Turn down the volume, Tory begs right-wing loudmouths
Tory right-wingers dominating the media are hurting the party's hopes of winning the next general election, a Conservative backbencher has warned.
David Mowat, who co-chairs the 40 Group of Tory MPs facing the toughest battles to hold their seats in 2015, told Politics.co.uk he fears voters in marginals could be put off by the Conservative right's agenda.
The general election is now looming over the horizon and is set to be decided by contests in constituencies where presenting a moderate vision of the Tories' politics is vitally important.
Issues like promoting marriage in the tax system, immigration, Europe and fox-hunting are not as important to MPs in the 40 tightest seats as to right-wingers, Mowat insisted.
"Obviously it's in our interest that some of this stuff would be curtailed," Mowat explained.
"They're saying what they believe, but if the impression is given the conservative backbenchers are a bunch of right-wing people being kept reasonable by the Liberal Democrats, that's not helpful to us and it's not true.
"The extent to which we allow the media to go with that message is not helpful."
Members of the 40 Group enjoy looser whipping arrangements, allowing them to spend more time in their constituencies.
They are prioritised for ministerial visits and, along with the 40 top Tory target seats, receive a significant portion of the Conservatives' campaigning resources.
Despite all the extra help Mowat believes the 41 MPs with the least job security – the extra MP got in because of an "arithmetic error" – are being damaged.
"If you think where the Conservative party ends up, it can't be true all our backbenchers are right-wing," he added.
"The thing is that those who are tend to be very vociferous, and the press tend to give them a great deal of precedence [in order to write] easy articles."
Last year the 40 Group published a list of policy ideas covering a range of areas, from 'encouraging sport in schools' and 'tackling teenage pregnancy' to 'public spending in the English regions' and 'freeing up the housing market'.
The publication was welcomed by David Cameron as making a "valuable contribution to policy debate within the Conservative party" – but as the policy battle in the Tory party manifesto intensifies throughout 2014 the voice of right-wingers could be strengthened by the Ukip threat.
Nigel Farage's party is expecting to beat the Tories in this May's European elections, undermining the prospects of moderate voices in the party still further.
"Disunity doesn't win elections and those who would be on the receiving end of losing an election would be us," Mowat added.
Regardless of their ideological approach, the Warrington South MP hopes the Group – which meets roughly once a month – will be useful in spreading best practice among its members.
"Frankly some of the people on that list are much better at campaigning and more naturally focused towards it than others," he admitted.
"There's a lot of sharing of ideas – things that work on the ground. A lot of that is swapping ideas and having a network of people who do it.
"What you have to try and do is try and bring everybody up to that level."
A disproportionate group of the 40 Group's constituencies are against Labour in the Midlands and north of England.
Its membership includes environment minister George Eustice, North Warwickshire's Dan Byles, Ben Gummer of Ipswich and Richard Fuller of Bedford.