Coffee House

Why are the Afriyie plotters bothering?

1 February 2013

David Cameron clearly rated Adam Afriyie’s ‘stalking horse’ plot as a sufficiently ridiculous threat to make a joke out of it at Prime Minister’s Questions this week. After their premature outing in the papers last weekend, the plotters might sensibly have gone to ground for some time while Afriyie fended off lunch invitations from journalists trying to get the measure of him.

But according to the Mail and the Guardian, they’re still at it, now with George Osborne in their crosshairs.

They’re clearly a determined bunch, plotting to deliver an ultimatum to the Prime Minister in May to replace his Chancellor if the Budget fails to revive the economy. That’s quite some ask. Replacing Osborne would cause panic in the markets: not exactly the best consequence for a coup triggered by economic woes. It would also only be possible if Cameron were suffering from some fatal weakness, given his relationship with Osborne.

What the Afriyie plotters seem perfectly happy to ignore is that Cameron might not be their best mate, but neither is he suffering from some fatal weakness at the moment. He continues to poll above his party (YouGov found 40 per cent of voters think Cameron is doing well as PM, while the Tories command 32 per cent support. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, only gets a 32 per cent approval rating while his party polls 44 per cent). Coming after the Europe speech, which gave the party what it had nearly stopped hoping it would ever get, their machinations appear deeply ungrateful.


So why are they bothering with these plots? As James explained this week when the plot surfaced, there are enough backbenchers who feel outside the magic inner circle that there is a serious discontent problem in the party. This is caused by two main deficiencies in the way the leadership conducts itself:

1. Cameron doesn’t give the impression he is sufficiently interested in many of his backbenchers. Sure, there are some bright sparks, part of that pre-ordained circle James described, but there are many others, bright and eager, who he could put to better use rather than leaving the rebels to make work for idle hands. Now clearly as Prime Minister he doesn’t have time to have cosy coffees with every MP, but even well-behaved backbenchers find Downing Street ‘outreach’ drinks events frustrating as they report Cameron struggles to appear interested in his guests. This is odd: Cameron is exceptionally good at working the room at drinks events, and at taking an interest in his guests when it suits him. A shrinking violet he is not.

2. The whips aren’t doing enough day-to-day parenting of backbenchers. Cameron is too busy to take grumpy MPs for coffee: that job is for the whips, and I’ve explained in greater detail some of the problems with that here.

There’s also the problem caused by reshuffles: anyone overlooked or sacked immediately becomes a target for rebel plotters. To his credit, Cameron has resisted the temptation to move ministers around as much as previous administrations have.

One MP made an interesting point to me this week as we discussed gay marriage. Though they supported the principle, their worry was that while the Europe speech was wonderful, it had come too late for them to be able to take the hit on gay marriage from their constituents. Plus the economy, which is of far greater importance to voters than the other two issues, is not yet providing the firm foundation for MPs to forget the need for tactical voting on issues such as gay marriage.

Though Cameron made a bold pledge last week, and though, as Fraser reported in his Telegraph column recently, the Prime Minister has started 2013 with an impatience and sense of purpose that he seemed to lack last year, this may have come too late.

Rightly or wrongly, there now exists a hardcore of MPs so disaffected that there’s nothing Cameron can do to ever win them back. That is partly because of the neglect problems I listed above, and partly because of the character of the backbenchers in question: they don’t possess the unshakeable loyalty to Brand Tory that some MPs like Claire Perry have. Cameron now has to decide how to target those MPs floating on the margins, who may have rebelled a few times or are keeping their powder dry still but lack the visceral dislike that their hardcore colleagues possess for the Prime Minister.

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  • paulus

    Most conservatives read history not philosophy, it gives them a mind set of who they are, what they are for. It is an unshakeable belief in their convictions, it is grounded in the real and the now, to be a conservative is to love your family and your country, it cannot be bargained, it cannot be bought, and it is defended to the very end.

    It is an insult to their mothers, to their wives, and their daughters, it is an insult to say the very institution that conservatives hold most precious the institution of marriage, is rendered unto an alter of political correctness, it is an insult to their intellect, it is an insult loyalty it is an isult to their reasoning.

  • ButcombeMan

    The hardcore who distrust Cameron is rather more than a bunch of new entrant Tory MPs.

    It extends to very many die hard one time Conservative voters and card carrying supporters.

    Yes Cameron scores higher than his party, but only on the narrow question of who would make the best PM, between him, Clegg and Red Ed.

    That is more of a comment on Red Ed & Clegg, than it is about Cameron.

    Cameron will lose the next election because he has pointlessly alienated his core vote and gained little in return.

    His party managment has been terrible and politically inept. He has been careless with his core vote.

    All the talk about his targetting dissenting MPs misses the point, it is targetting erstwhile Conservative voters, turned off by his games and very slipperiness, that he should be doing. That and targetting the hard working immigrant vote.

    There is nothing Cameron can now do to rescue the situation.

    Capture the voters and the MPs would be comforted and follow.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Conservative MPs (and not just AA) aren’t plotting to overthrow Cameron because they don’t like his style (as Isable seems to think).
    They are plotting because they fundamentally disagree with the direction that Cameron is leading the party. This is only agravated by the fact that Cameron failed to win the last election and, if the polls are to believed, they all (including the ones Isable cites) point to a massive Labour victory at the next election. MPs could perhaps stomach a PM that was a winner even if they didn’t agree with everything he said but being tied to a loser you don’t agree with who nonetheless treats you and your constituents with contempt is intolerable.
    Afriyie, for example (who is my MP), completely disagrees with Osborne’s class warfare attacks on wealth and successful businesses like Starbucks. He completely disagrees with Cameron on quotas for boardrooms (whether black, female or anything else). He built his own business without a special quota so why should he sit in the House and listen to Osborne attacking people like him and his voters?
    Isabel (in common with most of the commentariate and the Cameroons) completely fail to understand why many of the people who languish on the Tory back-benches got into politics. Most of them could make more money elsewhere and have all the status they need. They stood for election because they wanted to make a difference. Cameron and his acolytes confuse insults for argument and the way they have treated Afriyie will only rebound on them.

    • Fergus Pickering

      That old ‘failed to win’ stuff. Is it not true that Cameron got a bigger swing to the Tories than any other leader for fifty years?

      • ScaryBiscuits

        Cameron is ‘old stuff’. His political platform is essentially no different from that of Heath 40 years ago.
        Cameron did get a big swing but from a very low base. What matters is not the swing but the victory. And it’s debatable whether that was due to his attractiveness or Labour’s unattractiveness; a different leader, indeed the coffee mug on my table as I write this, might well have done a better job than Cameron did and is doing.
        It’s not about old stuff versus new but of finding a leader who can combine the best of both and unite the party around it to form an election winning platform. Whatever his talents, that sure ain’t Cameron.

  • Dominic Adler

    I rather like the cut of Mr. Afriyie’s gib.

    • Fergus Pickering

      If you think that the Tories would win with a black man as leader you must be living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Even if he is terribly rich.

  • AnotherDaveB

    It was reported that Mr Cameron’s office was behind the newspaper reports of a ‘stalking horse plot’.

    So Mr Cameron’s perception of it as a ‘ridiculous threat’ is just addressing his own fiction.

    The fact that many Conservative MPs are unhappy with Team Cameron is no great surprise. Public debate is a healthy thing, and it would be better if Mr Cameron participated in that debate, rather than attempting to smother it.

  • Robert_Eve

    I was having quite a good day until you mentioned Claire Perry.

  • Tom Tom

    Don’t get too carried away with Polls…as Harry S Truman said there is only one that counts

  • anyfool

    This is a dead horse, at least wait till the local elections before whipping it again, it might show a tiny glimmer of life if they are an unmitigated disaster.

  • Magnolia

    Everyday life about Stalky and Co.
    The markets will panic if we look like we’re going bust, not if we lose a ineffectual Chancellor.
    With respect, only a young person could read this and understand it.
    Back in the old days Politics wasn’t about personalities or gang warfare but about policies, principles and a resulting plan of action to deal with problems as a whole.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Was it now? I have been alive since 1945 and I can’t remember much about principles. Quite a lot about winning, however.

  • Chris lancashire

    There are too many Tory backbenchers with egos larger than their brains.

    • Tom Tom

      Not sure about the Frontbenchers myself – your description applies to Cameron and Osborne and certainly Clarke

    • realfish

      I agree. Who are these ‘bastards’? Who do they think they are? Whilst the right are getting in a lather about this and demand change, they should remember that the ordinary ‘man in the street / ‘Worcester Woman’ will not elect a party that they perceive to be divided.
      It makes you wonder whether; a*) the Conservative Party has been infiltrated by lefties dedicated to destroying it, or b) the empty vessels making the most noise are thick and cannot see beyond the end of their nose.
      Where are the Tory values of dedication to the country, service and loyalty?. If the plotters don’t understand these values, they’re not true Tories
      *I think I’ll go for ‘a’.

      • JamesdelaMare

        Dedication, service, discipline and loyalty? Yes. And, above all, much less government.

    • AnotherDaveB

      It is perfectly rational for Tory backbenchers to question the wisdom of their leadership team, and push for a change of policy or personnel.

      On current form, the Conservatives will lose 80-100 seats at the next election. If Tory MPs don’t think they can win under Mr Cameron’s leadership, then they SHOULD put forward an alternative candidate/platform.

      The 2014 EU/local elections is a good deadline. Allowing time to debate and prepare before the 2015 general election. (I’m expecting Mr Clegg to face a leadership challenge in 2014 too.)

      • realfish

        This reminds me of the Bennites of the 70s/ 80s, who spent too much time convincing themselves that Labour wasn’t electable because they were not left wing enough. Isolated within their own group-think they forgot that it was the electorate, out there, that made the real decisions.
        And as it stands – no! the Conservatives will not lose 80 – 100 seats, the polls will narrow as the election draws closer and ‘ordinary’ people compare Cameron with the awful alternative.
        Cameron will need to overcome the inbuilt disadvantages of an electoral system, rigged by and biased towards Labour and bias in the state broadcaster, which is not interested in searching for balance. He should not have to overcome disloyalty and stupidity in his own party

        • DWWolds

          Absolutely! These people should remember that the electorate does not like a divided party.

        • AnotherDaveB

          It’s debatable whether the “the stupidity in his own party” is represented by Mr Cameron, or those “Tory backbenchers” who disagree with him.

  • George_Arseborne

    So if Cameron can not rule his party with only 306 persons , then why should we trust him with Sixty Million people? Milliband Ed was right one rule for his Musketeers and another rules for the rest.l pray for more division in the Tory Ranks.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Calm down Mr Al Fayed!

    • Fergus Pickering

      ell of course you do, old son. But who cares what you think?

  • Dicky14

    Replacing Osborne would cause a panic in the markets?!?! Yeah, they’d celebrate so much that they may be drunk for a week or two. Osborne, it must be admitted, is a liability. And something the Heir to Blair could learn is that if you don’t sack your irritable chancellor when you have the opportunity then the markets won’t forgive you and neither will the people. Panic in the markets – do behave!

    • Tom Tom

      Panic in which markets ? Portobello Road ? Smithfield ? Certainly not in financial markets. Noone believes Osborne is master of his brief. this is the same awful Treasury that brought us Equitable Life and HBOS now perpetuating the imbecilic policies of Gollum Brown

    • DWWolds

      Well it is strange that today, with Osbourne as Chancellor, the the Share Index has reached its highest level for ages.

      • CharlieleChump

        Due only to £350bn washing around the system looking for assets to gamble on

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