Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin writes:
At the Scottish Conservative Conference today, the prime minister has accused the SNP of trying to turn Scotland into a one-party state.
This from the man who has, in recent months, driven forward a Trade Union Bill that could reduce Labour Party funding by up to £8m a year, attempted to slash opposition funding in the form of Short money and banned local councils and student unions from undertaking ethical boycotts.
One of the UK’s leaders is trying to stamp out political dissent, but it’s not Nicola Sturgeon [she is, too].
While many argue that these policy shifts, particularly the Trade Union Bill, are an ideologically-driven attack on the British Left (and that is undoubtedly true to some degree), we’ve learned this week that Cameron and his allies are also attempting to quash local Conservative Associations.
The initial plan, developed by party chairman Andrew Feldman, was to merge 650 local associations into as few as 60 multi-constituency associations.
While push back from the parliamentary party has forced a partial retreat, associations with fewer than 200 members are still facing mergers.
This attack on his own party is the sign of a prime minister who is genuinely terrified of dissent, and obsessed with centralisation.
Cameron and those closest to him are not merely concerned about losing power to their ideological opponents, they don’t want to cede any power to anyone.
And that, ultimately, will be their downfall.
Already, the Tory grassroots are in revolt over Europe, particularly outraged that Cameron has instructed MPs to ignore eurosceptic local associations in the run-up to the referendum.
In the short-term, those consequences would hit Cameron hardest, but George Osborne is likely to suffer more in the long run.
Indeed, the crackdown on local associations may, more than anything, reflect a growing concern among senior Tories that Osborne can’t win a leadership campaign against Boris Johnson given his support for EU membership.
Fear of dissent is Cameron’s tragic flaw. It could end his premiership, and is already shredding his party.