ERG out, CRG in: the conservative factions Boris Johnson struggles to appease | Preservatives
VSConservative factions are not new, as Theresa May has learned the hard way with Brexit and Boris Johnson has seen in a mass rebellion over the rules of Covid. But Johnson faces significant pressure from more than 100 of his MPs to change course on a number of fronts, including green policies.
Tory backbenchers say an ever-growing number of factions – most with their own acronyms and with a significant crossover when it comes to their membership – rule the party, a process aided by the based organization. on WhatsApp and a perception that the Prime Minister’s authority has eroded.
“I’m on so many WhatsApp groups it’s like Ben-Hur – there are thousands of them,” one MP said. “I can’t follow them all. It doesn’t mean that I believe in everything, but I like to keep track of people’s perspectives.
The deputies feel empowered by the groups. “It is often said that with first past the post, coalitions exist within parties rather than between parties,” said another MP. “Under Thatcher, we used to have the wet and the dry. It can be a good counterweight to the executive.
John Major struggled endlessly with the Eurosceptics he called ‘bastards’, while May’s nemesis was the European Research Group, or ERG, the longtime alliance of Brexit ultras.
What’s different now is that – unlike Major and May – Johnson has a significant majority in the Commons. Nonetheless, before Christmas he still had to rely on Labor votes to pass new coronavirus restrictions amid a rebellion of 101 MPs sparked by the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), which is skeptical of the new rules. pandemic.
Unlike the ERG, which has membership fees and a formal structure, supporters of the CRG say it’s little more than a WhatsApp forum with occasional in-person meetings. There is an important crossover, notably with Steve Baker, a former president of the ERG who is vice-president of the CRG.
The ERG took a back seat after Johnson delivered the Brexit its members wanted, and the CRG could also call off hostilities if the Omicron wave subsides and the rules are relaxed.
Even then, Johnson won‘t be clear. The internal groupings of his parliamentary party, although varied in their main objectives, often share certain points of view and some of the same members. These tend to be disproportionately old Brexiters, and the common goals center on a desire to push Johnson away from what they see as overly state and highly tax policies – the ones they believe the UK should drop out outside the EU.
“It seems particularly important now, because we have had two years of a Tory government and for some of us it doesn’t particularly feel like a Tory government,” a rear MP said. -ban. “We are all facing re-election in a year or two, and we just want to gently bring the government back on a righteous path.”
Some blocs, like the Northern Research Group (NRG), are more geographic than ideological. But others, like Blue Collar Conservaism and the Culture War-focused Common Sense Group, have beliefs that include opposition to current elements of taxation and spending.
The Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), which claims far more supporters than the 18 Tory MPs who signed a letter this week calling for an end to VAT and green levies on fuel bills, is set to become increasingly influential in the coming months as Johnson faces pressure. on the cost of living.
Some critics have argued that the NZSG flirts with denial, citing its commitment to consider research by Nigel Lawson’s controversial Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank.
Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet who chairs the group, dismisses the characterization. He says, “It’s not an argument about climate change or anything like that. It is :
There are repeated echoes of Brexit, and not just because many of the MPs involved cut their teeth inside the ERG.
A backbench MP, a member of several groups, said: ‘We know that one of the reasons people voted for Brexit was that they felt like the elites were telling them how to live their life. life. And I think there are similarities when you tell them: don’t have an old-fashioned boiler, don’t drive a 15 year old car or van even if you can’t afford a new one. It’s the same with Covid – officials in London tell them what to do. “
Some deputies appear repeatedly. Lincoln MP Karl McCartney, for example, is a member of the CRG, NZRG and Common Sense Group, in addition to being a member of the executive of the 1922 committee of backbenchers.
Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani is vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee and involved in CRG, while former minister Esther McVey is linked to CRG and NZSG and founded Blue Collar Conservatism.
Just as Johnson succeeded May by positioning himself with Tory MPs and party members as the man to deliver a tough and immediate Brexit, those now hoping to follow it, like Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, will look to the groups. to find ideological advice.
In the meantime, Johnson must try to keep them aside, aware that they have the capacity to cause significant trouble. “We do not throw ourselves on barbed wire every time there is a vote,” noted a Conservative MP, member of several groups. “But you have a greater opportunity to stand before ministers and make your case – because they know you have cards in your pocket.”