In Depth

What does it mean to be a Conservative now?

Boris Johnson accused of turning Tories into the Brexit Party rebadged

The dramatic events in Westminster this week have left members of the ruling party questioning the very definition of a Conservative.

Paul Goodman, editor of grass-roots Tory blog ConservativeHome, has declared “the end of the Conservative Party as we have known it” after Boris Johnson removed the whip from 21 of his own MPs for rebelling against the Government in a bid to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Goodman says other MPs of a similar outlook may also stand down or fight their seats as independent conservatives when the next election rolls round.

“The Tory MPs of the immediate future look to be more pro-Leave than today’s are. In broad terms, the balance of the parliamentary party will shift rightwards,” he continues.

“To be more precise, the Conservative Party’s appeal at the coming election will be pitched, even more than in 2017, to northern, older and Leave-backing voters.”

Such a shift is unlikely to play well in London and among minorities or younger voters, or, indeed, among some Tory MPs.

“The libertarian-flavoured bits of the centre-right, no less than what survives of the pro-EU Tory left, is going to struggle to have internal impact,” Goodman suggests. And if this shift proves popular at the next election, Johnson will “become prime minister of a more Trump-flavoured party”.

The purge

The “brutally purged” 21 Conservatives - who have some 350 years of experience between them - includes ex-chancellors Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, the latter of whom is the father of the House and has served as a Tory MP for 49 years, notes the Daily Mirror.

Yesterday, Clarke told Newsnight: “I am a Conservative, of course I am… But this leader, I don’t recognise this. It’s the Brexit Party, rebadged.”

Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames and former secretaries of state were also among those to have their whip removed after bitter divisions reared their head in the Commons.

Former international development secretary Rory Stewart, who stood for the Tory leadership only two months ago, said he was sacked via text while in London receiving GQ magazine’s Politician of the Year award, reports the London Evening Standard.

“This really should be a choice for local Conservative associations and not a central decision,” he said. “This is not a Conservative way of behaving.”

Meanwhile, former education secretary Justine Greening has said she intends to quit as an MP at the next election. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My concerns about the Conservative Party becoming the Brexit Party have come to pass.”

Agony laid bare

Political pundits have repeatedly discussed the possibility of the Conservative Party splitting over Britain’s departure from the EU, but “Tuesday 3 September was the day when the break-up took visible form”, says the Financial Times

The newspaper continues: “The tussle over Mr Johnson’s premiership will go on all week - and beyond. But this was the day when the Conservative Party’s agony was there for all to see.” 

In the Commons, arch-Brexiteer and Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg was seen accusing fellow Tory Sir Oliver Letwin of “stunning arrogance” after the latter warned that a no-deal Brexit would have “a profound effect on the welfare of our people”.

And Tory MP Henry Smith today told the MailOnline that it was “outrageous” his colleagues “had reneged on the decision of the British people to leave the EU and their election manifestos”.

“Deselection is almost too good for them,” he added.

The defection

Tory MP Phillip Lee crossed the Commons floor to defect to the Liberal Democrats as Johnson addressed the chamber on Tuesday, leaving the Government without a majority.

In a letter to the PM, Lee said Brexit divisions had “sadly transformed this once great party into something more akin to a narrow faction in which one’s Conservatism is measured by how recklessly one wants to leave the European Union”.

He added: “Perhaps more disappointingly, it has become infected by the twin diseases of English nationalism and populism.”

As The Telegraph’s parliamentary sketch writer Michael Deacon notes today: “It’s almost seven years, now, since David Cameron decided that an EU referendum would reunite the Conservative Party.

“I wouldn’t want to speak too soon, but just at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be going entirely to plan.”

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