Conservative Diary

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David Cameron should not abuse his powers of patronage

Lords chamber The Daily Telegraph's Benedict Brogan notes in this morning's paper that if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year, he will swiftly need to appoint a raft of new peers in order to rebalance the arithmetic in the House of Lords "as a matter of urgency".

This I do not doubt; indeed, it is an issue which ConservativeHome has addressed previously by seeking suggestions as to who should be appointed to the Upper House by an incoming Conservative administration.

But I am somewhat concerned by the rumours flagged up in the article that Mr Cameron may be thinking of following the lead of Tony Blair in seeking to persuade MPs to stand down at the last possible moment - on the promise of a peerage and ministerial office - in order to free up safe seats for favoured candidates:

"Tory sources talk of 30 to 40 new peers to be created in short order, which explains the accelerating Establishment stampede to catch up with the Cameron bandwagon. Baubles remain a potent inducement, and the Tories know it. Particular attention is being paid to sitting MPs who might be suitable for a ministerial job in the Lords. The Tory front bench there is in need of bolstering in order to cope with the drudge of government. While those caught dredging their moats cannot hope for the consolation of ermine, a list of candidates is being quietly drawn up. I'm told that the names circulating include James Paice, Keith Simpson, Tim Yeo and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown*. All could be asked to exit the Commons at short notice before polling day, giving Mr Cameron another clutch of seats to distribute."

As we have previously reported, any candidate selections taking place in seats where the sitting MP announces their retirement after Christmas will see by-election rules kick in - i.e. CCHQ will limit associations to choosing from a list of just three names to pick a new candidate. Party chairman Eric Pickles told ConservativeHome in July that he wanted MPs to make their intentions clear as soon as possible as regards whether they would stand down or not:

The chairman also added that he expects to see "a significantly larger number" of retirements than have already been announced and expressed a desire that his colleagues did make their minds up before Christmas in order that associations get "the widest possible choice they can".

It is therefore unnerving to hear rumours that the party leader may be actively seeking to circumvent the full selection process in some seats at the last minute. I hope that he too will echo the party chairman's call for MPs wanting to stand down to make that announcement as soon as possible so as to maximise the choice (as far as it goes under the already amended rules) open to associations when selecting.

Jonathan Isaby

*Tuesday update: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP has been in touch and says: "I would like to state that there have been no discussions with me on this proposal and I fully expect to be the Conservative Candidate for the Cotswold constituency at the next election. I would be grateful if you could clarify this in your piece."


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