Tory revisionism shows Labour aren’t the only ones in conflict

By Chris Rogers September 27, 2016 10:56 am

Winston Churchill is supposed to have once claimed that history would be kind to him, because he would be the one to write it. A pithy one liner, yes, but one with a lot of truth to it, even in the age of tweets, posts, blogs and Instagramming.

So it’s hardly surprising that friends and allies of former Prime Minister David Cameron have broken cover in support of their man, and to turn their guns (metaphorically) on his successor, Theresa May. Indeed, you could ask what on earth took them so long?

Chief amongst the rabble rousers is newly knighted former Downing Street communications chief Sir Craig Oliver. Sir Craig has got a new book out (serialised, of course, just days before the Tory Party Conference), in which he claims Mrs May repeatedly failed to support Mr Cameron over Brexit. So much so, apparently, that the former PM resorted to referring his then-Home Secretary as “submarine May” on account of her lack of presence during the referendum.

Given that Mr Cameron has not only stood down from Downing Street, but from politics, you could argue that the accusations levelled at Mrs May are very much a storm in a teacup. Certainly the new administration in Downing Street has given them suitably short shrift. But allies of Mr Cameron have a bigger game in mind, one that involves helping to restore at least some of the former premier’s legacy. And it’s a legacy that’s been swiftly picked at within just a couple of months. The new government has dropped key Cameroon financial targets over the deficit; had a “wobble” (to quote George Osborne) on the Northern Powerhouse; and ditched Mr Cameron’s commitment to no more grammar schools. In the meantime, Mr Cameron remains the man with the referendum vote hung round his neck as a permanent millstone.

Ultimately, the claims Mrs May went walkabout during the Brexit campaign (which were voiced at the time) or that she pushed for a softer immigration line in 2014, will not knock the new government off course. They are, at best, a distraction and certainly not comparable with some of the issues being wrestled with amongst the Labour ranks. But they do serve a significant purpose (aside from the bestseller lists and selling newspaper copies) in reminding that the Tories, as much as Labour, are prone to internal disagreements and even infighting

And that matters because it shows that even when Labour are facing serious identity questions, there is still ample opportunity for tension amongst the Tory benches.

The greater significance is that, at least pending the filling of the Shadow Cabinet ranks, there is at least a degree to which the Tories are their own opposition (thinking of policies like grammar schools). So while the accusations levelled at Mrs May will be an irritant for Downing Street, they’ll want to keep close tabs on the dissent. Mr Cameron’s supporters will doubtless continue to challenge the accounts of immediate history (if such a thing exists). Mrs May’s team can ill-afford for those efforts to encourage more serious internal ructions.

 

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