Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron and Osborne Must Listen to Their Backbenchers-Or Face Revolt

Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron and Osborne Must Listen to Their Backbenchers-Or Face Revolt

Article excerpt

When David Cameron and George Osborne move between their suite of offices at the eastern end of the parliamentary estate and the Commons chamber they do so with a pomp that would not embarrass a medieval monarch. A crowd of attendants accompanies them, constantly changing positions but never disrupting the order: staffer, Cameron, staffer, Osborne, staffer. The party moves through the corridors at breakneck speed, heads thrown back, staring into the middle distance rather than looking around at their colleagues. This display certainly succeeds in getting them noticed. But to the Tory MPs whom they march past without even a glance, the whole procession symbolises not power but the remoteness and arrogance of those who are running the party.

By rights, Tory MPs should adore the men who are about to end their 13 years in the political wilderness. Three successive leaders have led the Tories to defeat. Now, Mr Cameron is about to take them to victory in a campaign masterminded by his shadow chancellor, Mr Osborne. But talking to backbench MPs, one is struck by the lack of love for either of them. The reason for this is simple: the infantry feel underappreciated and ignored. As one backbencher told me in exasperation this week, ' T he Cameron machine doesn't listen to anyone' - and, worse, it doesn't even pretend to listen. Even members of the shadow Cabinet can occasionally be found asking journalists for clues as to what the party leadership is up to.

For all his talk about devolving power, Mr Cameron has as Tory leader centralised power at every opportunity. It is a long-standing joke that anyone who works as one of Mr Cameron's aides automatically outranks any shadow Cabinet member. But this joke is too close to the bone now for many members of the shadow Cabinet. Andrew Lansley was infuriated when his changes weren't made to the Tories' draft health manifesto, leading to a slew of stories about Tory splits and U-turns. Others have taken to firing off irate emails when policy is announced without their knowledge.

A sign of the irritation felt by shadow Cabinet members is the fact that the griping which has long gone on in private about the influence of Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson, Cameron's strategy and communications chiefs, is now making it into national newspapers. This can be seen as displacement anger: as always, the favoured courtiers are a proxy for the monarch himself.

At the beginning of his leadership, Cameron did try to keep the troops happy. He set up a series of policy groups that included backbench MPs like John Redwood - and it worked, engaging them in the project. But since these groups disbanded, the backbenchers have been left to wander around discussing how they all feel out of the game. As one normally supportive MP concedes, 'there is no enthusiasm, no sense of anticipation in the parliamentary party' about a Tory return to government.

Team Cameron's decision to base itself away from most MPs in the old Met headquarters, Norman Shaw South, has heightened the sense of distance between the leader and his foot soldiers. As one party official admits, 'making MPs feel loved is not a priority for us'.

They will come to regret this if (as polls suggest) a Conservative government is returned with a majority of less than 60. …

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