The left-wing of Britain’s Conservative Party has started turning on David Cameron after the resignation of Faith and Communities Minister Baroness Warsi over Gaza yesterday. The Prime Minister, who was once seen as the poster boy for the paternalistic left of the party, was not only publicly criticised by former ministers but was also warned that more resignations might follow.
Although Warsi’s resignation is what sparked the latest round of back-biting in the Parliamentary Conservative Party, its roots run far deeper. Last month’s cabinet reshuffle saw Cameron dump leading ‘wets’ in favour of younger women, despite his long term reliance on their loyalty to keep him in office.
In her letter of resignation Warsi claimed the sacking of Dominic Grieve and the resignation of Ken Clarke had left the cabinet lacking the “experience and expertise” needed to deal with the Gaza situation. Grieve – who furious to have been sacked as attorney-general – responded by joining other senior Conservatives in suggesting that Israel’s actions were disproportionate.
Warsi also cited the loss of William Hague and appointment of Philip Hammond as a major contributing factor to her resignation. Although Hague had been seen as a right-winger when he was party leader in the 2001 general election, he was generally accepted to have ‘gone native’ in the Foreign Office and was pursuing a much more left-wing line than had been predicted.
According to The Times Key figures on the Conservative left weighed in behind Warsi’s stance, these included: Sir Nicholas Soames, Dr Sarah Wollaston and Crispin Blunt. Another former Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt said Israel’s actions were “unjustifiable” and it was “losing the moral argument”.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson, never one to miss an opportunity at free publicity, echoed Burt’s arguments adding: “I think it is ugly and it is tragic and I don’t think it will do Israel any good in the long run.”
Perhaps more worrying was the lack of support Cameron appeared to be getting from the local government secretary Eric Pickles. He is known to be a long-term supporter and ally of Warsi and was unwilling to condemn her.
This resignation is likely to be seen as a watershed moment, as previous leadership crises have involved the right of the party being attacked by Cameron, and attempting to respond. But this time the Conservative left are showing their displeasure at the way the Prime Minister used them for a few years before turning on them in the cabinet reshuffle.
In the reshuffle he also dropped a number of right-wing ministers, but this had always been expected. As a result the real damage to his leadership is that he has now alienated both major factions of the Conservative Party.
To make matters worse the Liberal Democrats took the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi as an opportunity to put some distance in between themselves and the Conservatives. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg called for arms exports to Israel to be suspended because it had been “overstepping the mark” in Gaza.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, suggested that the Tories were blocking the move. “We have been making this case inside government but have not yet been able to get agreement for this position,” he said. “I hope and expect that to change shortly.”
It was left to the Chancellor, George Osborne to defend his old friend. He made very little effort to hide his anger at Warsi’s resignation, describing it as “disappointing and frankly unnecessary”.
He is seen as Cameron’s most likely successor and will hope to make capital out of the fact that Warsi is still hugely unpopular in the Conservative Party. Despite her clarion call to the left.