Daily Israel Report

Backbenchers Threaten Cameron With Leadership Challenge

There were many in the Conservative Party who accepted David Cameron's ideological face lift only if it produced victory, not defeat.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 5/7/2012, 4:37 AM

Cameron and Johnson
Cameron and Johnson
Reuters

The pasting that the British Conservatives took in the local elections has shaken the position of Prime Minister David Cameron within his own party. It only takes 46 of the 305 Conservative MPs to force a leadership contest. It should be recalled that Margaret Thatcher although she had led the Conservative party to three consecutive victories in parliamentary elections was forced out  in 1991 by such a leadership challenge when the polls and local elections predicted that the party would be a goner if she lead the party in 1992. The Conservatives without sentiments dumped her for John Major and managed to survive until 1997 power.

The ghost of Margaret Thatcher is however resurfacing. David Cameron and his associates were the conservative modernizers who were going to help the party move on from the Thatcher legacy. Thatcher the daughter of a grocer represented a class revolution within the conservative party. The Conservatives had traditionally relied on upper-class leadership that stressed pragmatism and shied away from ideology while emphasizing their upbringing and education as qualifications for ruling Britain. Thatcher and before her Ted Heath represented the new breeds that precisely because it could not appeal to the old school tie was compelled to emphasize a fighting ideology. David Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne have just been labeled by conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries "two posh boys who don’t know the price of a pint of milk”.  posh boys meaning that they are a throwback to the pre-Thatcher era where ideology did not count.

Many rank-and-file conservative voters as well as MPs did not take kindly to the ideological changes in the party much in the same way that Labour resented the New Labour facelift of Tony Blair. The only way they were willing to tolerate Blair was because he brought electoral results. David Cameron was able to produce Conservative seniority in a coalition government scarcely the record of achievement produced by Blair and now the Conservatives are badly trailing in the polls. Boris Johnson who was reelected mayor of London bucking the anti-Conservative trends made a joke at David Cameron's expense“ We survived the rain, the BBC, the Budget and the endorsement of David Cameron,”

Mr. Cameron as a prime minister has to face disgruntled backbenchers disappointed over the fact that they were not included in the cabinets and they provide combustible material for a revolt against leadership. Another problem that the Prime Minister must face is the strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in the local elections. The party that calls for exiting the European Union scored an average of 14% in the races where it fielded candidates. That 14% came predominantly at the expense of the Conservatives. The UK IP showing provides ammunition to Cameron's opponents. They claim that the ideological dilution of the Conservative party has proven itself to be electorally self-defeating and presages disaster at the next parliamentary elections.

The good news for David Cameron is that new elections for parliament are not scheduled till 2015. The bad news is that at this rate he may not be around to contest them as the leader of the Conservative Party.