The party's centrists must make their presence felt
‘It was a dreadful campaign,’ Anna Soubry told David Dimbleby last night, barely concealing her icy fury at how the election was going for the Conservatives.
Soubry had retained her seat, but only just, and she complained at having lost ‘excellent and remarkable friends – proper, sound, moderate Conservatives’ whose majorities had crumbled under them.
And the moderate and strongly pro-European MP didn’t hesitate to park blame squarely with Theresa May, calling for her to ‘consider her position’.
“Theresa did put her mark on this campaign. She takes responsibility, she always does and I know she will, for the running of the campaign. It was a tightly knit group, it was her group that ran this campaign and look where we are, for God’s sake. This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party. We have to take stock and our leader needs to take stock as well.”
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) June 9, 2017
That soul-searching is long-overdue, and Soubry’s call has been echoed by moderates throughout the party, including Heidi Allen MP and the chairman of the Bow Group think-tank, who said that ‘what is required [of the party] is nothing short of internal revolution.’
We @Conservatives will learn from this. We will listen, collaborate more& demonstrate greater vision& compassion for all. We HAVE to change
— Heidi Allen (@heidiallen75) June 9, 2017
However, it’s easy to make bold statements in the heat of election night. If MPs like Soubry and Allen are serious about taking stock, they must now think long and hard about what part they have to play. Even with the DUP’s support, the Conservatives are looking at a reduced working majority, giving backbench rebels more power to pursue their interests.
Both Soubry and Allen have attempted to instigate rebellions in the past, on aspects of Article 50 and child refugees respectively, but failed to break the previous Tory majority of 18.
Particularly given the leverage May has given the DUP — and the hardline policies they are likely to pursue — Conservative moderates have a responsibility to temper the excesses of the government, particularly on Brexit but also on issues like refugees and selective schools.
Having strong internal opposition would serve the interests of the country — mitigating the risk of extreme Brexit — but it’s also good for the Tories. Ruth Davidson’s extraordinary success in Scotland shows that the public prefer modern, moderate Conservatism to the blast from the past uber-conservatism of May and her associates.
Of course, I worry that if more Tories follow Davidson’s lead that they’ll become much more difficult for progressives to beat. But we should be more worried about the ideological crusades of team May, and the damage they will (and already have) done to the country.
Resisting the whip and critiquing your own party is never going to be easy. But if Soubry is really as angry as she seemed last night, it seems like the only reasonable option.
Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.