Tim Montgomerie has some recommendations for how David Cameron can bolster relations with the Tory right. He should be more polite and conciliatory, throw the right the occasional bone or opportunity to head a policy review, offer a way back for some of those, such as David Davis, who are no longer part of the fold, have better relations with the wider Tory family, consult a bit more outside his own circle and so on. It's all perfectly sensible even if one's also left feeling that even if Cameron did all Montgomerie recommends, it would only be a matter of time before the Right grew restless anyway. As Tim puts it:
The Cameron-Tory relationship may look good at the moment. ConHome surveys of grassroots members show Cameron, the Coalition in general and policies, in particular, all enjoying strong support. But attitudes towards Cameron have been volatile throughout his five year leadership. Much support appears to be conditional rather than instinctive.
It's also true that many Tories hate him and I mean hate. Many others have lost respect. Cameron was able to ride roughshod over criticisms of his strategy when he enjoyed big opinion poll leads but his election campaign changed that. He added just 3% to one of the Tories' worst ever election percentages and he added those three points in almost perfect electoral conditions. The overwhelming majority of Tory candidates think the campaign was poor.
Emphasis added. It is true that the Tory election campaign could have been better. From a Tory perspective, failing to win an overall majority was vexing and close to unforgiveable. The Big Society? Well, yes, that was a bit of a flop. Should have done better reads the report card. And so on.
But saying Cameron "added just 3% to one of the Tories' worst ever campaign percentages" is, while true, not quite the whole truth. At least, it's not the only way of looking at it. Share of the vote is only one measurement and not necessarily the most useful one, not least because, as we've talked about before, the combined Tory-Labour vote has been in long-term decline and now stands at not much more than 65% of the electorate. Nevertheless, given our current voting system that's the battle that needs to be won and Cameron won 55% of the combined Tory-Labour vote.
More importantly, the Tory vote increased by almost 20%. But how often is that pointed out? Instead, there's the endless chntering of the Tory right who, whatever the merits of their specific criticisms of Cameron, still often seem to think that a more obviously "right-wing" or "traditional" Tory campaign could have swept the board. Colour me unconvinced and who, pray, would have been leading the Tories back to Downing Street anyway?
Never mind. Five years ago 8,784,915 Britons were prepared to endorse a Tory candidate. This year 10,726,614 did. That's an impressive gain. Meanwhile, Labour were losing a million votes as Gordon Brown's party proved roughly as popular as Michael Howard's Tories were in 2005.
No, Cameron didn't come close to the 13 million votes piled up by Tony Blair. But he did match Blair's performance in Labour's second landslide when Blair won 10,724,953 votes (vs 8,357,615 for the Conservatives).
Sure, "raw" vote numbers aren't the only story. But they're part of it and, regardless of share of the vote, two million more people voted Conservative in 2010 than did in 2005.
If the Tory right hates - Tim's word - Cameron perhaps it's because he's so much more popular than any of the headbangers and they fear that popularity. I suspect that they also don't much like the fact that Cameron seems happier in Lib Dem company than theirs. Then again, the Liberal Democrats don't hate* him, so that might have something to do with it.
And yet, eventually, I suspect the Right will make its move. Like the scorpion and the frog, it won't be able to help itself. Having destroyed the last Conservative government it will try and do the same to this one in the mistaken belief that there's a majority for their kind of Conservatism.
Which means that perhaps we're looking at the coalition the wrong way round. Perhaps it's not a Tory-Liberal coalition at all but, rather, a Liberal Unionist accomodation with a more conservative junior partner that, while not quite knowing where else it can go, is never happy and alwas needing to be pacified with the occasional bone. Eventually, mind you, even the dumbest dog learns to tell the difference between a symbolic bone and a real one...
For that reason, and plenty others, it might be a wise notion for the Tory leadership to be just a little more deft and tactful in its dealings with the Right. It can't hurt and, in some cases, might even help. The rewards are vastly greater than the effort it might take to address some of Tim Montgomerie's concerns. Even if the buggers do hate the Prime Minister.
*They're puzzled, intrigued and at times perhaps even a little entranced by the new Prime Minister.