David Cameron and the Tory party appear to be emerging from a period of marriage counselling that has gone particularly well. The leader is making more of an effort with his backbenchers generally (James examines this in his column tomorrow), and tomorrow’s papers bring yet more news of reconciliation.
The Prime Minister is beefing up his political policy operation by appointing a panel of bright and impressive MPs to help him, and promoting Jo Johnson to be his head of policy and a Cabinet Office minister. Those MPs aren’t just impressive, though: some of them, including Jesse Norman and George Eustice, are also rebels. This is a big gesture to say that the troubles of the past year and a bit should go behind the party now as it gets in shape for 2015.
Getting more MPs into Downing Street to have their say is a good thing in itself, of course. It weakens the impression that the Prime Minister rules by Inner Circle, showing that he is keen to hear from others across the party. Some of the panel members are former ministers such as Nick Gibb, while others, such as Jake Berry, have shown their abilities since joining Parliament without any of the hype of the A-list around their election. And it means that policies aren’t being mulled over by officials without the focus that losing your seat in 2015 can provide, or by those already close to the Prime Minister who may share his outlook and his blind spots. He might be a man who likes to keep his friends close, but he’s also being wise by drawing his MPs closer.
These appointments also make it much more difficult for those determined malcontents to complain that the Prime Minister doesn’t care about his party or listen to MPs when they do have bright ideas. There are some MPs who, believing they have something to offer, have felt ignored in the past few months. This will reassure them. There are others who have used this sense of neglect to their advantage. Adam Afriyie, for example, has been inviting MPs for dinner or coffee (there’s a joke in the party that you’ve already failed to make his fantasy cabinet if you get only a coffee invite). But this is another win for the backbenches, and, Cameron will be hoping, another part of the strong foundations on which he can weather the next few months (including, perhaps, tomorrow’s GDP figures) with his party, rather than standing apart from them.