It is conventional wisdom that a party needs to be united to win an election. This bears little relationship to reality. After all the Conservative party of Margaret Thatcher was divided between wets and dries,with very different views on the economy and public spending, yet won three big victories. The government of Mr Blair was dominated by a major rift between himself and Mr Brown with daily stories of their rows from the battlefront, yet they too won three large majorities, albeit with a falling percentage of the vote.
However, perceptions matter and many people write the line that unity is good. I agree that it is better if the party is happy and broadly of the same view on the main issues, encouraging and supporting the leadership in the preferred direction of travel. To achieve this requires not just mature conduct by followers, but also wise choices by leaders. It also requires controlled and supportive briefings of the press. Some argument and disagreement is also a good idea as well as inevitable, showing and recognising that the party is actively thinking and debating how to do better. The party in the country and most of the MPs want the party to move quickly to giving us a new relationship with the EU that frees our democracy from EU government intervention.
I have read in recent days that the Chief Whip is to be replaced. I have seen reference to at least three people who might get the job. It is possible all this is made up by bored journalists, but it is more likely that someone thinks this kind of briefing is helpful. All it can do is pit colleague against colleague and lead to disappointments.
I also read of several members of the 2010 intake who are due promotion to the threshold of the Cabinet, and several others who need to be brought into Ministerial positions. That is great for them if it happens, but in the meantime all those currently occupying the Ministerial jobs they might get are going to have a miserable time.
I often read that there are two Conservative parties, the 2010 intake and the rest. It does not feel like that inside Parliament. The 2010 intake is a large one, with plenty of talent . It also has a very wide range of views, and some strong campaigners. It is interesting that members of the 2010 intake have led all the large rebellions in this Parliament, tabling the proposals on an EU referendum, Lords reform, cutting the EU budget and writing the letter on intervention in Syria. Far from being the loyal inner group having to fend off difficult colleagues from earlier intakes as some of the stories imply, they have often been the fire brands for change.
A more united party needs to read in the press that the leadership likes the MPs and followers, and is happy working with them in the national interest. Stories about divisions can help create the very divisions we do not need or want. It is not a good idea to divide up MPs into modernisers versus traditionalists, or 2010 ers versus the rest. In Parliament all MPs are meant to be equal, each having one vote on every measure, and each having the same duty to represent their constituents.
It is interesting that the party is very united in its enthusiasm to vote for a Conservative Bill to hold a referendum in due course. The party is also keen on many of the measures to bring down the deficit by curbing the growth in public spending, and keen on the Schools reforms as well as other government measures.