Chloe Westley: Why should MPs get a pay rise when they won’t keep their promises to the people?

There are some brilliant MPs, who go above and beyond. But the majority have hardly covered themselves in glory over Brexit.

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Last week it was announced that MPs will all be receiving a pay rise of 2.7 per cent, which means they would now be classified among ‘the richest’ by Labour’s calculations. Naturally, the TaxPayers’ Alliance was first on the scene to criticise IPSA for being woefully out of touch with the public.

Of course, it must be said that there are some brilliant MPs across the political spectrum, who go above and beyond for their constituents. But I would hardly say that the majority have covered themselves in glory over Brexit. In the same week that it was announced that all MPs in Westminster would be receiving a pay rise, both the Labour and Conservative front benches rescinded on their election pledges on Brexit.

Manifesto commitments have been broken on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn knew that the majority of voters wouldn’t accept a second referendum, so he ruled this out resolutely at the 2017 General Election. But now, he is whole-heartedly behind a second referendum. Theresa May knew that the popularity of her party relied very much on the perception that the Conservatives were the party of Brexit, and could be trusted to deliver a hard Brexit. That is why the Conservative manifesto committed to taking Britain out of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.

Leave voters are being completely ignored by the majority of Westminster. For every noble defence of democracy in the Commons, there are several other condescending calls for another referendum because “people didn’t know what they were voting for”.

Many of these politicians now calling for a second referendum were elected on the platform of delivering Brexit. For example, Dominic Grieve told his constituents that they should vote for him because he would help the Prime Minister to deliver Brexit. In his election address, Grieve wrote that “As someone who has always advocated a close relationship between the UK and the European Union, I accept the result of the 2016 Referendum.” But now he is leading the charge to stop Brexit, declaring this week that Leave voters had “been thoroughly misled over a long period by a form of propaganda that believes that the EU is evil”.

Sarah Wollaston told one constituent before the election that she “promised to respect the outcome” of the EU referendum. On her website she told constituents before the election that “Theresa May has confirmed that the Government will not seek to be in the Single Market. She has also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal.” At a local election hustings she said that we “must accept the result” of the EU referendum. Dr Wollaston is now proudly campaigning for a second referendum.

Heidi Allen passionately told her constituents at an election hustings that “we have to respect the result” and also tweeted: “I was a remainer, but the EU ref result is final and cannot be rerun.” Allen now says that we need to “check with the British people” and have a second referendum.

Before the election Amber Rudd told her constituents, who voted by a majority to leave the EU, that only a Conservative government “will deliver the Brexit deal that Britain needs to prosper in the years ahead” and also declared to the nation that she was consistent about “respecting the result of the referendum”. Rudd now claims that there is a “plausible argument” for a second referendum.

In addition to these personal commitments, every Conservative MP ran on a manifesto which committed to taking Britain out of the Single Market and Customs Union, and also backing the Prime Minister’s assertion that No Deal is better than a bad deal. These campaign pledges weren’t hidden in the back of the manifesto, or added as a footnote. They were highlighted again and again by the Prime Minister and central to the national campaign.

As someone who was leafleting for the Conservative Party in 2017, I’m astounded that so many Conservative MPs (and now, I suppose, ‘Independent’ MPs) seem to have forgotten what they promised constituents on the doorstep.

By misleading voters about their intention to respect the result of the EU referendum, these MPs betrayed more than just their constituents. They are part of an anti-Brexit movement which is causing irrevocable damage to trust in British politics.

There are many Brits asking themselves: why should I give a third of my income to people who won’t allow me any say in how that money is spent?

We are moving towards a system of taxation without representation. Voters and taxpayers are told to just shut up and do what they’re told. Citizens are reprimanded by their representatives for committing the thoughtcrime of euroscepticism. How dare taxpayers demand more say over how their money is spent, and how their country is run!

Of course it would not be possible to directly devolve decision making to individuals on all matters of state. But on an issue as fundamental as the governance of the nation, politicians cannot say one thing during an election and another when in office.

I don’t think MPs who say they’ll deliver Brexit to get votes in an election, and then do the complete opposite when elected, should be rewarded with a pay rise.

Nicky Morgan: Downing Street needs to tell us clearly this week what it wants from the EU

In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off the Malthouse Compromise, and couldn’t do so.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

There is a good reason why the Conservative Party is the longest-standing and most successful political party in the world – and that is because it is based on pragmatism and a set of core values, not an ideology. Conservatives seek to deal with the world as it is, not the world that we might wish it to be. And to be successful we need to be a broad church.

So I was very sorry to see Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston leave the Conservative Party this week. I understand fully why they made their decision, although I disagree with their conclusion. I believe that their voices would be stronger, and they would be more effective in seeing the values that they believe in prevail, if they stayed in the Conservative Party and argued their case from within.

Anna is a personal friend with whom I served in the Cabinet. As a fellow East Midlands MP I know just how hard she fights for her constituents and her constituency.

I believe that the Conservative Party demonstrated our differences from the current Labour Party in the way we reacted to this news. While Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters attacked the former Labour MPs who left, the door has been left open to the former Conservative MPs to return.

It is true that Brexit, which is based on a particular view of the world, has thrown the most enormous spanner into the workings of the Conservative Party as well as the Labour Party. But Brexit is an event from which the modern Conservative Party can recover, as long as all Party members and activists decide that we want to do so, and that we aren’t going to keep attacking each other or picking over old divisions.

As we approach 29th March, I’d argue that the Conservative Parliamentary Party owes it to voters, who are watching how we are handling Brexit with mounting alarm and anger, to decide, right now, that we aren’t going to let Brexit divide us further.

The majority of MPs, including Conservative ones, want a withdrawal agreement to be in place when exit day happens. We know that because the House of Commons has twice said so – by means of an amendment to the Finance Bill and then the Spelman/Dromey amendment in January.

We also know that the majority of Conservative MPs can unite around a form of Withdrawal Agreement because we said so via the Brady amendment in January. There is one major issue of concern: the backstop. There are alternative arrangements to the current backstop which get us to the same place in terms of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off these alternative arrangements, and couldn’t do so. Indeed, we identified that the current backstop proposals don’t actually work and need to be replaced. So these alternative arrangements as envisaged in the Malthouse Compromise could, as Michel Barnier has apparently acknowledged in recent days, supersede the backstop.

The handling of the vote this week is therefore critical and the mistakes of the Valentine’s Day votes must be avoided. We now know this week won’t see a meaningful vote on the actual agreement. So can the Government provide sufficient assurances this week that a deal can be reached, so that MPs don’t need themselves to take ‘no deal’ off the table? The Government needs to table a motion which captures the changes it is asking for from the EU. This would enable MPs to show that if these changes are secured there will be a majority for the agreement.

To do this would be in the finest Conservative tradition. Not ideological but practical – as I say, dealing with the world (and Brexit) as it is, not as we ideally would wish it to be.

WATCH: Duncan Smith on TIG – “The door should be open, I hope they’ll come back”

He points out that there appears to be far from complete agreement amongst the defectors about why they have left or what they stand for.

WATCH: Allen and Berger asked to explain what The Independent Group stands for

Marr tries to probe traditional areas of policy difference between the Tories and Labour, and is told they want to “coalesce around the evidence”.

WATCH: Gove – “It is Government policy to leave on the 29th of March”

The Environment Secretary says that the priority is securing a deal which can “avert either no Brexit, or no deal.”

Steven Woolfe: I could beat Soubry in a by-election as the Conservative candidate. Why is CCHQ so determined to keep me out?

This is not about infiltration. Rather, it’s about defending democracy and the Leave vote, in a traditional, decent, moderate, thoughtful and patriotic way.

Steven Woolfe is an independent Member of the European Parliament for North West England.

Anna Soubry should stand down and trigger a by-election. She won’t, of course. But if she were to, I would want to stand against her as a conservative.

You will note the small “c” I must put on that one. I would prefer to re-join the Conservative Party and stand as a party candidate. For the moment, the party will not allow me to re-join. I support and champion conservatism, its principles and economics, and, party membership or not, I will continue to do so.

My enthusiasm for re-joining the Party has attracted criticism this week. The Party leadership say they do not want to re-admit me at this time. I regret that, but I know that the question of my membership is up to them and not up to me. Could I win against Soubry as an independent? I have the right background and the right record to do so, but standing as an independent is not what I want to do.

What matters is that, at this point, a whole new danger to Brexit has emerged in the form of the Independent Group. Only a strong, solid number of Conservative MPs in the Commons can protect the democratic referendum vote from Soubry and the others. That is why, whether my name is on the ballot or not, I will support the Conservative Party candidate in a Broxtowe by-election or in any other election against any of these quitters.

The new Independent Group – what an irony is in that name, since the one thing they do not want to do is to see Britain independent — exists only to stop Brexit, or, if Brexit goes ahead, to roll it back. You have heard the Remain side say: “This generation took us out, the next one will take us back in.” That is the endgame of Soubry and the Independent Group. Do not believe them when they say they still have to agree policy. They have agreed policy: keep the UK in the EU. It is the point of their existence.

I have sat in the European Parliament as an independent for almost three years. I know the strength and skills of an independent. But I also know that only the Conservative Government now stands between the people of the United Kingdom and a reversal of Brexit by the Independent Group and those MPs who will work with them.

Only the weight of the Conservative Party can protect us from this threat. Conservatives – real, natural conservatives, who are members of the Conservative Party – must take the place of defectors such as Soubry and her colleague Heidi Allen, who this week threatened that, “if we do our jobs right,” the Conservative Party will be destroyed.

Which is why I want to re-join the Party. I believe this is a time at which the Conservative Party should reach out to people like myself who share similar views and values, and who support what the Prime Minister is trying to achieve with Brexit. It might not be the Brexit I want, but I hope the party will engage with us.

This is not about infiltration. I want to make that quite clear. This is not about destabilising the Conservative Party. Far from it. This is about protecting true conservative values in the party. It is, above all, about defending democracy and the Leave vote, in a traditional, decent, moderate, thoughtful and patriotic way.

I hope the Conservative Party will reach out to those of us who can help the prime minister achieve Brexit. I think a Brexit deal could have been organised a lot better, but I support Theresa May in her determination to keep the possibility of a “no deal” alive. It is important for her negotiations in Brussels.

While, as I said, there has been some criticism for me this week because of my enthusiastic desire to re-join the Conservative Party, I have also had a lot of support on social media, and in private messages from ordinary, card-carrying members of the party. I would rather discussions on this were not conducted in public, but sometimes things don’t work out that way. Whatever happens, I will go on fighting for conservatism. It is up to others to decide on whether that first letter “c” is small or large.

Don’t blame the A list

It may have produced Anna Soubry – but it also gave us a mixed cross-section of Tories, including Conor Burns, Esther McVey, Priti Patel and Liz Truss.

What do Fiona Bruce, Conor Burns, Suella Braverman, Howard Flight, Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, Priti Patel and Liz Truss have in common?

Answer: all, according to ConservativeHome’s files, were members of David Cameron’s A-list – which legendarily contained only “the pseuds and poseurs of London’s chi-chi set”, in the immortal words of John Hayes.

This casts perspective on the claim that the A-list is responsible for taking a mass of people with no Tory record or beliefs at all and turning them into Conservative MPs – including this week’s three defectors.

The list was an eye-catching idea with which Cameron could be personally associated – and not a very good one.  It was scrapped after the 2010 election.  But it can’t credibly be blamed for the Group of Three.

Sarah Wollaston doesn’t seem to have been on it at all.  Heidi Allen entered the Commons in 2015, long after the A-list’s abolition.  So only one out of the three defectors had anything to do with it.

Maybe Open Primaries are to blame instead?  Except that the Conservative Party only held two proper, full, postal ballot open primaries before the 2010 election.

One of them, to be sure, produced Wollaston.  The other gave us the impeccably orthodox Caroline Dinenage, who has caused neither the leadership nor the membership any trouble whatsover, and is currently a Minister of State at the Department of Health.

Or is the problem selecting MPs who have no sustained history of Party membership?  That’s nearer the mark – fitting Allen and Wollaston like a glove.

However, Soubry’s engagement with the Party stretches back for 40 years or so.  (And please note: she denies ever having joined the SDP, though she is certainly making up for it now.)

And in any event, there are plenty of relatively recent arrivals whose politics is a very long way from being pink.  We present to you, by way of example, Steve Baker, who was fairly new to party politics when selected in 2010.

No, the only rule of defections is that there is no rule: blame the A-list if you like; complain about Open Primaries; look for a lack of long Party experience as a common factor.

But you might just as usefully ask some questions.  Is the defector’s day on the front bench over?  Is his or her career frustrated? Is she a soloist?  Is his constituency markedly pro-Remain? The answers are likely to be a more reliable guide.

Blukip! Purple Momentum! But…the big problem with Tory entryism claims is that there’s no evidence that they’re true

When asked for it, the three MPs presented none. The reason is simple: this supposedly sinister entryist army does not exist.

In recent weeks, allegations have grown that something dark is afoot among the Conservative grassroots. Anna Soubry summarised it this week with a bold assertion: “the majority of associations are being infiltrated by a nationally orchestrated entryism designed to remove rebel MPs who they call traitors”.

She is not alone. Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston apparently agree, and last week Nick Boles raised a similar allegation in The Times:

“There has been a systematic operation of infiltration of the Conservative Party by Ukip and Ukip sympathisers. I had 400 members until 12 months ago and I now have 500 . . . They have coalesced with those in my party who already had these views…”

“What has happened to me and I think is in the process of happening to others like Dominic Grieve, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry, Mark Pawsey and George Freeman is a sudden influx of ex-Ukip members or ex-Ukip voters actively recruited by the organisations Leave.EU and Leave Means Leave.”

The supposed phenomenon has even picked up a couple of headline-friendly nicknames: “Blukip” and “Purple Momentum”. It has become a central refrain for those claiming the Conservative Party has become “extremist”, and obviously for those either leaving or under threat of possible deselection it is a potentially powerful charge to level at their critics.

But is it true?

First, let’s look at the fabric of the allegation, from those making it. The three former Conservative MPs made it such a central part of their reasons for leaving that they wrote in their resignation letter that “a purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative Party” – so were inevitably urged to give more information at their press conference.

A simple question

Hannah Al-Othman of Buzzfeed asked: “You mentioned entryism – who are these people, where are they coming from, and how many of them are there?”

It was a straight down the line question, the perfect opportunity for three experienced politicians to elaborate on an issue which they had chosen to bring to the fore. Wollaston answered that there was “a very well-funded social media campaign…against many of us” and a “deluge of really threatening calls” to her office. Soubry said that the Leave.EU website features calls to deselect Conservative MPs and urging its supporters to join the Conservative Party, pictures of which she has since tweeted as “the evidence” of her claim.

And that was it.

Those issues referred to are undoubtedly real. I’m sure Wollaston’s staff have received some really nasty calls (as have Boles’s, among others), which is sickening. And Leave.EU does have a website full of rants about traitors and a founder who loves to boast of his influence.

But none of this actually amounts to any evidence whatsoever of that alleged “nationally orchestrated entryism”, affecting “the majority of associations” and “subsuming the Conservative Party”. Given an open goal, an invitation to lay out the evidence and substantiate the claim, they chose to present nothing at all.

What basis would there be to think those horrible phonecalls are coming from Tory members? Although she mentioned them in answer to a question about entryism, even Wollaston herself carefully didn’t assert that the calls were from members, entryist or otherwise.

Similarly, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Leave.EU’s aggressive Facebook posts and self-indulgent boasts have actually amounted to any real-life entryism. Calling for something to happen is not the same as succeeding in making it happen, and tweeted pics of bluster is not evidence of an outcome.

Empty boasts

Leave.EU itself has publicly failed on this front already. By my count this is at least the third time they have called for UKIPers and Leavers to join the Conservative Party en masse in order to hijack it. Each time, the group has claimed victory, supposedly having secured hordes of entryists who now control the Party, deselections are imminent and so on…only to announce a few months later that the Conservative Party is not controlled by Brexiteers and must be taken over by entryists, rather undermining their previous claim.

For anyone who has followed that outfit’s history, this is a familiar story of wild over-claiming that isn’t matched by reality, with those boasts eagerly lapped up by Remainers for whom they are politically convenient. While Arron Banks claims to run a sizeable chunk of the Conservative Party, there is zero sign that he actually does so.

Where are these 30,000 members (the most recent claim)? CCHQ, which runs the join-up pages that Leave.EU links to has detected only a tiny increase in traffic coming from the advert campaign paraded by Banks and Soubry. The numbers actually joining as a result are even smaller, and have been subject to vetting and bans. Banks himself, his sidekick Andy Wigmore, and Steven Woolfe, the President of “Blue Wave” (their previous outlet for entryism press releases) were blocked from joining last summer – a fact which didn’t stop Lord Adonis from claiming that Woolfe, who is still not in the Conservative Party, “sums up the takeover of the Conservative Party by extremists”.

Where are they all?

Perhaps, though, while those ad campaigns haven’t actually driven much traffic, there is still a huge wave of organised and hostile entryists flowing into the Conservative Party through other routes?

It’s not clear why or how that would happen covertly if it isn’t happening through the supposedly influential adverts, but let’s entertain the possibility. Even if this army of entryists had got in, then they would be visible somewhere. A 25 per cent or more boom in membership figures, if you believe Banks’s latest number, would be impossible to miss.

There would be a sizeable financial uplift in membership subs – for which I can find no evidence. There would be a sizeable boom in the membership total – of which there is no word beyond the effects of the Conservative Party’s own recruitment campaign last summer, and a slower rise in the Autumn as the possibility of a leadership rise grew. A Conservative Party which is deeply worried, and often mocked, about the decline in the size of its membership would be shouting from the rooftops about such a massive surge in numbers.

Nor is this something that might be concealed by CCHQ. Unlike Labour, local Conservative Associations have to individually approve (or reject) potential members in addition to checks done by the centre. So there are hundreds of association officers across the country who personally see the names and addresses of those who join up. They know their local patches – and often their local UKIPers, from years of rivalry – and many double check or spot check for known allegiances to guard against anything untoward.

Search thought I have, I have yet to find a single Association officer who has seen evidence of this “purple momentum” wave. They’ve seen the occasional rather inept attempt, but nothing more.

For example, an email was sent to a range of associations earlier this week from a previously unheard-of outfit calling itself “The Endeavour Group“, promoting a mis-spelled and rather vague guide on how to select Leaver candidates in future. Having made the first mistake of actually using generic association email addresses, it seems unlikely to have any impact.

Indeed, the only grassroots-level concern I have discovered along these lines is that some associations with Remain-leaning MPs – including Heidi Allen’s – have noticed that people previously identified as Liberal Democrats have joined the Conservative Party in recent months. It isn’t a basis for alarm, but sources on the ground speculate that this is an in-flow of pro-EU activists hoping to defend rebellious MPs from deselection.

Furthermore, deselections are not triggered by rank and file members in the Conservative Party rules, they take place by Association executives voting not to re-adopt the candidate (a verdict which can than be verified or overturned by a ballot of the membership, if the MP wishes). So even an influx of entryist members alone wouldn’t have the claimed effect – there would have to be branches and Association executive seats taken by such people, in sufficiently large numbers to wield a majority in each constituency. Again, where are the signs that long-serving Tory officers and councillors are being supplanted in such a way?

Association membership figures are not routinely published. However, it is possible to make broad estimates from declarations in their accounts. An analysis I have seen, carried out by an experienced former Conservative Party agent and aofficer, notes that Wollaston’s local association membership fell from over 750 at the time of her selection in 2008 to around 400 by the end of 2017. The same analysis estimates, from membership revenues, that Soubry’s association shrank from 172 members in 2009 to something a shade over 120 by the end of 2017, and that Allen’s local membership fell from around 450 to around 350 from 2014-2017.

The Conservative Party as a whole has lost many members over the last dozen years, and it seems these MPs’ associations have suffered if anything from that problem, not from a vast influx. Soubry lamented this week that while she had signed up members “in the past”, she was nowadays unable to find anyone “like me” who wanted to join, which might hint at the real issue.

And why is there no sign of them doing anything?

So without evidence of these entryists existing, and without reports of anyone seeing them joining, how else might we test the theory? The remaining option is to look for symptoms of their activity. If, as we’re told, they are infiltrating “the majority of associations” in sufficient numbers to “subsume the Conservative Party”, and are acting on specific instructions to deselect pro-EU rebel MPs, then that should be visible.

Where are the signs of an orchestrated movement carrying out this mission? Despite a lot of excitement, there have still been no deselection votes, never mind actual deselections, in the Conservative Party since 2014, when Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo were deselected.

Soubry’s views on the EU are not exactly a secret, and she has been warning of entryism since last August, but the closest she has come to deselection was when her association chairman – a Conservative councillor since 2012, not a UKIP interloper – tried to rally opposition to her in July 2018, allegedly because he fancied the job of MP himself. His effort ended with him being No Confidenced unanimously by his own association executive, after which he resigned. If anything, this week’s news suggests that Broxtowe Association may have been a bit too tolerant of its MP’s opposition to Conservative policy.

In Grantham and Stamford, where we have reported on the Association executive’s recent efforts to hold a vote on re-adoption (a vote fended off by Boles thus far), there is precious little sign that the executive is in any way controlled by hostile outside forces. The members include a range of experienced and long-serving Conservative councillors and activists, who voted unanimously to try to proceed with the vote. The most senior former UKIPer at the table – Cllr Robert Foulkes – joined the Conservative Party as a defector wooed by the Tories, not as a hostile entryist. He was welcomed in the local press on that basis by one N. Boles.

There are former UKIPers in the Conservative Party

There have certainly been real changes in the composition and/or views of the Tory membership in recent years. Natural attrition and political events make that inevitable.

Every measure – from our own survey through YouGov’s polls to the research of the Mile End Institute – indicates that the grassroots membership is strongly anti-EU, and a majority voted Leave. Indeed, there’s reason to believe the Conservative Party, not UKIP, was the single largest source of Leave activists in the referendum.

That isn’t a shock, given the long history of Conservative Euroscepticism, but the membership has become more anti-EU in recent years. In part that mirrors the change of opinion among the electorate at large, but leaving the EU has also gained ground in Tory circles in particular. When the Conservative Party adopted support for Brexit as policy after the referendum, that swung more people (like, at least for the duration of the 2017 election, Heidi Allen) from Remain to Leave. It also led to some really ardent Remainers leaving the Conservative Party, which further exaggerated the trend.

In addition, others who supported Brexit decided to join the Conservatives. Indeed, the Conservative Party appealed for them to do so. Rather obviously, parties try to get people who agree with them to join by promoting their policies. That brought some from no party at all, some from Labour and even the Liberal Democrats, and quite a few former UKIP voters and members.

Aha, so there are ex-UKIPers inside the Tory Party. Well, yes. A fair few are even former Tories who defected to UKIP then came back (something David Cameron actively encouraged). But that’s not “entryism”, a hostile act organised from outside, that’s the Conservative Party successfully recruiting supporters and activists, something it ought to do rather more of if it hopes to be successful in future.

This is what successful political parties do, win people over. It’s why the Conservatives have absorbed former SDPers like Daniel Finkelstein, former Communists such as Erics Pickles and Forth, ex-Labour candidates like Rehman Chishti and even a former UKIP leader in the form of Craig Mackinlay.

During the years of the UKIP insurgency, there was angst in almost all wings of the Conservative Party about the way in which the divide helped Labour, and how to “reunite the right”. Now it is happening, it is absurd to make out that it is illegitimate.

A slur on good Tories

The sad reality, beneath all the hyperbole, is that the three MPs who have quit the party were simply unsustainably unhappy with the platform their party was committed to. Many of their local Conservative members – new and old – will have disagreed with them about Brexit, in particular. Some might even desire to deselect them due to that disagreement, or – as is often the case – due to a mixture of politics and interpersonal tensions.

I doubt that is a comfortable or pleasant position to be in. Evidently it has led to a difficult decision and the breaking away of three MPs. They may be angry, or frustrated, or bitter about that, and fair enough. Allen, at least, now appears to want to destroy the Conservative Party entirely.

If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. But it is unworthy, and untrue, to tar dedicated Tory activists as UKIP interlopers while you head out the door. They aren’t like Momentum and they aren’t being controlled by Arron Banks. Dismissing them as such to try to bolster a political position is rather shoddy, particularly when many of them slogged their guts out to help secure the election of the MPs who now insult them.

It is somewhat rich for Soubry to talk to Matt Chorley of how “the hardest tug” is leaving “the people [I’ve] been working with in Broxtowe…who have gone out in all weathers, walked miles…knocking on doors”, or for Wollaston to write that her “decision is no reflection on” the local “hard-working Conservative councillors” for whom she has the “greatest respect”, while simultaneously throwing them all under the bus by sweeping and evidence-free allegations in the national press.

If you must break your promises to them, then you could at least have the decency not to wrongly slur them as extremists and hijackers at the same time.

Iain Dale: Welcome to the Monster Raving Soubry Party

Plus: In news elsewhere, a luxury women’s health spa in Belgravia – with annual membership fees of £5,500 – this week blamed Brexit for its closure.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Would any Conservative MPs join Chuka Umunna and his less-than-magnificent-seven? That’s the question that was on many people’s lips earlier this week.

On Tuesday night, I thought about writing an article naming Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston as the most likely candidates to do so. Unfortunately, the lure of a 13 tog duvet got the better of me, and I couldn’t be bothered.

Why only three? We shouldn’t underestimate the pull of the tribe. Politics is a very tribal business, and it takes a lot for someone to leave theirs, especially if they’ve been in it for decades. But, of course, there are one or two Conservative MPs who haven’t been in the Tory tribe for very long and haven’t come up through the party ranks. It means less to them than certain others

I suspect Messers Allen and Wollaston, both of whom had only been party members for about a year before they were selected as candidates, found departure less of a wrench than Anna Soubry.

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In a delicious sense of timing, on the very same day that seven Labour MPs resigned the Labour whip because of the party’s hard left extremism, Labour let Derek Hatton back into the party after 34 years of exile, only for him then to be suspended 48 hours later. Jacqui Smith tweeted that she felt her own party was trolling her. You can understand why. All we need now is for George Galloway to be allowed back, and it really will seem as if the old band has got back together again.

Labour friends of mine insist that polls that show a five point Tory lead are wrong and that Labour is doing very well in the polls. They are deluding themselves. At this stage in the electoral cycle, Labour should be 10 or 20 points ahead and, given the shambolic state of  disunity that the Conservatives are in, you have to question why the best that Labour seems to be able to do is to get level-pegging.

I think the reason is very simple and it is this. There is a certain group of the electorate which may well like a lot of Labour policies, but cannot stomach the thought of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell taking up residence in Downing Street. They regard them as extreme and unpatriotic. The challenge for those two gentlemen is to prove that they are neither of those things. Good luck with that.

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Given the fact that the economy is apparently going to hell in a handcart, if you believe Remainers, it is quite remarkable that figures released this week show record levels of employment, with 167,000 extra jobs being created during the period from October to December. It shows how resilient we are, and why however we leave the EU we can be confident about our future.

Digging in to the figures, youth unemployment is down again by 31,000, meaning that since 2010 it has halved. Given the amount of youth unemployment throughout the EU, this is a real achievement. Wages are now rising at 3.4 per cent, with inflation at 1.8 per cent.

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The Honda announcement on Tuesday was predictably seized upon by those who want to blame Brexit for every negative business development in this country.

Senior politicians on all sides tried to say that this wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t leaving the EU. This – despite the head of Honda in the UK and the head of Honda in Japan both saying in terms that the Brexit did not play a role in the decision.

I don’t deny that in some sectors Brexit uncertainty is having a negative effect, but to pretend that it is to blame for everything is ridiculous, and people can see through it. On Tuesday, a luxury women’s health spa in Belgravia – with annual membership fees of £5,500 – blamed Brexit for its closure. Presumably with a straight face.

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My partner, who’s not really very much of a political animal, has found the whole defection saga quite fascinating. He rang me up on Wednesday, and asked if I thought he should join the Monster Raving Soubry Party. Well, it’s a better party name than the rather insipid The Independents Group.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: The odd couple, May and Corbyn, pretend nothing has changed

But their deputies look stricken, while the defectors are rejuvenated.

What an odd couple Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are. To look at them today, one would be hard put to say anything has changed.

There at the far end of the Chamber, behind the Scots Nats, sat eleven of their MPs who have just defected. The three former Tories, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen, were greeted with great good humour by the eight former Labour MPs.

They looked alive, relieved and rejuvenated, as people do who at long last have found the courage to be true to themselves, before they discover their new situation contains at least as many vexations as their old one did.

And there facing each other across the Despatch Box were the odd couple, looking unrejuvenated, unresponsive and unrepentant. Corbyn if anything looked more tired than usual, and more inclined to stumble over his script, with unfamiliar words such as “mysogynistic” causing him trouble.

May looks dreadfully tired compared to when she became leader, but no tireder than she did last week. And she recited her script, all about her deal being the only way to avoid no deal, as fluently and uninspiringly as ever.

But who was that sitting beside Corbyn? It was Emily Thornberry, who usually appears quite cheerful, today with a stricken look. To judge by her expression, the Labour Party is in deep trouble, with more defections to come.

And who was that sitting beside May? David Lidington, who possesses a naturally buoyant demeanour, but today was sunk in gloomy thoughts. To judge by his expression, the Government is in deep trouble, with no acceptable deal in sight.

Ian Blackford, for the Scots Nats, declared: “Westminster is broken…this place is at war with itself…the Conservatives and Labour are imploding.”

And there were the odd couple, carrying on with business as usual. When one of them goes, the position of the other will become untenable. If I were the Prime Minister, I would be worried by Corbyn’s declining vitality.