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Divided parties don’t win elections - Can the Conservatives unite?

Divided parties don’t win elections. That’s an adage as old as time or at least since it was popularised by the John Major Government in the 1990s.

During the debates on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill it became clear that today’s Conservative Party is seemingly determined to test that theory to its extremes just as Downing Street advisers and campaigners at Conservative Party HQ are trying to plot their path to election victory.

It is highly unlikely that having journalists making mafia comparisons about the divisions within the parliamentary party was a KPI for the Conservatives 2024 Election campaign.  But the visible and vocal presence of the ‘five families’ in the last few months has not only made that possible but made the task facing Conservative Party strategists even harder than it was to begin with.

Ahead of the Second Reading of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the five families held an impromptu press conference to show that the factions on the right were united by their opposition to the Conservative Government’s flagship policy.  During this it was claimed that this alliance represented more than 100 Conservative MPs, with the key players being the European Research Group, the New Conservatives, the Common-Sense Group, the Northern Research Group, and the Conservative Growth Group.

The highest profile of these, as a result of its influence during the Brexit debates, is the European Research Group (ERG), a group with a wide membership and one which has produced a number of Ministers - including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP and Former Business Secretary Jacob Rees Mogg MP.


The first of the new kids on the block launched in 2023 is the New Conservatives, set up by and largely comprising of 2019 elected Red Wall MPs which has a focus on family and ‘traditional’ values epitomized by its founders Danny Kruger MP and Miriam Cates MP, the latter of whom has caused controversy on numerous occasions including by stating that working mothers were the root cause of a rise in children starting school in nappies or that the UK’s declining birth rate (which is caused by cultural Marxism) should be the top policy priority for the UK Government.


Last month saw the launching of another new group launched by former Prime Minister Liz Truss MP, with Popular Conservatives a movement designed to ‘excite the public’ with a focus on rolling back net-zero commitments, pushing for tax cuts and resisting the ‘blob’ establishment.  Announced with much fanfare it remains to be seen what if any role this will have in the future of the Conservative Party or whether five families become six, particularly after several founding members and former Truss era Cabinet Members backed out at the last minute.


One of the other offshoots of the short-lived Truss Government is the creation by Truss loyalist Ranil Jayawardena MP of the Conservative Growth Group (CGG) with their launch in January stating that their main aim was to ‘unite the right’ and push for free market, small state, low tax policies ahead of the General Election.


On the right of the party, they are joined by the Common Sense Group (CSG), an offshoot of the old Cornerstone Group that sits on the traditional Conservative side of the party and whose membership is eptiomised by long serving MPs such as Sir John Hayes MP and Sir Edward Leigh MP.  They are joined by the Thatcher era No Turning Back group, which is more dining club than pressure group.


Although reduced in number by the departure of dozens of Liberal Conservatives such as Dominic Grieve and David Gauke, the One Nation faction continues to serve as an umbrella group for moderate Tories and boasts a strong membership list and level of influence despite disagreements on the direction of the party.


Finally, there is the Northern Research Group (NRG), a grouping of many of the Tory MPs in northern (Red Wall) seats who won in 2019. The NRG is a much less an ideological faction than the others above, mostly serving to pressure the Government to act in ways that best appeal to the northern seats they represent.


The Conservatives are not just suffering from factionalism among MPs, but in the wider Party, with the Conservative Britain Alliance announcing itself into the debate by publishing a poll showing that the party was set for a landslide defeat. The group, although privately supported by parliamentarians remains seen as a grouping of donors committed to a change in leadership. The final faction, a one-issue pressure group is the Conservative Democratic Organisation, a grassroots organization designed to strengthen party democracy, although more often identified with democratic accountability for those who ousted Boris Johsnon.


For some in the Parliamentary Party, their main aim is for their colleagues to simply ‘shut up.’ But as the plethora of pressure groups grows it is clear that whilst the leadership of the party is trying to focus on the upcoming election, many within the party are focused on the future of the party, whether that is its ideological direction or the next Leader.


Divided parties don’t win elections. And ones with more factions than can be kept up with often find themselves 23 points behind in the polls. 


This article was written by Paul Gaffney and Jack Glasman.

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