Tory rebels now compare David Cameron to the arrogant bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays. And veteran Bill Cash is just the latest to be...Flashmanned!

After a bad-tempered clash with Ed Miliband at the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the year, David Cameron headed to the members’ dining room of the House of Commons to have lunch. But the Prime Minister, his dander up, soon got into another verbal joust. 

This grand, oak-panelled Pugin-style dining room is a throwback to an earlier parliamentary era. There are Tory and Labour ends of it and, by convention, MPs take the first available seat on their side.

As one friend of Cameron complains: ‘You really can’t choose who you sit with in the members’ dining room.’

So as the Prime Minister prepared to dig into his lamb he found himself at the same table as Bill Cash, the man who had led the Euro-sceptic rebellion against him the night before.

Notorious bully: David Cameron has been accused of acting like Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays

The two men quickly became engaged in debate. Cameron asked Cash if he was still a Conservative, which is rather like the Pope asking the head of Opus Dei if he is still Catholic. Cash replied that he was taking the ‘foremost Conservative position’, that he was the one sticking to the Conservative manifesto. 

The exchange ended as Cash, who had finished his lunch, was leaving the table. But word of it has spread among Tory MPs who have, in the worried words of one figure in No 10, ‘come back from their holidays in a particularly fractious mood’. 

Tory malcontents grumble that Cameron was trying to ‘Flashman’ Cash. The verb ‘to Flashman’ is fast becoming a new part of the Tory vocabulary.

It means to bully in an aggressive and patronising manner and is a reference to the villain of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a novel about life in a Victorian boarding school.

Dinner: David Cameron asked Bill Cash MP if he was still a Conservative

They also complain that Cameron’s comments show that, like a modern-day Louis XIV, he thinks he IS the Conservative Party; that loyalty to him is his definition of Conservatism. 

It was not a happy first week of term for the Tories. The whips turned in a particularly nasty performance as they tried to prevent the rebellion over Europe growing.

The Prime Minister even got into the act, shoving a few potential rebels back into line in a rather heavy-handed manner. Tory MPs are also suspicious that Cameron might go back on his promise to sort out the expenses system. 

Then there was the fallout from the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election where the Tory vote slumped after a half-hearted campaign designed to help the Lib

Salt was poured into the wound when the Tory Party chairman, the unelected Baroness Warsi, launched a bizarre attack on its Right wing, telling the Today programme that they had no right to complain as they were too lazy to go north and campaign.

The result is MPs who feel angry and keen to lash out. There’s talk of putting down a backbench motion before the end of the month to try to block the Government’s attempt to give prisoners serving up to four years in jail the vote. 

No 10 is aware of the mood and is about to embark on a charm offensive. Tomorrow and Tuesday night there will be drinks parties at Downing Street for a group of Tory backbenchers and their spouses. 

Cameron will tell them that the Conservative Party has a home in Downing Street, stressing that his recently expanded political team is working for an outright Tory victory next time.

The event is to be followed by parties for Tory councillors and other MPs. There’s also talk of a reshuffle of the whip’s office. One Cameron ally tells me that ‘we need to clear the dross out’ and move in some higher-calibre people. 

Cameron would be well advised to turn his undoubted charm on his backbench colleagues. However difficult they might be at times, he can’t afford to alienate them.
The Coalition has a long, hard slog ahead of it and he’ll need their loyalty if he is to get through it.

The ambassador who loves saying No to foreigners

Being Britain’s ambassador to the European Union requires you to have a thick skin. To be effective, you often have to be prepared to stand apart: to be one against 26.

So it is encouraging that David Cameron is about to make the tough- as-teak Jon Cunliffe Britain’s new ambassador to the EU.

Intriguingly, Cameron is appointing someone who has never worked in the Foreign Office.

Cunliffe is not your typical Sir Humphrey. He didn’t go to Oxbridge and took his economics degree at night-school. Even more unusually, he enjoys saying No to foreigners.

Gordon Brown used to say: ‘I don’t know anyone who says No to foreigners as robustly or as regularly as Jon.’

Cunliffe was also one of the Treasury officials who most vigorously opposed Tony Blair’s efforts to take Britain into the Euro. ‘He was on the intellectual frontline of that battle’, says one former colleague.

Cunliffe, who currently works for Cameron in No 10, has prospered under the new regime despite having been incredibly close to Brown.

He worked with him and Ed Balls on Bank of England independence and then became one of the Treasury’s permanent secretaries. When Brown went to No 10, he took Cunliffe with him to advise him on European policy.


For all the blood and thunder of Prime Minister’s Questions, politics is all rather cosy at the moment, with a slew of social connections between the key players.
A fortnight ago I reported how David Cameron’s strategy guru Steve Hilton wanted to invite Ed Miliband’s new spin supremo Tom Baldwin to spend New Year with him – until the PM intervened. 

Now, I learn that Ed Miliband himself spent New Year with Steve Hilton’s good friend, the newspaper columnist Jenni Russell. In the country, Russell and Hilton live about 45 minutes apart and their families are frequent visitors to each other’s houses.


Press officers don’t normally like surprises but David Cameron’s fixer Henry Macrory got a pleasant one on Thursday when the PM threw him a surprise engagement party in Downing Street’s white room. Macrory turned up to find his fiancee and colleagues there ready to toast the good news. 

It is one of the perks of working in No 10 that office parties take place in a room that has Turner paintings on the wall, a Waterford glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling and priceless antique sofas. But one of the downsides is that there is an informal champagne ban, meaning that there were no bubbles to celebrate with. Instead guests were offered red or white wine. 

Among the guests were the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. But the spirit of the party was provided by Cameron’s children, Nancy and Arthur, who spent it climbing over and jumping up and down on the immaculately upholstered, gold-trimmed, French-style sofas.

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