/ Insights / Tory backbenchers have marked out a route, but the PM will need to tread carefully

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Tory backbenchers have marked out a route, but the PM will need to tread carefully

21st July 2017

Following a turbulent couple of months, Cabinet infighting, Brexit negotiations and a mounting red box are likely to dampen this summer’s Swiss hiking trip. But oddly enough, the PM can feel more secure about her position now than at any other point since the General Election.

With the Cabinet sharks circling this week, the 1922 Backbench Committee rallied around the PM, pledging their support and urging her to sack disloyal ministers. The notion that collective ministerial responsibility is now being enforced by Conservative backbenchers is somewhat amusing. But for now at least the Party is coalescing around their embattled leader, even if her Cabinet isn’t.

The horseplay between Cabinet colleagues has not come across well in the tabloids and the 1922 Committee knows it. What is becoming more apparent is that the majority of rank and file backbench MPs want the next Tory leader to emerge from the 2010 – or possibly even the 2015/17 – intake. There is an increasing feeling that both Boris Johnson and David Davis are tarnished with voters.

With two thirds of Tory MPs elected in 2010 or after, this is hardly surprising. But what is remarkable is that the new Conservative leader in two or three years’ time is increasingly likely to be someone who has yet to enter into the public consciousness. The hope is that one of Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, James Cleverly, Damian Hinds, Rishi Sunak or another could enter the fray with a clean slate after the PM and her team have concluded Brexit negotiations, and the Party will be able to take a fresh offer to the electorate.

That is, of course, if Theresa May can hold it together until then. Despite the backing she has received from backbenchers, as well as the Chief Whip warning the Cabinet to keep discussions private, Theresa May knows her position is weak, and the ambitions of her Cabinet colleagues are not going to disappear anytime soon. With the Party split like the country between remainers and leavers, soft brexiteers and hard brexiteers, maintaining broad support would be a challenge for a strong PM. So while she may be enjoying relative stability as she heads off to the Swiss Alps, May is not out of the woods yet.

Luke Cheadle

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