I chair the NTB group of about 100 Conservative MPs. Formed in the 1980s to support Margaret Thatcher and her famous statement “The Lady’s not for turning”, the Group has evolved over the decades to offer frank advice to Ministers and Shadow Ministers in private, and to work together from time to time in public with campaigns that matter to us. The Group today as with Margaret Thatcher is there to support Conservative Ministers trying to do difficult but sensible things that can improve our country and its government, and to be candid friends in private where things are not working as we would wish.
We hold either a working sandwich lunch, or a working buffet dinner once a month. We usually invite a Minister as guest, and raise matters about their departmental policies and activities with them. Sometimes we invite an interesting non Ministerial speaker. Nigel Lawson came, for example, to tell us of the work of his Global Warming Policy Foundation,which most of us support. Occasionally one of us leads a discussion of what needs to be done next.
We do not inform the media of these events, as we wish to have good private conversations with Ministers. They need to know they will not read about it next day in the papers so we can have more wide ranging and honest discussions. I was therefore surprised to learn that on Wednesday the NTB had been invited to lunch at Downing Street for immediate topical reasons. This is simply untrue. I had invited the Prime Minister some time ago to be our guest in the Commons for a working sandwich lunch and he had agreed. The invitation was before recent by elections were in the air and was not about them.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for the time he gave us and for his attention to a number of issues where we wish to see changes and improvements in policy as we move from Coalition government to Conservative manifesto. I intend to keep silent over what was said and how the meeting went, as I remain strongly of the view that it is better if these exchanges between colleagues are done in private.In this hectic media world any critical comment or disagreement is blown up out of all proportion, as there is the absurd idea that members of a party always have to agree with one another.
I note that the UKIP supporters who write into this site who have in the past picked up on a very misleading account of a private meeting I attended with the Chairman of the Conservative party, have not come forward with comments on the selective reports of the NTB lunch with the Prime Minister as they clearly see no party advantage in quoting what it is alleged some of my colleagues said at this latest meeting.