The Tory Party has always been terribly sensitive to charges of entryism, extremism, parties within parties and improper behaviour. This hair trigger response was exemplified by the rabid denunciation of the BBC investigation which culminated in the Panorama programme “Maggie’s Militant Tendency”. So hopefully the people at Open Democracy have braced themselves for the righteous abuse coming their way.
And the abuse will be coming their way, with the certainty of night following day, after Adam Ramsay’s piece today telling of what is effectively a “Party within a party” called the European Reform Group. The sub-heading, “Tory ministers have used taxpayer cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit pressure group, now led by outspoken government critic Jacob Rees-Mogg”, tells you all you need to know.
He goes on “Senior Conservative ministers including Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and David Gauke have used taxpayers’ cash to fund the hard-Brexit European Research Group … The ministers have funded this lobby group (through their expense claims) whilst holding posts in government - despite the ministerial code prohibiting ministers from becoming ‘associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with government policy’”. Oh dear!
There is more: “openDemocracy has also uncovered new evidence that a number of other key figures in government - including Brexit ministers Steve Baker and Suella Fernandes – have remained active in the ERG after taking on government posts, and that the senior whip Chris Heaton-Harris has hosted meetings for them inside parliament”.
Heaton Harris has previously skated on very thin ice with his backing for the phantom candidacy of James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole in the Corby by-election - which the Tories lost. The impression was given at the time his deceit was exposed that Heaton Harris did not always prioritise observing such trivial items as rules.
Other parties’ MPs, though, are rather keen on the idea, with Labour’s “Chris Bryant calling it a ‘clear conflict of interest’; Caroline Lucas [Green Party] labelling the findings ‘deeply concerning’ and the SNP’s Deirdre Brock asking, ‘What kind of shameless opportunist would be supporting their colleagues in public while betraying them in private?’”
And Open Democracy’s analysis shows “that, since 2010, ten Conservative MPs have paid subscriptions to the organisation while holding ministerial posts. Four of these … only did so in the period before the European referendum, when Cameron had waived Cabinet collective responsibility on the issue of EU membership … But six more have paid subscriptions to the group outside that period, including four who are still in government: Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid, David Gauke, and Penny Mordaunt”.
The ERG is organising against its own party, demanding the Government adopt its preferred kind of Brexit. Rees Mogg dishonestly scoffs that any outcome that does not enjoy his approval will see Britain as a “Vassal State”, another shameless diversion tactic to misrepresent the EU. So what will Theresa May do about them?
We know what Labour did to Militant. We know what entryism looks like. We know all about misuse of Parliamentary expenses. And we the people are paying for it.