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Nadine Dorries is half-right about the secret Tory cabal

Tories plot — who knew? Credit: Getty

November 6, 2023 - 11:45am

Nadine Dorries is a successful writer of family sagas. A large reason why she comes in for so much flak is that she’s sold millions of books and her critics haven’t.

Her latest offering is also a family saga of sorts. Entitled The Plot, it alleges that a small group of powerful figures (collectively nicknamed “the Movement”) has been running the Conservative Party for decades and deposing any party leader to whom they take exception.

It’s enthralling stuff, but is it true? As a sometime denizen of the Westminster village, my answer to whether such a cabal exists is yes and no… and yes again.

The story begins in 1997, when the Tories suffered a landslide general election defeat. It was a shattering blow that caused a schism between the so-called “Mods” (short for Modernisers) and the “Rockers” who resisted the coming of the new. By 2001, this had turned into a bitter civil war between the supporters and opponents of arch-moderniser Michael Portillo.

Relationships forged in the heat of those old battles have persisted over the years and decades. So in that respect Dorries is right: the Movement — allegedly led by the likes of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings — does exist in some form. However, she accords it more coherence and effectiveness than is merited. For a start, so many individuals have dropped in and out over the years that a better name for The Movement might be the Ship of Theseus. 

Much the same goes for the faction’s ideological continuity. One of the untold stories of British politics is how the more thoughtful Mods came to realise that their original prescription for saving the Conservative Party — social and economic liberalism — was seriously flawed. 

What is most hard to believe about this whole business is the idea that the Movement has been “running the country for decades”, when its plotters can’t even seem to run the Conservative Party. Neither Theresa May nor Liz Truss would have become leader if they were in charge — nor would Cummings have lost his temporary grip on Downing Street.

It could be that Dorries is thinking more about the negative control exerted through the ousting of Conservative prime ministers. But while we’ve seen Gove involved in various party upheavals, he’s hardly the only guilty party. For instance, who was the most significant source of internal opposition to David Cameron and Theresa May? Not Gove, but Boris Johnson — who fronted the Leave campaign and who resigned from the Cabinet to block May’s Brexit deal. What’s more, with Partygate and other scandals, he also became his own worst enemy. 

There are plenty of reasons for the rise and fall of the last five Tory PMs. The Movement may provide a convenient excuse for their failures, but not a useful explanation.

However, that does not mean that Dorries’s account is fundamentally wrong. Robert Conquest once said that “the behaviour of an organisation can best be predicted by assuming it to be controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies”. For some reason, all factions of the Conservative Party seem determined to prove him right.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
8 months ago

Can I be the first to say that “Ship of Theseus” dignifies them a little too much. I’d say “Trigger’s Broom”.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago

There definitely is a Movement but, of course, its control of the Party is not absolute. The Movement couldn’t ensure the right person replaced May or Johnson in the face of the wishes of the membership but they made sure their preferred candidate got there in the end.
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Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago

All parties have factions.
But this is just standard Tory whining (I imagine there are Labour, Lib-Dem, Green and DUP versions too) to excuse their own incompetence. Brexit is a dud (or hasn’t been implemented properly, if you prefer) because of evil Remainers in the civil service and elsewhere, 13 years of Tory government have achieved very little anywhere else because of “the Blob,” Nadine D doesn’t get the PMs (or the peerage) she wants because dark forces are allied against her, blah blah blah.
If they can’t get anything done when they’re, like, you know, the government, what’s the point of voting for them?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

It’s a bit more than factionalism. The membership voted for two party leaders that the Parliamentary Party didn’t favour and Movement got rid of them.
Ironically, the Tories’ only real achievement, the major improvement in education standards especially literacy, was achieved by Gove and Gibb in the teeth of resistance from the original Blob.

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago

Factionalism within both the parliamentary party and the wider party?

Peter B
Peter B
8 months ago

So if this – some allegations she now makes – not mentioned here – is all true and important (as Nadine Dorries now seems to believe), why didn’t she say anything about this before ? Why now ?
I have as much respect for people like Nadine Dorries who reveal misconduct they knew of years if not decades after the events as I do for priests and bishops who covered up criminal misdeeds in churches when they should have spoken out at the time.

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter B
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

The rise and fall of the last Tory PM can be squarely laid at the feet of the individual himself.

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Message from Pedants’ Corner: the last Tory PM was Ms Truss, who wouldn’t thank you for calling her “himself.”

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

Perhaps he’s suggesting Sunak will be the last Tory PM?

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

You’re quite right, don’t know what I was thinking.

Last but one.

N Satori
N Satori
8 months ago

Surely it is not beyond the ability of an investigative journalist to discover the identity of Dorries’ sinister Dr No. If Dorries is to be believed (and that’s a bit of a stretch) this mysterious kingpin rules the inner circle of Tory party like some shadowy Mafia boss – yet nobody outside the inner circle knows about him or the power he wields. Very undemocratic!

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
8 months ago

There is no agreement about what Conservatism so that allows all sorts in Central Office.Its actually not very difficult: for intellectuals, Burke, Disraeli. Patriotism, poetry, always aware of unintended consequences, law and order, defence, education, tradition. So patriotism not indiscriminate liberalism; memorable phrases not “strong and stable”; punish gang rapers; fund the military so no one in their right minds fools around with GB; high standards, pro-free speech, science as a quest, NEVER “the science is settled”(only an ignoramus could utter such stupidity). That’s what we need to get back to. Its not rocket science. But it has been purposefully sabotaged by the enemies of our country. Thery have used such ready idiots as T.May and co. The existing Tory party, starting with Central Office, has to be dumped in the Thames. History, warts and all, has to be reinstated to replace the two Hs(Henry and Hitler) and most importantly, simplistic “history” imported from the US. Tradition must are restored: innocent until proven guilty; treason with punishment worth than death…