Lynton Crosby is holding his election strategy meeting (first revealed on Coffee House) with Tory MPs at 5.30 this afternoon. One of the things he’ll bring up, as reported by Benedict Brogan this morning, is that MPs need to be a little less unruly on Twitter.
Obviously that’s not their biggest worry, as there’s also the problem of MPs coalescing around different future leadership contenders, who are all thinking ahead to what will happen after the 2015 leadership election.
I understand from friends of Adam Afriyie that their campaign has managed to stop seven or eight letters asking for a leadership contest to oust David Cameron going to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady. Like all those others who are currently setting out where they stand on key issues – Afriyie has focused on business so far – this camp don’t want unrest now: they’re looking ahead to the long-term future, rather than mid-term revolt which annoys voters.
The focus for the Tory leadership shouldn’t be about stopping MPs saying what they think, but working on what their attitudes are to those at the top and why. Even if they don’t tweet things in public, many are still more than happy to spout about David Cameron and George Osborne in private conversations (although as I reported this morning, some of those conversations are taking place in pretty public places, such as the tea room). The point is, Twitter or no Twitter, that MPs are unhappy. As Fraser reported in his Telegraph column last week, there are many who really hate the leadership. Some are flocking to alternative candidates in the hope of a coup now, when that’s not what those running the alternative whipping operations want, hence Afriyie’s team blocking the letters.
Cameron and Osborne could learn from the way those alternative campaigns are being run, though. Afriyie has befriended many MPs by helping them do battle with IPSA. Theresa May, meanwhile, puts in endless legwork by speaking at constituency associations. This endears her to backbenchers. Cameron can’t speak at every constituency association, or bankroll expenses fights. But there’s a pattern: those with their eyes on the prize are good at making backbenchers feel loved. Neither Cameron nor his whips have done much of that sort of wooing, although the PM is now holding his sandwich lunches with backbenchers. But whether he makes MPs feel loved at those lunches is another issue.