Cameron's Own 'Loyal' Opposition
Gordon Brown's little local difficulty may have been headlining for the past couple of days, but it is also worth considering the hold - or not - that Cameron has on his party's true believers. It has long been received wisdom at Westminster that Cameron governs from within a tight clique of friends and aides who are not representative of the Conservative Party as a whole. It is also received wisdom that there is little love lost between the Leader and many of his own MPs, a large number of whom felt he hung them out to dry over the expenses scandal, whilst protecting a few close friends. Cameron's problem with his MPs may or may not be solved by the huge number of newcomers who will transform his parliamentary party after the next election. Many of those who viscerally loathe him at the moment are the same ones who have had to issue their retirement notices. What is less certain for the Tory leader is how far his party core will follow his modernising agenda.
It is significant that Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie - himself no Cameroon - laid out a plea to right-wing heroes Peter Hitchens and Simon Heffer to come and support Cameron on his website the other day. Today, he gave Peter Hitchens the space to reply - which the Mail journalist did, at length. Hitchens explained why he believed David Cameron's brand of conservatism to be effectively a betrayal of traditional Tory values, going so far as to brand it a continuation of the Marxism that has destroyed Britain's traditional (and by implication, Tory) heritage. Hitchens also took time to have a swipe at his critics, calling them 'gratifyingly rude'. In fact, few of those critics wil be found in the comments section of the Conservative Home website, where most of the commenters praise Hitchens and express scepticism about the Cameron agenda.
And it's not just the Peter Hitchenses of this world who have been ready to rally the disaffected Tory member. The Spectator, under the new editorship of its former political editor Fraser Nelson, has been taking a similarly sceptical line. On its Coffee House blog, both Nelson and his new political editor James Forsyth were Miliband-esque in their support for the Cameron campaign on the Monday, and quick to step in to criticise the tentative move away from a marriage tax proposal - a move Cameron quickly shuffled from. The current issue of the magazine, meanwhile, features a distinctly uncomplimentary cover of an empty headed Cameron, waiting for ideas to pour in. James Forsyth writes a scathing piece condemning Cameron as ideology-free, while David Selbourne puts the boot in to Cameron's lack of philosophical coherence. When you have a writer claiming that Cameron is 'no Balfour' you know the man's in trouble. I mean, Balfour?! Cameron can't even be allowed to aspire to the heights of one of the Tory Party's least successful twentieth century leaders. Selbourne really doesn't like him! Fraser Nelson rounds up his current approach with a defence of his magazine's contents on the blog, and to be fair finishes by asserting his belief that Cameron could yet be a 'transformational' prime minister. But not, one gets the impression, on his current terms.
David Cameron managed to quell any disturbance from his ferociously Euro-sceptic party over the dropping of the Lisbon referendum, partly because not even the wildest sceptic could argue easily for a referendum on a Treaty that has been passed, and partly because Cameron has already thrown them some red meat in the form of his Euro Parliamentary alliances; out with the EPP, in with a new, more determinedly anti-federalist and right-wing grouping, led by new Tory hero Michal Kaminski.
It may be Gordon Brown's troubles that are headlining at the moment, but Brown, whatever his flaws and problems, is fundamentally at one with his party when it comes to policy. For David Cameron, however quiet the bulk of his party stays during the election campaign, there is no such guarantee of quiescence once they taste power. His policy problems are only just beginning.