(1) Opposition to Michael Howard’s plan to restore MPs-only control of the leadership election was slow to get going but it now looks likely to succeed. Two-thirds of the Constitutional Convention of 1,000+ MPs, MEPs, Constituency Association Chairmen and peers must authorise the Maude-Monbiot-Howard proposal to scrap the one-member-one-vote (OMOV) election process. The approval hurdle is appropriately high. Two-thirds of those eligible to vote - not just of those who vote – must consent.
(2) Initial opposition came from MPs Iain Duncan Smith and John Hayes. The fact that members elected IDS was often cited as proof that the OMOV system needed to be replaced. But were members really to blame for this? Did MPs really give a Eurosceptic rank-and-file membership a sensible choice in 2001? Three years earlier 84.4% of that membership had voted to reject membership of the euro. Were they about to elect a leader – Ken Clarke – who opposed their position on this great constitutional issue? Francis Maude (M.A.D. - Moderniser Against Democracy), one of the architects of IDS’ downfall and of the rollback of party democracy, might also like to reflect on the fact that the average poll rating during Iain Duncan Smith’s last few months as leader was higher than the Tories achieved on 5th May.
(3) Opposition to the reforms was soon joined by other leading Tories. David Willetts secured agreement from Michael Howard that shadow cabinet ministers could oppose the changes. Former party chairmen Michael Ancram and Theresa May, in particular, then led the early campaign. They were two of ten signatories to an influential letter to The Telegraph in July which opposed the reforms. Fifty MPs voted against Michael Howard's proposals when they had a pre-summer recess opportunity to do so. Over the summer former Tory MP Barry Legg established a campaign to oppose the reforms. But it was a letter from six senior members of the voluntary party that signalled real trouble for the disenfranchisement exercise. The Telegraph called the letter 'A Peasants' Revolt'. Liam Fox then joined the growing chorus for protection of grassroots members' voting rights. Within the commentariat William Rees-Mogg and Tim Hames were early defenders of democracy. Charles Moore joined the fray in the campaign's final stages. Mr Hames suggested that the reforms were worthy of North Korea. Mr Moore employed parallels with Mugabe's Zimbabwe.
(4) Some arguments against change have emphasised the Conservative Party's historical commitment to extending the franchise and to democraticision of the trade unions movement. "We have a history of extending, not narrowing, the franchise," ten right-of-centre MPs wrote recently: "In the 1980s, we brought about the democratisation of the trade union movement. Today, our party supports the spread of democracy around the world and we advocate decentralisation of power at home."
(5) Other opponents of change have questioned the representative nature of the current parliamentary party. Iain Duncan Smith: "In the days when the party had MPs in every corner of the country, it might have been reasonable to argue that they should elect their leader. It is questionable whether that argument is as appropriate today. Our seats are overwhelmingly in the shires and suburbs of England. If Conservative MPs have the final say, Scotland will have one vote in the election. Wales will have three. England will have 97 per cent of the electorate... None of the electors will represent Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham. Furthermore, constituencies we must win at the next election will have no voice."
(6) MPs may feel that Tory activists made the wrong choice in electing IDS but they have hardly been loyal to their own choices. Margaret Thatcher, John Major and William Hague - all chosen by MPs - were all undermined by MPs. For John Hayes MP the rank-and-file membership possess a quality that MPs lacked: loyalty. "The voluntary party in the country still knows the value of loyalty," he wrote for the Yorkshire Post: "Unless a leader has acted improperly, they feel an old-fashioned and very proper duty to be loyal." The MPs could learn from the volunteer activists who help put them in parliament, he suggested.
(7) There have been some very strong off-the-record attacks on activists by some MPs. Tim Hames condemned the attacks: "To listen to some Tory MPs one might believe that the party in Parliament consists of an enlightened band of shrewd moderates who are desperate to charge towards the political centre ground but, alas, are constrained by a fanatical cadre of racist, sexist, homophobic, probably mentally unbalanced pensioners in the constituencies who crave ideological purity above power. This is nonsense. Long experience of the company of Conservative MPs has taught me that a disturbingly high proportion are themselves a few votes short of a full ballot box. I refuse to accept that it can be statistically possible for the Conservative Party in the country to contain a higher percentage of headcases." The party membership is in some ways unrepresentative but it is less male and less southern than the parliamentary party. Unlike the parliamentary party - with its skewed hinterland in law, merchant banking and heavily political careers - it also has broader experience of life.
(8) In any case: if the existing electorate is too narrow that is an argument for a broader franchise - not a narrower one. Theresa May has advocated primary elections of the kind that she piloted as Tory chairman (for constituency selections). Opening up the election process could take various forms. Candidates could have to perform in front of diverse audience of floating voters in marginal seats, for example. The final say of who should become Tory leader could be retained by party members but their decision could follow indicative primary elections held amongst carefully balanced groups of target electors. The idea has been backed by Alan Sugar and Stephan Shakespeare (of YouGov) as a way of forcing leadership contenders to appeal to real voters rather than the parliamentary party who often make their decision on the basis of candidates' parliamentary debating performances and offers of jobs.
(9) Mrs May's bold vision is less likely to be adopted than Dr Fox's preferred option of an electoral college. An electoral college would retain rank-and-file participation but still give MPs a bigger say. The key questions would revolve around the relative shares of the college. Would the parliamentary and voluntary parties both get half of the college or would the college be weighted towards MPs? And would individual members directly determine the preference of their side of the college or would association chairmen represent them? An electoral college would be more democratic than that proposed by Mr Monbiot et al but would be a retreat from the current system.
(10) Can we be sure that democracy will triumph? Unfortunately not. If Maude-Monbiot-Howard win it will be because of underhand scare tactics. Some of the 127 MPs who voted for the disenfranchisement did so because they were warned that to do otherwise would elongate an already lengthy leadership election. Francis Maude is warning of "disaster" if his proposals are rejected. The Mirror has speculated that Michael Howard might quit early if he doesn't get his own way with his reforms. Rejection of the disenfranchisement certainly risks waiting until December or January for a new leader but isn't waiting two months a small price for protecting democracy? It's also true that the party could have had a leader already if this whole unnecessary process had been avoided and the party had got on with electing a new leader - under the existing rules - from 6th May 2005. Unfortunately Michael Howard set the Conservative Party on a very different path.