Spare a thought for the poor Tory MPs

by John Woodcock

Will someone please spare a thought for those poor Conservative MPs? The Liberal Democrats have been so unruly over the last week that the Tories are looking positively collegiate in comparison.

Back when their coalition was formed, Conservative whips no doubt insisted that making nice with a party they despise was a small price to pay for getting the chance to implement a governing programme that remained unmistakably Tory.

And for a while, being civil was made easier by the sight of their new partners soaking up public outrage as the government got on with implementing cuts that “Thatcher only dreamed of”. Not only were the Liberal Democrats locked in the boot of the ministerial Jag (just imagine, if you can, opening a boot and finding an angry Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert inside), but Nick Clegg was gallantly offering to pose as the little statue on its bonnet.

So the vast majority of Tories – many of whom have been denied ministerial office to make way for a Liberal – have spent a whole year biting their tongues and trying to play nice with their new friends.

Then they pop off back to the constituency for the Easter recess and find that the agreement to keep mutual contempt under wraps has been unilaterally cast aside by their junior partners.

Make no mistake, Vince Cable’s open criticism of the prime minister went way beyond the boundary of what would normally be considered acceptable by someone bound by collective responsibility.

It is a statement of the bleeding obvious that Labour’s time in government was not always a model of harmony between ministers. Clare Short repeatedly acted up towards the end. The Eds, Balls and Miliband, are absolutely right to pledge never to go back to the madness of the Blair-Brown squabbles that regularly spilled over into the press.

But even at the height of the bad feeling, no minister openly defied the prime minister like Vince Cable did last week and kept their job. And he was not acting in isolatation. Cable’s salvo came just days after a Liberal assault on the government’s health policy that was triggered by Clegg himself.

It is unclear where the Liberal Democrats go from here, and even whether they will ultimately stick together as a party.

But one thing is clear: Conservative MPs on their return to Westminster are going to be less willing to play the role of happy, Scandinavian-style coalition builders.

If Tory MPs ensconced in their constituencies are prepared to tell the likes of me how fizzing they are about the way the Lib Dems are flouting the coalition agreement, their anger when they get back to the bosom of the 1922 committee will be something to behold.

There is a real danger that the disgruntled Tory right flank may well start demanding the imposition of even more true blue policies to make up for this misbehaviour. The consequences of that for families and businesses across the country could be grim.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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3 Responses to “Spare a thought for the poor Tory MPs”

  1. Henrik says:

    …and when the disgruntled Tories, as well as the disgruntled ex-SDP types get back to Parliament after their extended break – and how’s that working for you, John? – you know what they’ll do? They’ll zip it, on account of they’re in government.

    The little frictions and spats between the Coalition parties are healthy and good and it’s greatly to DC’s credit that he’s relaxed about them – although my personal preference would be for him to drop a Very Large Hammer on Uncle Vince, not for disloyalty, but for ineptness.

    I particularly enjoy the Labour-BBC peanut gallery loudly declaring every little argument to be the first crack in the Mohne Dam. It’s not. It’s a sign of a coalition government doing what it has to do – resolving tensions between two parties with non-identical policies.

  2. The LIB DEMS flouting the coalition agreement? How about the bit in it that says “no more top-down reorganizations of the NHS”???

  3. AnneJGP says:

    Quite an amusing article, John, thank you. One wonders whether, in general, the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs really do feel so strongly about political opponents. Perhaps.

    If AV passes, it seems quite possible that all 3 main parties will break down into smaller units. Not sure I care for the horse-trading that will ensue after every GE if they do; at the moment most of the horse-trading takes place within parties before the GE.

    Your last paragraph is both amusing and troubling:
    There is a real danger that the disgruntled Tory right flank may well start demanding the imposition of even more true blue policies to make up for this misbehaviour. The consequences of that for families and businesses across the country could be grim.

    It’s amusing because it comes across as inverse-speak: for “danger” read “hope”. It’s troubling because it comes across as hoping that the outcomes of present policies will be grim across the country. But I acknowledge I don’t know how one does warn about perceived negative outcomes without sounding as though one is anticipating them with relish.

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