By Paul Goodman
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Here are three measures that, if implemented –
- Will help to quell the charge that the Party is being led by a "Chumocracy" unrepresentative of its MPs and members.
- Will stop David Cameron being ambushed by Conservative backbenchers on EU policy, as he was by John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.
- Will thus prevent these two problems from inter-acting with each other to suggest that the Party is divided. (If a perception of division persists, victory in 2015 will certainly be impossible.)
They are as follows:
- The Prime Minister should create an Inner Cabinet – to build collective Party leadership and kill the Downing Street chumocracy charge. As I've previously explained, the Cabinet is too big: 32 people are entitled to attend it. And the Quad, at only two people, is too small (besides, two of its members are Liberal Democrats – giving the junior Coalition partner equal representation at the top, a cause of Tory resentment). The Prime Minister needs a Conservative Inner Cabinet which meets weekly to shape policy and make decisions. Attendance should be formal and collegiate, with the following membership: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman. Obviously, the right people are needed to fill those posts – but that's a matter for another day. What matters is that membership of the Inner Cabinet should be strictly related to Ministerial and Party function, and that it should consist of senior politicians only.
- The standing, morale and effectiveness of the Whips Office should be raised by it becoming a vehicle for promotion – not sacking. The natural complement to an Inner Cabinet – and thus proper collective leadership – is a Whips Office with real authority. That able MPs such as Dominic Raab, Ben Wallace and Rob Wilson turned posts in it down at the last resuffle, as was reportedly the case, is a sign that something is wrong. Perhaps there was a connection with the fact that several Whips simply left the office at the same time: James Duddridge, Brooks Newmark, Shailesh Vara, Bill Wiggin. There are always special circumstances, but the status of the Whips Office was not raised by so many of its members failing to move on to Ministerial posts. Cameron will also need a new Chief Whip, since Sir George Young – loyal trooper that he is – only returned to the Cabinet to help the Prime Minister out. Again, who his replacement should be is a matter for another day. Enough for today to point out that improving the standing and effectiveness of the Whips Office must be a priority.
- The Prime Minister can't cure his EU problem until he grips it. As a wise old hand put it to me, Cameron mistook his EU referendum speech for a process. He hoped by offering his Party an In-Out referendum to halt internal Party debate on Europe – at least for a while. The gambit failed. And it won't succeed while his stance on the repatriation of powers is unresolved. The lesson of last week is that if the Prime Minister hopes that the Government's review of EU competences and the Party's own manifesto formation will quiet discussion of renegotiation policy within his Party until 2014, he is mistaken. Two courses of action are open to him. The first is to make it clear that he favours a minimal repatriation of power after 2015 – social and employment policy plus protection for the City, perhaps. The second is to put Conservative policy-making on renegotiation in the hands of his Party – the 1922 Committee, the Conservative Policy Forum, and so on – and accept that what would emerge would be, most likely, "Common Market or Out".
Having been in the Commons for the best part of ten years, I appreciate that logic isn't everything in politics: sometimes, even often, there's a role for fudge. But a lesson of so much that's happened to Cameron on EU policy – from the dropping of the Lisbon referendum commitment in opposition to the EU referendum revolt last week – is that by consistently seeking to put off making decisions on the EU issue, the Prime Minister has merely stored up trouble for himself later.
If he seeks to delay a decision on what Tory policy on the repatriation of powers will be, he risks having the internal party debate explode during the run-up to a general election – rather than over the next year. That would mean preparing to fight Miliband againt the backdrop of the kind of rumpus that paralysed the Party in Parliament last week. Instead, he should bring forward the timetable for publishing the review of competences and making his manifesto commitments on Europe.
By doing so, he would at least stand a chance of solving the EU policy paradox that has haunted him from near the start of his leadership – namely, that only by dealing decisively with the issue can he settle it, and move on to the issues voters care about more: the economy, the NHS, schools, crime, immigation, jobs.