James Forsyth

Tory harmony is threatened by the EU referendum

Tory harmony is threatened by the EU referendum
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For all the leadership positioning, one of the striking things about Tory conference in Manchester was the level of agreement about what the party’s strategy should be. There was almost no one calling for the party to move right. Instead, the emphasis was on how the party could expand its electoral coalition. Boris Johnson and George Osborne may have very different styles, but the argument of their speeches was essentially the same: the Tories have to show that they are the party for low paid workers.

This determination to look for new converts, which was the defining feature of David Cameron’s speech too, is a product of the election campaign. Weeks of looking at polls which suggested that they were going to lose acted as a kind of near-death experience for the Tories, and made them realise that they have to be able to appeal to more voters.

With Labour having lurched to the unelectable left, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t want to talk about why Labour lost in May in his conference speech, the Tories have an opportunity to redefine politics, to make themselves the natural party of government again.

Now, of course, Europe threatens this Tory harmony. Even the Cabinet Ministers most keen on staying in admit that at least a third of Tory MPs, will back Brexit. While when asked about Theresa May’s conference speech, several of Cameron’s staff claimed that it was a consequence of her gearing up to lead the Out campaign.

But in Manchester, I was struck by how the Tory debate over Europe on both the conference fringe and in the bars wasn’t as poisonous as it has been in the past. It left me wondering if the Tory desire for power wouldn’t serve as the grounds for a quick, post-referendum reconciliation between the various wings of the party.

eu1The Spectator is hosting an evening discussion ‘Is the EU bad for business?’ at 7pm on Tuesday 20 October at The Royal College of Surgeons, WC2. Speakers include: Dominic Cummings, director of the ‘No’ campaign and Will Straw, executive director of the ‘Yes to Europe’ campaign and is chaired by Andrew Neil. For tickets and further information, click here.