By Mark Wallace
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As if any further proof of grassroots dissatisfaction were needed, I've just been told by two sources that Richard Ashworth MEP - the Leader of the Conservative MEP Group in the European Parliament - and Marta Andreasen MEP - who recently defected from UKIP - have been deselected as candidates for the South East of England in next year's Euro elections.
This is significant not only because it suggests party members are becoming more willing than ever to flex their muscles on what they feel to be substandard representatives, but also because of the people who did the flexing. The regional electoral college is not the full membership of the party, it is their elected representatives - regional and constituency officials, representatives of bodies like the Conservative Women's Organisation and others who can hardly be described as disruptive elements, extremists or, whisper it, "swivel-eyed loons".
So not only will the Conservative MEPs be looking for a new Leader rather soon, the party leadership is in receipt of a rather unequivocal message. If even the reputedly tame electoral college is sacking sitting MEPs and rejecting defectors whom the leadership chose to let into the Conservative fold, they have serious problems.
Further to the above, an examination of the bizarre selection rules shows that today's vote - the most severe rebuke the electoral college can give to sitting MEPs - means Ashworth and Andreasen will now go into the general postal ballot of the membership.
As we have covered on ConHome before, the selection process is heavily biased in favour of sitting MEPs. Today's vote means that while Daniel Hannan and Nirj Deva have been reselected as MEPs, and thus have special privileges which put them at the top of the regional list, Andreasen and Ashworth lose those privileges.
Now it is down to the Conservative Party members in the South East to decide where on the list they should be ranked. Towards the top might offer them some chance of being returned as MEPs, anything outside the top two or three at a push would mean almost zero chance of re-election and as the shortlist will contain more names than there are seats, they may be dumped from the list altogether.
Assuming, of course, that after today's humiliation they decide to continue in the process at all.
By Mark Wallace
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Following Scotland's selections last week, the North West and London have now carried out the first stage of selecting candidates for next year's European elections.
Readers may need a reminder of the slightly obscure process: first the regional electoral college choose the shortlist. If sitting MEPs are reapproved at this stage then they automatically go to the top of the list.
After that, the party members in the region rank the remaining candidates in order by postal vote.
These are therefore the unranked shortlists, and are presented in alphabetical order by surname.
That over 100 Conservative MPs voted for John Baron's amendment yesterday evening suggests that they agreed with it - that's common sense, after all, isn't it? But matters are rarely that simple in the House of Commons.
A picture is beginning to emerge of Tory MPs who disagreed with the motion but still backed it. Why? Because they didn't want to explain to their Associations and constituents that in their view David Cameron's new EU referendum bill pledge rendered the amendment unnecessary.
James Kirkup writes this morning about the power of local Associations and the shrinking of the Conservative member base. He is correct (as usual). But fear of local voters counted as much yesterday evening as fear of local activists - at least for MPs in marginal seats,
Some of them are furious with Baron for pushing his amendment to the vote, and claim to have told him so. It can be argued that this reflects badly on them, rather than Baron - that if they disagreed with his amendment, they shouldn't have voted for it.
This week's '22 Committee elections also suggest that while their votes were with Baron, their hearts were elsewhere. Robert Buckland is an outspoken supporter of Britain's E.U membership - and thus a rarity among the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs.
At roughly the same time as yesterday evening's vote, it was announced that he has been re-elected as a secretary of the 1922 Committee's executive committee. In public, Tory MPs may be backing the rebels, but in private they are supporting the loyalists.
By Peter Hoskin
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130 MPs voted in favour of John Baron's amendment expressing regret at the absence of an EU Referendum Bill in the Queen's speech. 277 voted against.
Peter Bone, who was a teller for those supporting the amendment, has confirmed that 114 of the 130 were Tory MPs. That exceeds the 100 that Philip Hollobone was anticipating, and it far exceeds the 60 or so that some in Government were talking about. There were also 12 Labour MPs, 4 DUP and one Lib Dem.
Although it's not strictly a rebellion – thanks to the oddities listed by Andrew Sparrow here – it's still rather embarrassing for David Cameron. It seems that the draft EU Referendum Bill rushed out yesterday did very little to sway hearts and ayes. Many of his MPs don't think he's doing enough to reassure the public of his intentions.
And the whipping operation? According to Zac Goldsmith, this was a truly free vote with "no pressure from the Whips", so may help absolve them. But it doesn't shake the fact that Team Cameron won't be thrilled with tonight's outcome – or, more exactly, with this whole farrago in the first place.
Anyway, here's the list of the 114 Tory MPs who supported the amendment:
By Harry Phibbs
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The BBC's Norman Smith tweets that 70 MPs have so far signed the amendment to the Queen's Speech from John Baron MP which "but respectfully regret that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Gracious Speech."
Mr Smith adds that the DUP MPs have decided to support it.
The following signaturies currently appear on tthe Order Paper which I make 52:
The process of selection (or re-selection in many cases) of candidates for the 2014 European Parliament elections has begun. Most constituencies are still going through the first stage, of selecting which candidates will make the list, before going to a full postal ballot of party members to choose the order in which they will be ranked.
Scotland has got in early, though, despite using the more traditional system of numerous hustings around the country. The list is all-new, as the sitting Conservative MEP, Struan Stevenson, intends to step down at the elections.
Coffee House's Isabel Hardman has the news of Nadine Dorries's return, and has penned a passionate defence of her position, arguing that Dorries is the victim of double standards, and that she is very popular with her colleagues.
On the first ground, Isabel is right. She points out that Brian Binley has called the Prime Minister a ‘chambermaid’ and a ‘caretaker’, and Tim Yeo has asked whether Cameron is a man or a mouse.
I am less sure about the second. Very few MPs are universally popular among their colleagues, and I wouldn't mark Dorries down as one of them.
None the less, popularity among Conservative MPs isn't and shouldn't be the basis upon which the Whip is granted or withheld.
So why, given the resistance from George Osborne that Tim Montgomerie referred to earlier this week on this site, has the Whip been restored? I suspect there are three reasons:
At any rate, this is the right decision, for the reasons I set out over the weekend. Dorries is a gut Tory, a net asset to the Party, and a courageous Parliamentary campaigner - besides adding to the gaiety of nations.
The Whips are naturally keen to claim that they're not backing down, and a statement has been issued saying that Dorries has "apologised to the Chief Whip for absenting herself from her parliamentary duties without permission". One senior source spoke of her being set "targets".
At any rate - welcome back, Nadine.
6.45pm Update Dorries tweets that "my whip has been restored with no conditions other than those which apply to any party MP". And my source texts to explain that the targets "are not forward-looking, but was a word used about our expectations from last autumn about her rebuilding bridges with her constituents/association/parliamentary colleagues". Hmm.
P.S: Someone is very keen to make his view on all this very clear. See below...
In today's Daily Telegraph, the Moggster asks: "Is it, therefore, now time to make a “big open and comprehensive offer” to Ukip? (Thereby mimicking the words David Cameron used to launch his offer to the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 election.) In marvellously politicianly vein, Rees-Mogg doesn't deploy the P-word at any point.
None the less, he writes that "there is also a closeness between the grassroots of the two parties; many UKIP members were once Conservatives and in both cases active support is stronger among the over 50s. This ought to make a collaboration reasonably straightforward. It is also crucial." The right, he says, mustn't split - as the left did during the 1980s.
By Tim Montgomerie
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There has been lots of speculation over recent days about the future of Nadine Dorries. Some have speculated that she might join UKIP in protest at the fact that the whip still hasn't be restored to her - six months after it was suspended because she appeared on ITV's I Am A Celebrity programme. ConHome's sources say the whips are NOT the reason for her continuing exclusion from the parliamentary party. The block is coming from Downing Street - especially Number 11. Regular observers of Tory politics will know that the Chancellor and Nadine Dorries do not have the best of relationships.
Up until now it has been thought that the decision about Nadine Dorries' future was one for the party leadership and it had the power to continue to resist lobbying by the 1922 Committee for Ms Dorries' return to the Tory fold. Today's Times, however, draws attention to a parliamentary party rule that was instituted after Howard Flight was effectively removed from the parliamentary party by a very angry Michael Howard, then Tory leader, in the run up to the 2005 election. Tory MPs were so appalled that Mr Howard had the power to expel one of their colleagues without any appeal that they sought a new mechanism to prevent a repeat of the Flight case.
The rule means that Ms Dorries can appear before a tribunal of three people - appointed by the Chief Whip and Chairman of the 1922 - and have her case for restoration of the whip examined. She can only trigger the tribunal next November, however - six months before the date of the general election. Some in the whips office are wanting the matter resolved now, however. Their fear is a much longer delay to this episode risks looking sexist and even vindictive. The Tory leadership may not love Ms Dorries - in much the same way they don't much love many of the more 'Ukippy' Tory members - but keeping her in the tent is a small way of indicating that the party can be broadly-based.
More in The Times (£).
Paul Goodman has already made the case for an end to Nadine Dorries' suspension.
My take on the EU is that a renegotiation push is unlikely to result in many powers being returned to Britain, and that leaving the Union would bring short-term economic pain but medium-term gain. This is why I would vote to leave the EU were a referendum to take place now - thus taking the same view as Michael Gove - and expect to in the event of David Cameron being Prime Minister after 2015 and the promised EU referendum taking place (since, as I say, he is unlikely to gain what would in effect be a opt-out from the EU's political structure).
This view is put in an infinitely more distinguished and authoritative form by Nigel Lawson in today's Times (£). Unfortunately, the piece is locked up behind the paper's paywall, so you can't read it online. But the thrust of the former Chancellor's argument is clear enough. The EU changed "after the coming into being of the European monetary union and the creation of the eurozone"; it is now the political and economic union that its creators envisaged; renegotiation won't amount to very much, and so, since political union wouldn't suit Britain, we should leave.
By Paul Goodman
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I'm also told that Downing Street's original plan was to have junior Ministers taking the lead on policy developments in policy areas for which they are responsible - until senior figures on the '22 pointed out that Ministers, as members of the executive branch of government, are not well placed to represent opinion on the backbenches.
The '22 executive apparently believes that the new board can dovetail with the '22's own policy groups, which I wrote about recently - and that its members, who will be assigned specific policy areas, can work closely and productively with the '22. This isn't to say that all has gone smoothly: my reading of the reaction to the appointments is that they have a bit of a mixed reception.
By Paul Goodman
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A very senior Downing Street insider told me earlier this week that it, CCHQ, Conservative MPs and the media had underestimated the Adam Afriyie operation when news broke of his leadership ambitions: "We all did," he said. Today's news that Afriyie has hired Phil Hall, a former News of the World editor, to provide media advice confirms this. The self-made millionaire MP for Windsor isn't short of a bob or two, and is in a position to finance a big push. Afriyie has his supporters at Westminster. Bill Wiggin and Jonathan Djanogly seem to be well and truly signed up to Campaign Afriyie, and there is a circle of admirers that includes Mark Field and Patrick Mercer. But the dispositions of Tory MPs are notoriously tricky to read. I take claims of 40 signed-up backers with a pinch or two of salt.
What Afriyie has written and said so far show him as what he is - a successful businessman with straightforward Conservative views on how to revive the economy: higher tax thresholds, employers' NIC cuts, lower corporation tax, capital gains tax exceptions (though I would drop or downplay all the paperclips stuff were I him). The party undoubtedly needs more people with business experience in high places, and many of his ideas are attractive. His piece on this site earlier this week showed him taking a view on legislation for an EU referendum before 2015. I don't see him as a future party leader, though he played an admirable role in trying to halt the horrors of IPSA, and has provided a reliable shoulder for some of its victims to cry on. Downing Street and the Treasury will be watching his relations with them very closely.
In particular, claims that his back story would sway voters are wide of the mark - because there's no evidence that politicians' back stories make a big difference to voters: if it did, William Hague would have won in 2001. But what Afriyie's campaigning has done is put him in play for a slice of the future if the party goes into opposition in 2015. We will doubtless hear more from him after next week's elections. The mood of Conservative MPs is never less than mutable - so the post-Baroness Thatcher death improvement in relations between the Prime Minister and his backbenchers should be kept in perspective - and if the local election results are calamitous it is hard to predict what will happen (though a challenge to the Prime Minister is extremely unlikely).
Some Afriyie supporters and diehard opponents of Cameron are saying that any challenge before next year's European elections are mistimed - since UKIP will do very well, whoever leads the party - and that the time for change is after they've taken place. We will see.
Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
When we set up a book of condolences to Margaret Thatcher in the European Parliament we weren't sure what to expect. After all, she certainly shared a different European 'vision' to many MEPs. However, we were very pleased to see MEPs from across the political spectrum and the continent all writing warm and positive comments. Particularly noticeable was the number of Central and Eastern European MEPs paying tribute to the lady who, in their eyes, was a great ally in their fight to bring down the Iron Curtain.
Before departing Strasbourg for Lady Thatcher's funeral last week, I was able to pay tribute to her in the European Parliament. The debate was on the 'Future of Europe' - the existential question that all of our debates seem to come back to. It was opened by Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen who called for a "fair integration" that "benefits everyone". Read into that, "I want to be seen as a 'Pro-European' in this building but my country is understandably not willing to pay to prop up the euro."
Now, in most of my speeches I try to include a little quote from either Thatcher or Reagan. Coincidentally, two days after Lady Thatcher's death I had an engagement to speak at the College of Europe in Bruges on the role of the UK in the EU 25 years after her famous Bruges speech. Reading back over the speech, it was remarkable how much would still be relevant to today's debate on the EU and the UK's role within it.
By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron spoke yesterday evening at a vast party of the Parliamentary Party (largely) to celebrate 90 years of the 1922 Committee. So did Graham Brady, who presided over the event. So, scarcely believably, did Sir Edward Du Cann - yes, the Sir Edward Du Cann of Milk Street Mafia fame, who as '22 Committee Chairman helped to topple Edward Heath.* Du Cann made an old-fashioned Parliamentarian's speech of almost rococo splendour. "It's worth remembering that he might have become party leader in 1975, if he had stood," a former Minister said to me.
By Paul Goodman
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There's was legend in my family that the Jewish Chronicle once reported a race with the headline: "Goldstein seventeenth".
I apologise if my headline is also somewhat parochial, and rather less accurate. But as far as I can see Cairns was the fastest Conservative MP round the course.
A good deal of money will have been raised for charity today - and so much the better. A glancing references in dispatches, too, for the MPs from other parties who took part.