By Matthew Barrett
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I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity – the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
Other members include Dan Byles (North Warwickshire), George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Louise Mensch (Corby), Mary MacLeod (Brentford and Isleworth), Mike Weatherley (Hove), Nick de Bois (Enfield North), David Nuttall (Bury North), Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock), Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North), Mark Spencer (Sherwood), James Wharton (Stockton South), Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West), Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough), David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), Richard Harrington (Watford), Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton and Devonport), Simon Reevell (Dewsbury), Richard Fuller (Bedford), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kempstown), Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), Anne Main (St. Albans), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Richard Graham (Gloucester), and Michael Ellis (Northampton North).
The members are not, as previously noted, from a particular ideological background. As Paul Goodman wrote at the time of the group's foundation: "Rather a lot of the names – Ben Gummer, Mary Macleod, Richard Fuller, Neil Carmichael, and Anna Soubry, for example – are identified with the party's centre-left. But no list which includes, say, David Nuttall and Karl McCartney can be represented as part of some factional plot."
The raison d'etre of the group is, obviously, trying to hold onto the forty most threatened seats. The group primarily meets so that MPs can explain what they are doing in their local areas, and share campaigning tips in order to help each other. One member explains that meetings sometimes discuss "the mechanics of campaigning, sometimes it's what policies are happening".
However, the group also seeks to "have some influence on the impact of what the government is doing, particularly in marginal seats". To that end, members have "periodic meetings with Ministers" or "people from Central Office" in order to explain the Government's policies and plans, and how they may affect seats represented by the 40. Laura Kuenssberg first reported the group's foundation, and wrote at the time: "The prime minister has taken an interest in the group, and I'm told has been to some of their meetings."
When the group meets and future plans
The group meets roughly monthly, and is usually attended by most members, although Parliamentary business is, as with most groups, a cause of some members not being able to attend every meeting. One member, however, said that because the membership is based on an arbitrary number, "one or two members never ever go to any of the meetings". It should be noted, though, that the 40 is "almost on a hold at the moment", because of one rather large factor: the Boundary Review.
Due to the boundary changes set to come in at the next election, a number of MPs who are currently members of the group will have their constituency boundaries severely altered. In some cases this will benefit incumbent MPs, and lift them out of the forty (nominally) most marginal seats, but it will also mean, therefore, that other MPs will find themselves becoming new members of the group, if their seats are seen to be more marginal after the changes.
When the boundary review is passed and we get a definite idea of what 2015's constituencies will look like, the group will accordingly undergo a readjustment to reflect the most marginal seats at the next election, rather than those provided by the 2010 election.