Conservative Diary


24 May 2009 09:56:28

Cameron re-opens candidates list to help fill vacant seats

Highlights, not verbatim, of David Cameron's interview with Andrew Marr:

CameronOnMarr Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirkbride: Andrew MacKay's dismissal was not connected with Friday's public meeting.  I have to deal fairly and his case was one of the more serious ones. Mr MacKay was technically within the rules but he was guilty of a serious misjudgment.  Mr Cameron declined to say whether he orded Mr MacKay to step down after a telephone conversation yesterday.  Julie Kirkbride's case is different, he says, because she genuinely lives in London and has another home in the constituency. 

Deselection: I will withdraw the whip from MPs who the scrutiny committee finds guilty of serious offences.

Timing of General Election: The public needs to be involved in clearing out the bad apples and that is why we need a General Election now.

Re-opening the candidates list: He supports primary elections and says he is today re-opening Tory candidates list for anyone from outside of politics who feels they want to become a Conservative MP.  He agrees that Conservative MPs have to be team players but like with Ken Clarke - who disagrees with party policy on Europe - there is room for difference within the Conservative Party and there should be more free votes.

Parliament is a poodle at the moment: It passes too many laws, scrutinises them badly, the whips have too much power, the select committees are chaired by executive appointments, too much power has gone to judges and Europe.

Reducing the cost of politics: We are overgoverned and will start with a 10% cut in the number of MPs to 600.  All constituencies will become more equal in size as part of a boundaries review. 

Expenses reform: We need an allowance that is simple and transparent.  Challenged on his own expenses claims he defends himself by saying he never claimed for furniture or food.  He rejects the idea of dormitory-style purpose built accmmodation, saying it would not be good for families.

John Bercow?: Asked about the Speaker he says he will not put a white spot or a black spot on any candidate.

Lisbon tactics: Asked about a referendum on Lisbon he says that one of the reasons for an early election is that a Conservative government, if elected, will give the British people the opportunity to reject it in a referendum.  Andrew Marr puts it to David Cameron that a voter can reasonably conclude that the Conservatives will not hold a referendum to unwind Lisbon if it is ratified by other states.  Mr Cameron promises to come back on to the programme and explain what the Conservatives would do IF that happens.  He repeats the 'we won't let matters rest there' formulation.

Outside of the EPP: David Cameron promises that Tory MEPs will not sit with extremist parties.  We are leaving the EPP because we want to repatriate powers and stay out of the Euro and yet the EPP holds the opposite view.  The new grouping will be with mainstream parties including the Czech civic democrats.

Tackling Britain's debt burden: We will say more about debt closer to the election but we have already said a lot including opposing the VAT cut and starting trimming spending growth now.

Tim Montgomerie

19 May 2009 09:00:43

What needs to be done to increase the quality of MPs?

In a scathing article for the FT Matthew Engels attacks the quality of MPs:

"The House of Commons used to be filled with men of renown. Sir Christopher Wren was an MP. So was Sir Isaac Newton – and John Stuart Mill. Sitting in the Commons gallery the other day, I looked around trying to find a single figure who had achieved anything of note in any field except politics. There was William Hague (Conservative), who has written a couple of decent biographies. I spotted Derek Wyatt (Labour), who once played rugby for England. I looked in vain for Sir Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat), who ran in the 1964 Olympics. And then I was struggling.  The former chief executive of Asda, Archie Norman, became an MP and spent eight years looking utterly miserable. It has become a second-rate job attracting a great many second-rate people, who are not even that skilful at fiddling their expenses. That is the scandal."

What can be done?

Higher basic pay in place of allowances.  I'm more inclined to agree with Danny Finkelstein than Guido Fawkes and believe that MPs need higher pay.  Not now in the middle of recession...  Not until expenses and allowances have been reformed...  Not until the overall cost of politics has been reduced (I would support a 20% reduction in the number of MPs)... but, in due course, we should pay MPs more.   48% of Tory members support "a large increase in pay for MPs but a larger reduction in the size of the allowances available to them."  44% disagree*.

The job of a backbencher needs to be made more meaningful.  Too many are now, writes Engel, little more than glorified councillors.  On Platform today Sajid Javid argues for more powers for backbenchers to scrutinise the executive and more powers for Westminster, wrested from Brussels.  Exactly right.

More ambitious candidate recruitment criteria. The A list focused too much on face deep diversity.  We need more candidates with experience of life beyond politics.  Older people with more experience of life generally.  Encouragement of city mayors could not be more important.  In five to ten years' time those mayors, like Boris, will be ideal candidates for the Commons (should they not regard Westminster as a step down) because of their executive experience.  We need more MPs who have run things - whether businesses, military units or large councils.

Deselection of bedblocking and ethically questionable MPs.  Just as Tatton Tories backed Neil Hamilton in 1997 we are seeing worrying signs of local Tories rallying to the support of Douglas Hogg and Andrew MacKay.  David Cameron hinted strongly yesterday that he was ready to order deselection proceedings for certain MPs and a lead from him might be just what is necessary to convince local Associations that their loyalty to a longstanding MP might be misplaced.  Lord Ashcroft's team at CCHQ should poll 'at risk' constituencies so that party members are aware of the wider constituency mood.

Tim Montgomerie

* 2,340 members have now voted in ConHome's survey launched last Thursday.

4 May 2009 17:42:12


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