Monday, May 1, 2017

The Conservative Party has a Problem!

The following article was published on the Conservativehome web site on 1st May 2017

 Conservatives must not let the polls lull them into complacency

John Strafford

In recent days the following stories have all appeared in the press: that the Conservatives have hit 50 per cent in the polls; predictions of a 200-seat majority for Theresa May; that the Tories may be the largest party in Wales and take up to 12 seats off the SNP; and that UKIP is a busted flush.
Given that, it’s not hard to see why Party strategists might be tempted to get complacent. But it would be very foolish to do so – for beneath the good headlines the Conservatives face serious challenges – not least of which is that, due to the Boundaries Commission proposals not yet being in law, the Conservative Party starts this campaign with a 20 seat disadvantage.
As for the polls, as the campaign develops our buoyant scores will drift downwards from time to time – and seem to have done so in recent days – with increases in Labour’s share of the vote allowing the Opposition to claim that they have got momentum. At some point the Conservative Party will have some bad news, most likely when the decision is announced about whether there will be prosecutions regarding election expenses, regardless of what the decision is.
The Labour Party also has a financial war chest greater than the maximum amount it will be allowed to spend, due to a vast increase in membership subscriptions, so in this general election it is unlikely to be outspent by the Conservatives, unlike in the last election.
Membership could be a serious handicap. Just consider the numbers for the main parties contesting this election:
·         Labour: 520,000
·         Liberal Democrats: 100,000
·         Scottish Nationalists: 120,000
·         Conservatives: 150,000?
With activists of about 10 per cent of membership, Labour is the only Party capable of mounting a ground campaign across the nation. But our other two opponents don’t have to: the Liberal Democrats will concentrate their forces on the seats they lost in the last election, and the Scottish Nationalists only fight the 59 seats in Scotland.
The Conservative Party does not have sufficient members to fight a ground campaign across the United Kingdom. To compete at the same level as the Scottish Nationalists do in Scotland, but on a national basis, the Conservatives would need a million members.
So how do the Conservative overcome this discrepancy? In the last General Election they targeted the 40 most marginal seats held by the opposition (mainly Liberal Democrat seats) and supported the 40 most vulnerable seats held by the Conservatives. The problem in this election is that not only do we have multi-party politics but tactical voting alliances intervening in the constituencies.
I do not need to remind you that in addition to the parties already mentioned we have UKIP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, plus the Democratic Unionists and sundry other parties in Northern Ireland, whilst organisations such as Gina Miller’s Anti-Brexit group ‘Best for Britain’ and Open Britain will also be intervening.
Given this confused picture, what and where are the marginal seats? Some “guess work” will be required to decide where to put our resources – but it is “guess work” and it could go horribly wrong.
The chickens are coming home to roost for the Conservative Party. For too long the membership has been neglected, and to prevent such a situation like this happening again radical action will need to be taken after the general election. More effort will be required in the use of social media and modern electioneering technology, but that can only do so much at the crunch to get out the vote on election day.
I have been a member of the Conservative Party for over fifty years, and I do not recall during that time a more important general election than this. The only Party with the ability and the power to take to take us through the Brexit negotiations is the Conservative Party and we have been fortunate at this critical time to have in Theresa May, as our Prime Minister, someone capable of doing it.
This election is about taking back our sovereignty, regaining the ability for our Parliament to decide our laws and thus the right of the British people to elect – and eject – those who rule over them. It’s about bringing the interpretation of those laws back to our own judiciary, schooled in the British legal tradition, and restoring our ability to conclude treaties and trade with the world.
Compared to the usual election fare these are existential questions, and the Conservative Party cannot and must not lose this election by default.  Every member must stretch themselves to the maximum to overcome the obstacles in our way.
But before that can happen we need to recognise that these obstacles exist, and high poll numbers alone won’t lift us over them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

From the Grass Roots

(The following article is written by a member of COPOV but does not necessarily reflect the views of COPOV’S Management Committee nor its members)


In a week or so I shall celebrate my 70th birthday but not for me a joyous occasion but simply a time to reflect on the past and in particular life as it was in my formative years during the late nineteen fifties and the decade of the nineteen sixties. The views, attitudes and opinions I held then have remained with me to this day. But the United Kingdom I knew then has changed beyond all recognition and in my view, biased as it is, not always for the better. In 1968 the Shadow Defence Secretary in an emotive speech for which got sacked from the Shadow Cabinet spoke in lurid language about the dangers of mass immigration and membership of a European super state. Yet I would be branded a fascist and racist were I to say in public that what he predicted has in fact come about. For this I blame the hard left whose intolerance of anybody’s view other than its own is shown in demonstrations, shouting, bullying and flag waving in many of our cities. How ironic it is that the German fascism of the nineteen twenties, thirties and early and mid forties contained the word ‘socialism’. Some years ago an eminent person (I forget who it was) gleefully stated: ‘We are now living in a post Christian era’.  At the time I was astonished at what he (or she) said but, judging by the events of the last fifteen or so years, I am beginning to think that person was right. Certainly Christian teaching in our schools has become marginalised. Understandable, I suppose, in a country that seemingly now believes multiculturalism is the norm. A country where the Heir to the throne wants to be regarded as the defender of faiths not The Faith i.e. Christianity and who, disregarding the tenets of the Church of which he will supposedly become Head, seems intent on making his divorced wife Queen. And this may well eventually happen because as the writer understands it the wife of the King automatically becomes Queen. Most intelligent people realise that this Princess Consort nonsense is exactly that: Nonsense. It has no constitutional significance at all.
The writer it has to be admitted is very pessimistic about the future of the United Kingdom. The seeds of disunity were sown nearly twenty years ago by the Blair government’s devolution programme. But then the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Conceived at a time when the Labour Party was riding high in Scotland with over fifty Westminster Members of Parliament it made the false assumption that setting up a Scottish Parliament would settle matters once and for all and that things could go on as normal with Labour relying on its Scottish fiefdom to deliver Labour governments at Westminster. But look at what has happened. At the 2015 General Election Labour was reduced to one (yes ONE) Westminster seat. In Holyrood the S N P reigns supreme with Nicola Sturgeon threatening to take Scotland out of the UK as a result of Brexit and making demands for a second referendum on the future of the union. Nationalism in Wales is not quite as strong a force as in Scotland and is most prevalent in the rural Welsh speaking parts of West and North Wales. There has been some success in the old mining valleys of South Wales but these have been few and far between and seats particularly at local elections switch between Labour and Plaid Cymru depending on whether you want British or Welsh socialism. At the last Assembly elections in 2016 Labour continues in government with 29 out of 60 seats and relies for its majority on keeping the sole Liberal Democrat member sweet. Proportional representation has meant that Labour continues to govern Wales indefinitely with about 38% of the vote. In the mining valleys many former Labour voters supported UKIP, the party thanks to the proportional system now having seven seats. Its leader would you believe is the disgraced former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton. The Conservatives will never win in Wales and although we can poll between 25% and 30% nationally this will never be enough as the three left wing parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru) will always combine to ensure this is so.
The writer’s pessimism is reinforced by what has happened in the recent elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Finn are now within one seat of the Democratic Unionist Party. So it is now only a matter of time before the Republicans/Nationalists obtain a majority. When this happens Westminster will be forced to concede a referendum on the future of the province and cessation will inevitably follow because as all Westminster governments have said in the past: Attachment to the United Kingdom is retained only as long as a majority wish it.
The writer has lived for forty two years under Conservative governments at Westminster and for 28 under Labour governments. Born at a time of rationing and the setting up of the welfare state under the post war Labour government (and in 1948 the establishment of the National Health Service) the writer contends that the social democratic model established then still remains largely intact today and that Conservative governments have in the main been willing participants. We spend billions and billions of taxpayer’s money on public services (and remember the government only has the money it raises from its citizens) and still it is not enough. The National Health Service, the Prisons, the Police, The Education Establishment, etc. all claim they are underfunded. From what the writer has seen there seems to be very little accountability for what is actually spent. And successive governments fail to tell the truth namely that for many understandable reasons only a certain percentage of the population pays tax to fund these public services and of those who do pay many feel they are paying too much or are not getting value for what they do pay. Labour’s solution is as it has always been: Pour a lot more money in and tax the rich. With a leader and shadow Chancellor who worship at the shrine of Marx how else could it be so?  The writer contends that if the Health Service is failing (and admittedly he has not had to wait eight hours on a hospital trolley until a bed is found and has not seen these failings first hand) it is because of costly unnecessary administrative reorganisations over the last seventy years and an inability to consider finance from any source other than out of general taxation. If other European countries have a better health record than ours it is because in most cases patients have some kind of insurance cover in addition.
Last year’s referendum on our future in the E U was bound to be divisive and with the result so close it is not surprising that the losers are pressing for a second referendum once the final terms have been agreed. The writer was on the losing side but having had time to reflect thinks it was probably the right decision. That said the writer has never been a fan of referendums as they only seem to reinforce entrenched positions.  Some fanatics were adopting the absurd position that because of all the English regions London was the only one to have voted ‘stay in’ the capital city could unilaterally declare its independence from the rest of the country. On the Conservative side the writer finds it astonishing that remainers like Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine and John Major cannot seem to appreciate the concerns of those who wanted to leave and why : the eventual aim of total political and monetary union, the complete lack of accountability by the European Commission, the ‘fudging’ of entry terms for the poorer countries, the fact that European Law over rules British Law, the free movement of labour (which in effect means peoples) between countries whether desirable or otherwise, mass immigration and the continual and seemingly nonsensical directives from Brussels. ‘Why’ the writer wonders ‘should there be a United States of Europe?’ There is not a United States of Asia, a United States of Africa, a United States of South America. Even the United States of America is a Confederation of States with each individual state setting its own laws on things like sales taxes, voting rights and capital punishment. And while Donald Trump lost the popular vote in the recent U S A Presidential election he carried more states that Hillary Clinton and thus won in the Electoral College. And incidentally even though the population of the USA has probably increased by nearly 100 million in the last fifty years there are still only 435 Representatives in the House (unchanged for over fifty years) and two Senators for each state irrespective of population.
The writer began this article by regretting the demise of Christianity in this country and the clear moral principles as set out in the Bible. Islam with its teachings from the Koran is now the major religion in many of our English cities, both large and small. Many in this country are fearful for the future because Islam, as practised by the Jahid, is certainly not a peaceful religion. Yet there are many good, kind Moslems and the writer has witnessed this first hand. Forty five years ago when he was training as an accountant he had two young men of the Moslem faith working with him and you could not meet two nicer people. Terrorism, from whatever source, is a real threat in Europe and for the United Kingdom to have foiled thirteen possible such attacks in recent years is both alarming and disturbing.
The writer is concluding this article on Easter Sunday, the day which has for centuries and still  is today a day of joy for all Christians who continue to believe in the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ and the hope that one day He will come again in glory. Yet the world He supposedly came to save continues to be in turmoil. The Editorial in today’s Sunday Telegraph concluding with the words ‘We wish our readers and their families a very happy Easter’ seems far removed from reality when the front page headline reads :’Fears Kim has missile that could hit America’ and on page 12 ‘Scores of Syrian evacuees blown up in their buses by suicide van driver’.  Nearer to home there are still people in authority who are in denial about the EU referendum result last June and who will do their best either to derail the process or to ensure that any deal the Prime Minister might negotiate would be totally unacceptable so as to maintain the status quo. The writer just remembers the United Kingdom’s original application to join the EEC or Common Market as it was then called in 1961 to 1963. For Harold Macmillan Prime Minister at the time it was the last throw of the dice; Britain had been humiliated by the Suez fiasco and the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) never got off the ground. At the time the Labour Party was totalled opposed (although the 1966-1970 Labour government did reapply) as were some thirty Conservative MP s with another fifty to seventy having serious doubts. When the French President General Charles de Gaulle vetoed the original application in 1963 he was not convinced that the United Kingdom with its past ties to Empire and its historical links with the USA  would be suitable member. Looking back fifty or so years later the conclusion must surely be that the President was probably right.
The writer accepts that ever since the ending of the Second World War in 1945 the world has not been a happy place but we seemed to know which side we were on: The U S A with its NATO allies against the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies with most of the other countries classing themselves as ‘nonaligned’.  These days it seems things are much more fluid and moving in different directions.
We were guided by our parents and teachers, our parents giving us the stable family unit which is lacking in so many cases today. Our moral principles were based on biblical teaching. Society is more secular a situation which many on the left actively encourage. Many pride themselves on being atheists or agnostics.  The writer truly believes that the western Judeo Christian civilisation which has underpinned our society over the last two thousand years is in grave danger of collapse and eventual extinction so yes for him

                             The past was another country.  We did do things differently there.

1st April 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

Essential reading for all Conservatives

The following article was published on the Conservativehome web site on 16th April 2017 :

Message for all Conservative Party members
By John Strafford
Did you know that at a meeting of the National Convention to be held on 1st July changes will be made to the Constitution of the Conservative Party?
Of course as an ordinary party member you will not have a vote on these changes.   Isn’t it time that you did have a vote?
Isn’t it time that the Conservative Party came into the 21st century and embraced democracy so that ordinary members have a say in the running of the party organisation instead of it just being left in the hands of the National Convention and Tory members of parliament?
At a meeting of the National Convention held on 18th March it was announced that changes to the party constitution would be proposed. These changes are necessary to extend the date when a Constituency Association has to have held its Annual General Meeting.   It is to be altered to 30th June.  Also the maximum term of office for Constituency officers is to be changed to five years.
As far as we are aware no Agenda was sent out for the meeting on the 18th March. Attendance was less than 100 out of the approximately 800 people entitled to attend and during the meeting a motion was put to have a minimum membership fee of £25.00 which was passed overwhelmingly.   This is no way to run an organisation.   The National Convention, which was set up to be the voice of the voluntary party but which has become a rubber stamp for the party hierarchy, is no longer fit for purpose and should be abolished.
The quality of our party organisation has deteriorated – the decline in membership is having a serious impact.
Conservative Party membership throughout the United Kingdom was estimated at 3.1 million in 1951, falling to 1.5 million by 1975 at the time of the Houghton Report into the financing of political parties. It continued to fall and went down to between 350,000 and 450,000 by 1996, according to estimates compiled by Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a leading authority on Party organisation and finance. After the 1998 reorganisation of the Party, membership picked up a little, but by nowhere near as much as the Tories hoped. The total had fallen to 320,000 by 2003. When David Cameron became Leader in 2005 membership was 258,239. By the time of the 2015 General Election membership had fallen to 134,000.   290 Constituency Associations had fewer than 100 members. Only two Associations had over 1,000 members and just 50 had more than 500 members.

In 1959 there were 500 Conservative Party Agents. By 1994 this had fallen to 200. Today there are fewer than 40. At a time when modern technologies such as computers have necessitated a more professional organisation, the need for Party Agents is greater than ever. This loss has been hard for the Conservative Party to bear. Agents take care of legal requirements, but more importantly they are motivators and organisers. At election time their loss could be disastrous.   
Party organisation in many weaker constituencies is nonexistent. Some have effectively no Party organisation. Without radical change the Conservative Party as a Party of mass membership will cease to exist.   
To turn round this decline will take time but first of all we have to change the constitution.    The age of deference is dead.   Today people want to participate and that means voting either on decisions taken or voting for the people who take those decisions.   The Constitution of the Party should be changed as follows:
·          The Constitution of the Conservative Party to be capable of being amended or changed by the members of the Party at a General Meeting of the Party on the basis of one member, one vote provided that the amendment or change is approved by 66% of those members voting and not less than 50% of those present.
·         There should be an Annual General Meeting of the Party to which all members are invited.
·         The officers of the Party (Chairman, Treasurer, Chairman of the Candidates Committee, Chairman of the Policy Forum) to be elected by the members of the Party at the Annual General Meeting and shall serve for no more than five years.
·         Annual reports by the officers shall be presented to the Annual General Meeting for adoption by the meeting.

I hope that every member of the National Convention and every Conservative MP will support these changes.   Let me know if you do.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Election Expenses - "Another Fine Mess"

John Strafford explains why the Conservative Party has got itself into problems over election expenses on Channel Four News 16th March 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017


Do come to the COPOV Forum on 1st April in Gerrards Cross.   Should be a lively discussion.   For further details see events

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Party Review - the unanswered questions!

Article on 28th December 2016
The Party Review
Rob Semple,  Chairman of the National Conservative Convention
We can all agree that this has been a truly momentous year in politics. As we move into 2017, the Conservative Party has strong leadership and a clear sense of purpose. Whilst we look to the future, the Labour Party is — in contrast — divided, distracted, and out of touch.
The National Conservative Convention (NCC) met at the Conservative Party conference in October, and voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Party Review recommendations. For those not familiar with the NCC, it is the representative body of the Party’s membership. We should not be surprised by this support, as the recommendations were a direct product of 18 months of consultation and refinement, in which Party members participated in their thousands. This shows what can be achieved by listening to, and engaging with the members to ensure that it is they who drive change in the Party.
The decision to move towards central administration of membership is key to progress. It moves us in line with virtually all other UK-wide institutions, and will allow us the opportunity to deliver a better membership experience, with far greater emphasis placed on interaction between those who lead our Party and the members. It will also enable the Party to run far more effective national recruitment campaigns, whilst ensuring that members remain part of their local Associations.
By gaining approval for extending Association officer terms from three years to five years, and moving Association AGM dates from March to July, the Party is adapting to the new electoral cycle created by fixed-term parliaments.
We are already in the process of agreeing to the first Multiple Constituency Association trials. This voluntary initiative is, in addition to its many other benefits, one way we can look to adapt to constituency boundaries changing more frequently in light of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. The Government’s commitment to introducing fairer constituencies of equal electorate size is surely a principle that all Conservatives will support.
Revisions to the rules on the selection of local government candidates will be discussed by the Candidates Committee in January, as requested by the Convention, thus progressing a further important item in the Review.
The planned recruitment of apprentice campaign managers gives a clear indication that our focus will be on campaigning in the run up to 2020. By starting this initiative now, it allows us time to develop the necessary infrastructure across the country.
Finally, I know that the introduction of candidate bursaries, championed by the Party Chairman, has already been discussed. Our aim is to have the scheme in place for candidates standing in 2020. This shows our determination to make it easier for people from all walks of life to stand as a Conservative candidate.
At their core, these proposals will allow the Party to adapt to a changed political landscape. When it comes to fighting elections, our aim must always be to be as good as we can be.
Finally, may I use this opportunity to wish all ConservativeHome readers a very happy Christmas and New Year.

1)      “The National Conservative Convention (NCC) met at the Conservative Party conference in October, and voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Party Review recommendations”  -  No figures were given, only percentages so we do not know whether the vote was overwhelming of those eligible to vote.   Important when it comes to change the Party Constitution.

2)      The decision to move towards central administration of membership is key to progress”. – Nothing can happen on this until the membership details are sorted out.   There are clear differences between the details held in the constituencies and those held in CCHQ.   That is why there has to be a pilot scheme.   No information has been given on how far the pilot scheme has progressed.

3)      “By gaining approval for extending Association officer terms from three years to five years, and moving Association AGM dates from March to July, the Party is adapting to the new electoral cycle created by fixed-term parliaments”.  These changes will require alterations to the Party’s Constitution.   No date has been given for when these will be put to the Constitutional college in order to change the Constitution.
4)      “We are already in the process of agreeing to the first Multiple Constituency Association trials”.   Until the Boundaries Commission reports in 2018 no one will know exactly what the constituencies will be making up a grouping.   The Multiple Constituency Association must be ratified by a vote of the Party members in the constituencies comprising the proposed MCA

5)      “Revisions to the rules on the selection of local government candidates will be discussed by the Candidates Committee in January.”  - We have only had 18 months to sort this out!

6)      “The planned recruitment of apprentice campaign managers gives a clear indication that our focus will be on campaigning in the run up to 2020 ” – So how many have been recruited so far?

7)      Finally, I know that the introduction of candidate bursaries, championed by the Party Chairman, has already been discussed.” – So how many have been given so far?

So what has been achieved and implemented so far?   Err nothing!   Most of these changes are administrative adjustments and are sensible.   However the glaring problem of declining membership is not addressed and this will give the Party a major disadvantage in campaigning if not addressed before the next General Election.

Basically, the National Convention is no longer fit for purpose and the sooner it is abolished the better.   It is time we had an Annual General Meeting to which every member is invited and to which Officers are accountable to the membership.   Until this happens progress towards creating a Party fit for the 21st century will progress at a snail’s pace.

Friday, December 16, 2016

How bad can they get?

Yesterday I received a registration form for the Spring Forum.   That is the good news! At least there will be a Spring Forum next year.   Unfortunately the only information given is that it will be held on Friday 17th March and Saturday 18th March  in Cardiff and the Agenda for it will be sent out on Thursday 16th March. So the following questions remain unanswered:
1) What time does it start on the Friday? Do we need to stay overnight in Cardiff for an early start on the Friday?
2) What time does it finish on the Saturday?
3) Will the National Convention be meeting and if so at what time?

Simple basic questions which any event organiser knows are essential when advertising an event.   This is even more important this time because the Freedom Association are holding their conference the same weekend and many Conservatives will have already booked up to go to that.

It really is time for Conservative Central Office to get their act together - not a good start for the new Party Chairman Patrick McLoughlin.   Incidentally where are we on the Party Review?   After vast expense it appears to have turned into a damp squib.   We will shortly let you know what we think the position is if we don't hear from CCHQ in the mean time.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mulled Wine and Mince Pies Forum

Join us for our end of year Forum. Debate and discuss Brexit, Autumn Statement, President Elect Donald Trump and much more.
Get your free political books.
We look forward to seeing you and bring a guest.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Judges should keep their nose out of the Parliamentary trough!

This article appeared on "The Daily Telegraph" web site 7th November 2016:

If Conservative MPs try to delay Article 50 they could be decapitated by their local parties!

It is the role of judges to uphold the law, so when the High Court issued instructions to Parliament what it must do about triggering Article 50 which law had been broken? If no law had been broken then the judges were interfering in the processes of Parliament – a clear breach of the separation of powers and why so many people are angry with the judges.   The case for the judges is that they were insisting on the sovereignty of Parliament, but it is for Parliament to determine its own sovereignty which it is perfectly capable of doing.
At any time the opposition parties in Parliament can put down a motion to amend, or delay the triggering of Article 50 subject to certain conditions.   Why have they not done so?   The reason is very simple – the potential consequences could be horrendous.   Just for one moment consider what would happen if the opposition tabled a motion to impose conditions on the triggering of Article 50 and it was actually passed - the Government would have no choice but to put down a motion of confidence and if that motion was lost the Queen would have to see if anyone could form a Government and if not there would have to be a General Election as Westminster is now murmuring.  
Such a General Election would be fought on the grounds of Parliament versus The People with the Conservative Party standing up for the rights of the people to have their democratic decision in the referendum of June 23rd implemented.   You do not need a psephologist to know which side the people would take.   The Liberal Democrats would be wiped out; the Labour Party would revert to a position not seen since 1931. UKIP would gain many seats in the North of England and the Tories would measure their majority in the hundreds.
So Parliament is sovereign.   The problem is not Parliamentary sovereignty but the fear that if it is exercised the consequences might be horrific for those that wish to exercise it.   The position is clear for the opposition parties but what about those in the Conservative Party who wish to delay or even oppose “Brexit”.   Might they be as so many Labour party members have threatened their own MPs deselected?
The feeling of many grass roots Conservatives is one of increasing anger at those who wish to frustrate the decision to leave the EU and at the same time stronger support for the Prime Minister for the stance she has taken.
Any Conservative MP who wishes to stand again for Parliament has to make a written application to his Constituency Executive Council.   The Executive Council will vote by secret ballot on whether they wish to re-adopt the MP.   The vast majority of Conservative Associations were pro-leave so any MP wishing to delay or oppose “Brexit” is likely to find opposition within their constituency and might not get a majority of their Executive Council to support them.   In this situation the MP can request a postal ballot of all the members of their Association or alternatively the MP can have their name added to the final list of candidates to be considered at a General Meeting of their Association.   Either way they would be vulnerable to defeat.
Traditionally Conservative Central Office has tended to give support to a sitting MP, but not always as Howard Flight discovered when he was ousted as an MP because of the threats CCHQ made to his Association. Central Office has extensive powers to pressurise an Association in its choice of candidates, in extreme cases threatening to put the Association into “support status” and imposing their own officers on to the Association, but perhaps in the case of an MP opposing Party policy they might not be so ready to come to their assistance.

The end result of all this is that our politics would change beyond recognition and if such change were to happen woe betide a House of Lords that tried to prevent “Brexit”   It would fall like a House of Cards when pushed by a House of Commons invigorated by MPs who had just fought a General Election on the side of the people and democracy.   The final lesson is that judges should keep their noses out of the parliamentary trough. That’s democracy!

Monday, October 31, 2016

We need an election to choose our Party Chairman

The following article was published on the conservativehome web site on October 30th. We should support this proposal 100%. I would only add a minor correction - Neville Chamberlain was Party Chairman in 1930-31 before becoming Party Leader.

Patrick Sullivan: Why we need an election…to choose our Party Chairman
Patrick Sullivan is the CEO of the Parliament Street think tank, and was Research Director for a US Congressional campaign in 2012. @parlstreet
The Conservative Party still needs to have an internal election – just not the one it was expecting a few months ago.
This July, Theresa May became the first leader of the Conservative Party to have also been its chairman. As such, she has better insight into the workings of the party than any of its previous leaders – and greater appreciation of the role of its grassroots.
It is of no surprise, therefore, that May wanted an open leadership election, where the membership had its say. This sentiment, however, fell as a happy victim to her popularity with her parliamentary colleagues; it is rare for any party leader to have such a mandate from their peers. That confidence has been vindicated by the ease, grace, and tactical guile that May has brought to the premiership.
In stepping down as a leadership candidate, Andrea Leadsom acted in a noble fashion, and put her country first. She was, of course, correct in her reasoning for dropping out of the race: in a situation where over 60 per cent of the parliamentary party had expressed their preference for the leadership of Theresa May, it would have been near impossible for anybody but May to govern effectively.
Looking at the chaos the opposition is in over its leadership, we can see what levels of uncertainty and harm would have been caused if this had happened to the party of government. But the drawback in all this is that ordinary party members have been deprived of their say in directly influencing the party’s future direction. However, this need not necessarily be so. The unique circumstances we find ourselves in might make a leadership election impolitic, but there does remain a way for our new leader to give us an election.
During his recent leadership campaign, Liam Fox was bold enough to raise a radical idea, which has been gaining traction amongst many grassroots activists for some time now: a directly elected Party Chairman. This is a good idea for many reasons, and one that could solve several problems.
It is an inescapable fact that, in the years following David Cameron’s accession to the leadership, party membership fell from over 253,600 in 2005, to approximately 150,000 today. That is a precipitous drop in membership, and is not surprising, considering the lack of appreciation felt by rank and file members.
Since Theresa May has become Prime Minister, our membership has started to rise again. But we do not want this to be a flash in the pan. We need to find a way to empower those new or returning members, as well as rewarding our older members.
It has been a whole decade since party members were last directly consulted on the direction the party should take, when David Cameron asked party members to vote on his ‘Built to Last’ document. This is not to denigrate the hard work of organisations such as the Conservative Policy Forum, or the more recent party review – but as the numbers quite clearly show, those things are not enough. An active and enthusiastic membership is a boon for any party leader, but to achieve that, you have to engage that membership first.
As a past member of the National Conservative Convention, and a long-standing party activist, I am more than aware of the distance many associations and activists can feel from Conservative Central Office: they feel as though they are perceived as leafleting fodder during election time, and little else. This is especially true amongst younger members, and recent history has seemed to justify that perception. It is also common for a large number of associations to have an antagonistic view of Central Office, which they feel is there to impose things upon them, with little or no knowledge of the situation on the ground.
The current National Convention and Party Board structure has served the party well, but it still creates too much separation between the party membership and its machinery. An elected Party Chairman would give members a direct say in how the party is run, and give them someone who is accountable to them. Seasoned activists and local councillors should also be able to stand for this position, as well as MPs and peers – allowing activists the widest possible choice.
I understand that such a move on the part of any leader has its risks: that leader would, of course, be giving up a certain amount of control, and might sometimes end up with a Chairman not of their choosing. Those risks are, however, more than countered by the positives that a motivated activist base would bring – one feeling it enjoyed its leader’s faith and respect.
An elected Party Chairman would also help to increase the party’s distinct institutional identity and thinking, providing more continuity between different leaderships. Thus, it would also help to foster a more long-term approach towards cultivating the Conservative vote in the cities, the North, and so on.
The objective of moving towards an elected Party Chairman should be announced as soon as possible. As to the practicalities of bringing about such a change, it would need some careful implementation and embedding. I can think of no one who could better shepherd this future than the new Party Chairman, Patrick McLoughlin. From his earliest political outings challenging the far left in the National Union of Mineworkers, he has shown himself to be unafraid of entrenched interests. He came up through the grassroots and, at least to my anecdotal knowledge, his appointment was greeted with much cheer by party activists, who felt he could be their voice.

In her remarks after having become party leader, Theresa May spoke about giving people more control over their lives. Surely, it would be a great start if she began by giving members a greater say over their party, through the opportunity to elect our Party Chairman.