Why the Tories won't sit quietly

If David Cameron wants to enjoy his holiday under Tuscan skies he should avoiding reading the latest report from the defence committee.



It doesn’t quite say the notion that Britain can make major savings in the defence budget without weakening the military or the UK’s international influence is “hogwash” but it comes quite close.



He is too canny a politician to toss the green-bound document into the swimming pool with an exasperated “Urrgh!”.



He knows that for many of his own MPs one of the key missions of the Conservative Party is halting the UK’s post-imperial decline; Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair argued that the country could remain a global power and exercise strategic force.



Mr Cameron needs to cook up some spicy dish in time for the autumn conference which will delight his party and convince the flag-wavers that the Liberal Democrats have not captured his soul.



But if you listen to the rumbling coming from Westminster you can hear something more interesting than the grumbling of Tory MPs who have missed out on ministerial jobs. One odd consequence of coalition government is that this grand old institution, which was so badly bruised by the expenses scandal, has been re-energised.



During Labour’s 13 years in Government, sages routinely lamented the decline in the power of Parliament. But this was not primarily due to any nefarious Downing Street plan but because the electorate handed Mr Blair whopping majorities; he was the leader of the Labour Party, he had more than enough MPs to take forward manifesto policies, and the opposition could do little more than decry the rise of presidential politics in Britain.



But today there is a greater distinction between government and Parliament than we have seen for many years. Conservative and Lib Dem ministers may be in power but their parties have not merged to form a blue and yellow blancmange on the green benches.



In June Tory backbenchers forced their chiefs to allow them a free vote to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. This was a mighty warning shot; if they were prepared to rebel over circuses, think what they might do on Europe or defence. Loyalty to the party is not synonymous with being a coalition drone.



Almost weekly, a cross-party select committee report delivers a damning assessment on some aspect of government spending or policy.



Much of the fire is often directed at past Labour governments, but is clear that the new generation of MPs are independently minded and ready to hold a government – even one led by the leader of their own party – to account.



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