A lot of my comrades have their eyes firmly on the Labour party leadership. Me, I’ve kept a relaxed watch on that. It’s a marathon not a sprint. But I’ve paid more attention to the Conservative party’s organisation. What can I say? I’m a geek. It’s actually more interesting than it sounds. Ever since Cameron seized power was duly elected Leader, he’s been seeking a game-changing moment which would make sure his authority at the top of the party was unassailable. The so-called Clause IV moment. He rose to the top claiming to be the heir to Blair, but the truth is that he’s never really sealed the deal with his own party.
There have been a few different occasions which Tory press officers have leaked as imaginitive and original journalists have called Cameron’s Clause IV moment. There was his rise to the leadership, then there was his ‘modernisation’ of the tory party (going green, hugging huskies, riding hoodies in harnesses), then his A-list of candidates, then the coalition. The cheap hacks ladies and gentlemen of Fleet Street hailed them all as Cameron’s Clause IV moment. None were. They were just Cameron and his schoolfriends advisers making unilateral decisions and foisting them on his party. The real Clause IV moment was one in which Tony Blair debated with his party, won the debate, and had the backing of his membership to change the party significantly. The Conservative membership don’t actually seem to think very much of Cameron at all. Anyway, Cameron’s latest shot at getting his moment was last week. He decided, while he was in a position of strength as newly elected Prime Minister, to make a power-grab in the 1922 Committee.
The 1922 Committee is the committee of Parliamentary Conservative Party members. Specifically, those members on the back benches. It’s a forum for backbenchers to quiz ministers and voice concerns. Trouble is, it’s also a home for rebellion and discontent. And now, after the formation of his cabinet, Cameron is bound to have a number of rebellious, discontented and disappointed MPs who missed out.
To deal with this pack of bastards perceived threat, Cameron decided to simply change the rules of the 1922 to allow ministers to vote. He convened a meeting of all the party’s MPs and they voted on his rule change. The result of that vote was 168 in favour, 118 against, and 19 abstentions. So Cameron was victorious and the 1922 was squashed like the annoying bug it is altered to include front benchers. Or so Cameron’s press officers would have you believe. But Team Cameron made a mistake here. Firstly, the 1922 Committee is a formal organisation with a proper structure, a constitution, and rulebook. Cameron seems to have ignored the fact that, like any club, only members can vote to change those rules. This was a vote of all tory MPs. Even if you ignore the rules and just look at the numbers, Cameron has problems. He has 76 ministers. You’d think they would all vote for, but even assuming the abstentions were from supporters, that would have left 57 ministers voting in favour. Once you deduct those 57, you’re left with 111 in favour and 118 against. That shows that the Prime Minister doesn’t have the support or confidence of the majority of his backbenchers. He has of course, since backed down. He had to unless he wanted to be seen to lose a battle in public. If he can’t win an argument in his own party, how can he win one in the country? With a complete failure to make a case without gerrymandering the rules, Cameron’s search for his Clause IV moment must continue.