Cameron's Agincourt Hitch

David Cameron is alleged to have told backbenchers last night that 2012 will be “tougher than the first two years under Thatcher”.
Margaret Thatcher fought recession and riots in her first term in government, with plunging poll numbers and rising unemployment.

But this is not remembered as a dark chapter in Conservative annals but a turning point in British history. It was in 1980 that Margaret Thatcher declared “the Lady’s not for turning” and pressed on with unpopular economic policies that – in the eyes of the Tory faithful who cherish memories of her reign – worked.

Like Britain’s first female PM, Cameron is under constant pressure to abandon his economic strategy – and yesterday’s unemployment figures gave ammunition to his opponents.

But there is another reason for him to ready his footsoldiers for the political equivalent of war. Many of these men and women are convinced that the UK has a genuinely historic opportunity to leave the European Union – or at least to renegotiate radically different terms of membership – and carve out a new role and identity on the world stage.

There are also MPs who would have been candidates for ministerial jobs if the Liberal Democrats were not coalition partners; it’s easy for such individuals to start dreaming of a snap election resulting in a Tory majority.

Cameron’s warning that his Government faces the fight of its life may have been an attempt to banish such distracting and destabilising thoughts and force MPs to prepare for a campaign that will test the mettle of their convictions.

The PM's ability to deliver a cracking speech should not be underestimated; and his words last night may go down in Commons folklore as the Tory equivalent of the Agincourt address.

But there is a hitch. The road to the 2015 election features not just battles with the unions and Labour and the challenge of dealing with Lib Dems in swing seats; there is also the prospect of dozens of miniature civil wars.

Cameron’s cull of constituencies will see the number of MPs falling from 650 to 600, with Wales losing 10 of its contingent of 40.

MPs who slog through weekend surgeries, trying to encourage the jobless and reassure the worried about welfare changes, may well face selection battles against colleagues from neighbouring seats when they compete for a redrawn constituency.

There are few spectacularly wealthy MPs. For most, politics is not just a vocation but their main source of livelihood.

All MPs effectively re-apply for their job at an election, but the prospect of having to compete against someone who shares a foxhole with you in today’s firefights must sap the morale.

A Thursday Column.

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