Case Study: Rwanda Bill and Conservative Party Factions

The major political parties in the UK are broad coalitions of groups which reflect differences of opinion on specific polices or deeper ideological differences.

One Nation Conservatism 


Differences and conflict within Conservatism 

Comparison Party Factions USA  Factions are a good example of cultural explanations for comparative differences

This case study is evidence for 

Limitations on the power of PMs 

Party Discipline and Elective Dictatorship 

13th December 2023. Rishi Sunak faced a rebellion over the passage of the Rwanda Bill. Home secretary James Cleverly said he was determined to get the bill through after a meeting with Tory MPs in parliament. But Brexiteers who brought down Theresa May were now causing problem for Prime Minister Sunak – as Mark Francois and his allies in the European Research Group (ERG) raised the stakes by demanding No 10 “pull the bill” now.  In the end the bill passed after frantic negotiations with party factions. The right wing factions were won over temporarily with promises of amendment's to strengthen the bill at a later stage.

At one stage before the vote, five of the groups on the right of the party held a joint meeting in Westminster, describing themselves as the "five families 

With  five separate Tory factions meeting to discuss whether or not to back the government on its revised Rwanda policy, Rishi Sunak found himself fighting for his political reputation.

One Nation caucus

The largest single group within the parliamentary party says more than 100 Conservative MPs are members, almost a third of the total.

The phrase, "one-nation Tory", goes back to 19th-century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, but the caucus was formed only in 2019.

Chaired by former First Secretary of State Damian Green, it says it is "committed to the values of the liberal centre right".

Many of its members represent traditionally Tory "blue wall" seats where the Liberal Democrats are the main challengers. Some were known to be unhappy that Mr Sunak's new Rwanda bill sets aside some of the UK's obligations in international law, but they backed the bill while warning the PM not to toughen it further. Former Solicitor General Lord Garnier, who advised the caucus, had described the bill as political and legal "nonsense", equivalent to ruling "all dogs are cats". Other leading lights include Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat and Caroline Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities committee.

The 'Five Families

European Research Group

Once the most powerful grouping of Tory MPs, the ERG played a key role in blocking Theresa May's Brexit deal and then bringing her down as prime minister, which paved the way for successor Boris Johnson to strike a harder Brexit.

It does not publish information about its membership, but this is currently thought to be in the 30s, significantly down on its Brexit heyday. However, the ERG has often punched above its weight, and numerous leading lights have gone on to bigger things - including Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman. New illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson was deputy chair of the group from 2016-2018.

It has been pressing for a hardline approach on the illegal migration issue and its so-called "star chamber" - a group of lawyers chaired by veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash - concluded the Rwanda legislation did not go far enough.

The ERG - chaired by Mark Francois - said "very significant amendments" were needed.

It is likely to push strongly for these in the new year.

New Conservatives

Formed only in May 2023, the New Conservatives have fast become one of the most vocal factions within the party. Around 30 MPs are members, including deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson, and group co-chairs Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger. Most were elected in 2019, many in marginal, traditionally Labour, "red wall" seats in the north of England and the Midlands. The New Conservatives have called for radical measures to cut migration and pressed the government to deliver deportations to Rwanda by "unpicking" many of the UK's international obligations. Ms Cates and Mr Kruger were among the 29 Tories who refused to back the Rwanda bill in the Commons. On broader policy, the group says the party needs to return its 2019 manifesto by delivering levelling up and reducing taxes, rein back on green measures, and ban "gender ideology" in schools.

Common Sense Group

Launched in 2020 and with around 30 members, the CSG is led by former Home Office minister Sir John Hayes, a close ally of Suella Braverman. Like her, he has been fiercely critical of Mr Sunak's Rwanda approach and, alongside the New Conservatives, the group has been pressing for tougher action on both illegal and legal migration. It has also pushed hard on culture issues, such as Mr Sunak's plans to phase out smoking, other manifestations of what it regards as "the nanny state", and what it described as the National Trust's "woke agenda" on colonialism.

Other leading figures include Lee Anderson, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Jonathan Gullis.

Sir John and Mrs Braverman both abstained on the government's bill.

Northern Research Group

Thought to number more than 50 MPs, the group was formed in 2019 to press for greater investment in "red wall" areas in the north of England, Wales and the Scottish borders. Senior figures include former party chairman and Northern Powerhouse minister Sir Jake Berry, former Brexit Secretary David Davis, and Esther McVey, who returned to the cabinet last month. The NRG regards immigration as an important issue for many of its MPs' voters. Sir Jake was one of those who withheld his support for the Rwanda bill.

Conservative Growth Group

Around 50 MPs are thought to be members of a group set up in the aftermath of Liz Truss's disastrous, short tenure at No 10. Its focus is chiefly economic: it advocates the libertarian policies it believes Ms Truss was prevented from introducing by the unravelling of her mini-budget in September-October 2022.

It says the policies needed to break out of a long period of low growth include slashing business taxes and stamp duty, toughening benefit requirements, relaxing planning, and reintroducing fracking. Prominent figures include former Home Secretary Dame Priti Patel and former Levelling-Up Secretary Sir Simon Clarke. She backed the bill in the Commons; he abstained.