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.

Friday, October 28, 2016

CCHQ - Will they ever learn?

The following article appeared on the conservativehome web site on 26th October 2016. It is an appalling story.   The Chairman of the Candidates Committee should be elected by the members of the Party at an Annual General Meeting of the Party to which all members are invited.   At that AGM the Chairman should present an Annual Report followed by questions on the report. Transparency would ensure that decisions like the one illustrated do not happen again.

Alex Story: I’m a dedicated Conservative but CCHQ has allowed an administrative cock-up to end my career
Of all the many ways a political career can become unstuck, “monumental administrative cock-up” was not the one I expected.
Following Lord Kirkhope’s elevation to the House of Lords, I was invited by the returning officer to take up his place as MEP. We gained nearly a quarter of a million votes in the 2014 European election, and naturally I accepted. What has happened since would be farcical were it not so dispiriting.
Through rumours and backchannels for the past few weeks I have been told, off the record, that elements within the party were not disposed to support me. The reason given: I am no longer on the candidates’ list for forthcoming elections, having been removed after a perceived poor performance at last year’s general election. Quite why this is relevant to an election two years ago has never been explained. Moreover, I believed I had worked rather effectively in 2015, stepping into a constituency at the last minute.
I asked the chairman to see my candidate performance report. Here is a flavour:
“He is a larger than life character and became hugely popular with members and other supporters. He seized a lacklustre campaign and brought it to live almost single handedly… He worked enormously hard in the run up to the election and the result was no reflection on him … We were particularly impressed that he raised enough donations himself in just a few weeks to pay for the entire campaign. And he still found time to support a sitting Conservative MP in Pudsey who was defending a very marginal seat.”
As well as the verbal report, the feedback consists of marks from one to five rating the candidate’s performance. I was pleased to see that I had scored fours and fives. “Overall mark is 4 purely on basis of the lack of time we had to make a proper judgement of his abilities. It was a 5 for effort and energy.”
If you think this is dubious grounds for removal from the list, you won’t when I tell you that the small-print explains that a score of 1 is excellent, and 5 is poor. The way my scores were allocated was a mistake, and one for which I bear the person who filled the form in no malice. We all make mistakes: the mark of our character is determined by what we do about them.
At this point my story goes from muddle to travesty. Obviously I have brought this to the attention of CCHQ, but they have proved remarkably intransigent. Not once have they commented back to me; I have once again had to rely on a friend-of-a-friend to transmit the news that they are not minded to change my ranking. CCHQ have now reasoned that while an error may have been made on this form I did not apply myself more fully to campaigning in neighbouring Pudsey, too; “but you didn’t hear that from me” is the way most of these conversations end.
I think perhaps CCHQ do not know that only a month prior to the campaign my daughter was born. My eldest son is disabled and needs continual care; the necessities of a very young family meant I could not be everywhere at once.
And so the drip, drip of back-channel rumours has continued. It is hard to explain how much pressure can be brought to bear by a party machinery unwilling to admit to a simple mistake, and determined to stick its course whatever the reason. It’s easy to forget that those around you are caught up in it, too. Two weeks ago my wife, out of the blue, had a heart attack. She was wonderfully cared for by the doctors in London where she was operated on, and she’s now recuperating at home. Naturally, I have been at her side rather than lobbying my case.
Yesterday, finally, my first official communication with the party. A curt letter from the nominating officer (who must certify my position as MEP) – he has checked the list and could not provide a certificate because I was no longer on it.
Where did I go wrong? Should I have pursued an internship years ago, I wonder, instead of competing for Great Britain at the Olympic Games? Perhaps I should have spent more time in Westminster – instead I chose the less fashionable route of pounding the streets of Yorkshire for three general elections. Is Cambridge University so out of fashion? Should I have solicited more support from the Party Board when, instead, I assumed the overwhelming support of the Yorkshire party and electorate who chose me was what counted?
My unwavering commitment to the Conservative cause comes, at its heart, from a belief in basic decency, in fairness, in justice, and in an equal chance for all.
It is a faith that is being sorely tested.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative Party

Read the following article in The Irish News:
15 October, 2016
14 October, 2016 01:00

THERE is growing disquiet among Tory activists in Northern Ireland over the party's increasingly cosy relationship with the DUP.
The concerns of rank and file NI Conservative members are to be raised formally at a forthcoming board meeting at Conservative Party HQ in London.
One NI Conservative councillor has said he acknowledges the need for additional support at Westminster but is unhappy with the emerging informal coalition between the Tories and DUP.
Causeway Coast and Glens councillor David Harding said: "I fully understand the pragmatic political realities but I'm genuinely concerned that the nature of the DUP's political aspirations, and its views on social issues in particular, are not fully understood within Conservative Party headquarters."
A significant number of activists are said to have voiced misgivings about last week's DUP 'champagne reception' at the Tory conference in Birmingham and plans by Secretary of State James Brokenshire to attend a party fundraiser later this month alongside First Minister Arlene Foster.
They maintain that the DUP is an opposition party and that Conservatives in Britain would not welcome a similar alliance with UKIP.
The Irish News revealed on Wednesday that Mr Brokenshire had pulled out of the £30-a-head business breakfast following criticism from SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
The concern of the NI Conservatives centres on a growing level of co-operation between Westminster's largest party and its Stormont counterpart. The Tories' comparatively slim 16-seat Westminster majority means they may be forced to rely on the support of DUP MPs in the future.
At last week's reception in Birmingham DUP leader Arlene Foster acknowledged that there were "some synergies" between the two parties and earlier this week Sammy Wilson signalled his party's support for Theresa May's plans for grammar school reforms.
The East Antrim MP urged the prime minister to ignore the "barrage of criticism" aimed at her desire to roll out a new generation of selective schools.
On Wednesday DUP MPs backed the Conservatives in a Westminster vote on the Brexit negotiations.
But the concerns of the NI Conservatives about the two parties' increasingly close relationship are to be formally raised by regional chairman Alan Dunlop, at the party's next board meeting on October 31.
Tory commentator John Strafford said it was "totally wrong" for the a Conservative minister to address a DUP reception
Leading Tory commentator John Strafford, who was central in establishing the Conservatives' regional arm in the late 1980s, told The Irish News he was "very happy" for the DUP to support Tory policy but insisted they were an "opposition party".
"When you're in government with a majority then they (the DUP) are real opposition and should be treated as such, which is why I believe it would wholly inappropriate for a Conservative government minister to go to a DUP fundraiser," he said.
"I'm not surprised James Brokenshire pulled out, though in his defence he's fairly new to the job and perhaps doesn't understand all the nuances that there are in Northern Ireland."
Mr Strafford said he was "very uncomfortable" with Mr Brokenshire speaking at last week's DUP reception in Birmingham and said it was "totally wrong" for other parties to hold events at the Conservative conference.
14 October, 2016 01:00 News

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

COPOV Forum 29th October

Do come to the COPOV Forum on the 29th October. Hear the latest on the Party Review. Debate and discussion on the latest topics. We look forward to seeing you. For further details look at events.