David Cameron has a backbencher problem. The more right wing elements of his party do not think that he is a ‘real’ Conservative, and that he is in government for the sake of governing rather than to enact dramatic changes to the way the country is run. They accuse him of pandering to the Liberal Democrats in order to sustain himself in this position, to the detriment of the country at large.
It has reached the point that these grumbles do not happen behind closed doors, but in public, in order to better entertain and enlighten us all. Brian Binley M.P. has set out the case that the government is drifting aimlessly, and that in order to address the very real challenges that the country faces, David Cameron must “put his foot down and assert his position, firstly, as Prime Minister, and secondly, as leader of the Conservative party”. He goes on to suggest sacking Vince Cable and implies that the number of Lib Dem ministers in the government could be reduced.
Putting aside the questionable nature of Binley’s analysis of what has gone wrong since the coalition came to power, it should be immediately obvious that his prescription is pure fantasy. The Conservative party does not have a majority in parliament. It requires the Lib Dems to sustain it in government. The Lib Dems may only hold 57 seats, but those 57 seats are what keep the government in power. The argument is often made that the Lib Dems will not withdraw support for the coalition, because doing so would force an early election in which they would be massacred. It is often conveniently forgotten that the same is now also true of the Conservatives. Based on current opinion polls, if an election were to be held tomorrow, Labour would win an overall majority. The Conservatives need the Lib Dems as much as the Lib Dems need the Conservatives.
The willingness of Conservative backbenchers to embarrass and even vote against their party leadership is reminiscent of the ‘Tory Wars’ of the 1990’s, which destroyed both the government of John Major and the long term credibility of the Conservative Party, a trend only (partially) reversed when Cameron became leader. Their disloyalty is revealing. Backbench loyalty is usually the result of said backbenchers wishing to one day become ministers, which can only happen if the Prime Minister appoints them. By so openly defying Cameron, these backbenchers are indicating that they have no desire to serve in a Cameron government, presumably because they do not believe that a Cameron government is a worthy project, and that a better option, presumably under a new tory leader, will soon be available. If they don’t believe in a Cameron government, it is hard to see why voters should be expected to at the next election, yet that is exactly the question that will be asked at the ballot box. If Cameron cannot get a grip on his party, it may well doom his already slim chance of re-election.