legislation to peers and hope for the best. He was also praised on his PMQs performance by Michael Fabricant, which earned the flamboyant MP a round of heckling from his colleagues.
Indeed, the PM was in a buoyant mood after his PMQs performance. That session in the Commons and this evening’s session in the Committee Room will send backbenchers home in a good mood, which in the independently-minded Conservative party is always an achievement.Tags: 1922 Committee, Conservatives, David Cameron, UK politics