Mark Wallace has a fascinating post on ConHome reporting that Andrew Bridgen has written to the Prime Minister withdrawing his letter calling for a leadership contest. Bridgen, if you remember, is the only MP to publicly confirm that he has written a letter to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady calling for a contest, and while he was flayed by the whips at the time, his letter stayed firmly in Brady’s desk drawer until this week.
One letter doesn’t make a happy party, of course, but that it is Bridgen who has withdrawn the letter is significant. As I mentioned last week when covering his latest HS2 mischief, this is an MP who knows how to corral colleagues into troublesome rebellions. He has been renowned in the Conservative party as a Cameron-hater whose troublemaking activities are as much personal as they are about principle. He could have caused the Prime Minister a great deal more trouble, too, had he been left to wander further into the wilderness.
I understand that there has been a significant effort to bring Bridgen back into the fold in the last few months, with key Number 10 figures working to understand what it is that the Conservative MP wants, rather than dismissing his ideas out of hand. That the government eventually agreed to Bridgen’s proposals on the BBC licence fee was a sign that the Tory leadership has realised that not every suggestion from a backbench rebel is automatically without foundation or wisdom.
Further work is taking place on other similarly troublesome backbenchers, I understand, with a number of meetings designed to work out what exactly it is that needles them. Meanwhile the PM has mentioned to ministerial colleagues his joy that Stewart Jackson appears to have gone from being very cross with the leadership to being quite tribally loyal. Bernard Jenkin, who co-ordinated the letter calling for Parliament to have the power to veto EU laws, would be another troublemaker who Number 10 would be very pleased to bring back into the fold. But Bridgen is a big catch for the Tory reconciliation team.