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« Telegraph praises David Cameron’s social justice message | Main | I want to take on Brown says Ken Clarke »


Mark O'Brien

The idea of a primary election is by far the most interesting and radical one to have come before the party. But I think it's interesting that Nadine Dorries herself - who is opposed to moves to centralise the process and disenfranchise the membership - said on (I believe) Channel 4 News this lunchtime that that would be a very costly and complex system to introduce. I think we have to accept that primary elections would be too difficult to introduce for this election but we shouldn't rule them out in the future.

However, before I could support primary elections, there are two questions which worry me. Firstly, is Nadine Dorries right when she says they would be very expensive and complex, or is there some way to alleviate this? Secondly, wouldn't primaries be a long and drawn-out process which might suit this kind of leadership contest when we're in opposition with a lot of time on our hands, but what would happen if we needed to change leader upon the resignation - or worse, death - of a sitting Conservative Prime Minister?

It's a nice idea, but it's full of complexities.

James Hellyer

Interesting poll results. In terms of the runners and riders, it was intersting to see Dr Fox squeak into second place. I assume not too many Times readers were in the sample!

It's obviously disappointing that most people think that MPS should have the final say. MPs are our representatives after all, so why should the members necessarily defer to them? Is there any evidence that the MPS actually do know best?

Sean Fear

My first choice is a primary (unlikely); my second an electoral college similar to Labour; after that, I'm not that bothered about the system provided that the *individual* member has a say.

James Hellyer

It really is unbeliveable that consultation with the Association Chairmen is countes as grass roots involvment under these proposals, isn't it?


If this goes ahead as proposed I will no longer be a member of the Conservative Party.


As chairmen we hold the right of members to vote in trust. We should not give it up without them having been asked and given their approval in a full referendum. I'm not in favour of open primary elections as it gives away a privilege of being a member. We must encourage people to join the party.

Wat Tyler

Like James I'm disappointed that two-thirds want MPs to have the final say. Makes you wonder who responded.

But I'm still hopeful our Chairmen will pull us out of this mess. Like Derek, or my own Chairman who has assured me he will fight in the last ditch to keep the members' voting rights.

Tom Odell

I have three thoughts on our leadership debate.

1)If every elector has one vote to help select the government, what`s the problem with, one member one vote for party leader?

2)As Labour has removed control from activists their membership has fallen.

3)Why do wealthy people believe people enjoy paying tax?

Mark O'Brien

"1)If every elector has one vote to help select the government, what`s the problem with, one member one vote for party leader?"

Take a look at the government Britain has just elected! That says it all!

David C Bland

Sinceyour first request, I and I think several others have changed our minds having voted first for Davis, but on consideration, would bre changing it to Tresa may.

The likes of Clarke or Rifkin would be, I believe, the final nail in the Conservative Parties coffin.

Best wishes,



What is the defining fault line in the Tory leadership contest? It is not, over modernisation or tax - but it is the conflict between privilege and patronage on the one hand, and aspiration and merit on the other. Where this divide can be seen most clearly is in the current battle over democracy in the Conservative Party.

there is a real battle going on and it is one which could define the very nature of the Conservative Party over the next few years. It is a battle between privilege and patronage versus aspiration and merit. In one corner are the Notting Hill Set, all from highly privileged backgrounds, Eton, Oxbridge and recipients of vast inherited wealth. They also have the patronage of Michael Howard. In essence, they are the new Tory patricians, the people who believe that they have a divine right to rule the Tory Party and that only they understand and can reverse Conservative Party decline.

In the other corner are David Davis and Liam Fox, candidates who represent aspiration and merit. From humble backgrounds, both have risen to the top of their professions, Davis in the SAS and at Tate and Lyle, and Fox as a respected GP. Of these two, David Davis has the more compelling story to tell as he particularly represents all that modern Conservatism aspires to be. A leader of a political party needs to have had some kind of struggle in their life in order to understand the difficulties that individuals, families and communities face in their day to day lives. Davis has all these qualities and if he can only find the passion in which to tell his story, he could really connect with people across the country.

It is no accident that the many of the MPs who are backing Davis (and Fox to a smaller extent) are also people from modest backgrounds like Nadine Dorries and Shailesh Vara. Nadine Dorries for example, a key Davis supporter, was brought up on a Liverpool council estate and through sheer hard work and determination has built a successful business.

By contrast many of the people backing the Notting Hill coterie are people, whilst personally decent, who have been brought up on privilege and have no real feeling for the struggles that most people face. Boris Johnson, Richard Benyon, and Hugo Swire are not MPs who are likely to understand what it is like to be brought up on a council estate, or for a husband and wife to have to work in the day and in the night, merely to pay the bills.

If anything provides an illustration of the battle between privilege and patronage and aspiration and merit, it is the current battle over Tory democracy.

The Notting Hill set are determined to remove the rights of Conservative grassroots members to have a vote in the party leadership contest, and dilute their influence over parliamentary candidate selections. In true "patrician" style, they believe that the grassroots of the party are worthless and that everything should be decided from the centre. They argue that it was the membership that chose Iain Duncan Smith. This is a false argument because it was the parliamentary party that presented the membership with the choice of Ken Clarke or IDS. It was inevitable that the membership would vote for IDS as Clarke would have split the party.

Underlying the Notting Hill set's strategic view is the tactical bonus of weakening both David Davis and Liam Fox. The Notting Hill set know that Davis and Fox would both be extremely popular amongst the grassroots of the party. The Notting Hill set support an MP only electorate in the hope that they can win the leadership by persuading the majority of their chums to vote for them.

Weakening Tory democracy is precisely the wrong way to be going, when every effort should be made to build a mass membership party drawn from all reaches of society. Joining a party should mean real influence and involvement. The surest way to encourage membership to decline is by treating members like fodder, inviting them to the occasional meeting or sham "consultation" or sending them a worthless newsletter from time to time.

It is ironic that some so called modernisers pay lip service to "localism" ("public services being run by local people") on the one side but are determined to suffocate Tory party democracy on the other.


I should add that some modernisers like Michael Gove MP should be praised for standing up for party democracy. It is good to know that there are some who retain a principled position over political machination.

Tom Ainsworth

'The Notting Hill set are determined to remove the rights of Conservative grassroots members to have a vote in the party leadership contest'

What's your evidence for this? Of the ten MPs who wrote to the Telegraph only one (Dorries) has declared for Davis, two for Cameron (Gove and Vaisey).

The reason, one suspects, that a majority of conservative-minded people think the MPs should have the final say is not because thay are all privileged upper class twits (and by the way I reject the idea that one has to have grown up on a council estate to understand/care about poverty) but rather because thay think the MPs are more likely to pick a leader who can take them to power than the members. This may be wrong: all things being equal, a larger, broader electorate is likely to make a better decision, and this is what's so attractive about the primaries idea. However, the perception is that the membership is more right wing than the average Tory voter or the average MP; this is supported by the fact that the MPs went for Clarke when the members chose Duncan Smith. However right wing one is one has to accept that there is only so much that the electorate as a whole will stomach: if David Davis wins he would be ill-advised to make it Tory policy to bring back the death penalty, for instance. If you don't win you can't do anything.

Sean Fear

The MPs didn't go for Clarke though. They couldn't agree who they wanted.

On average, I don't consider Conservative members to be more right wing than Conservative MPs.

Tom Ainsworth

Well Clarke did win the final MP vote, if only by five, and probably a majority of the Portillo supporters would have switched to him as opposed to IDS if they'd had the chance.

Nice as IDS clearly is, he was never going to be attractive to the wider electorate, and I find it troubling that many MPs and party members failed to realise this. Many people I know didn't even consider voting Tory at the recent election because they didn't like Michael Howard. We underestimate at our peril the importance of having a leader who can appeal to the whole country like Blair has.

James Hellyer

"Nice as IDS clearly is, he was never going to be attractive to the wider electorate, and I find it troubling that many MPs and party members failed to realise this."

I think they did realise that. They probably also realised the party would have collapsed into infighting on the Europe issue and that this would have been even more damaging.

Wat Tyler

Yes Clarke as leader in 2001 (or 1997 come to that) would have been Major vs the Bastards with knobs on.

Tom Ainsworth

Point taken. But let's hope that this time whoever has the final say isn't reduced to voting for the lesser of two evils.

Tom Ainsworth

Good point. I agree Clarke would probably have been a pretty disastrous choice too. Let's hope this time whoever gets the final decision is presented with something more palatable.

Michael McGowan

It is laughable for anyone to suggest that the Tory Party at Westminster possesses superior insight when it comes to choosing a leader or setting a course. For over ten years, far too many MPs have feuded viciously while they have allowed the Party infrastructure to collapse, especially in the cities and in the North and Midlands. Each leader since Thatcher has found the Party to be a fractious rabble. Many MPs have shown time and again that they would rather abuse each other and stab each other in the back (viz the 2001 leadership election) than graft hard to produce a coherent, disciplined programme of opposition to the left. With honourable exceptions, they are barren of ideas but incontinent when it comes to platitudes. Many of them are just placemen, treating Westminster as a late nineteenth century club providing very generous pay and perks for little effort. In my experience, more and more rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party have, at long last, lost patience with the self-indulgent histrionics of the Parliamentary Party. They have better things to do with their time, money and votes than be patronised and abused by second-rate poseurs.

James Hellyer

I think one of the big problems is the legacy of the Thatcher regicide. If a leader who had wone three elections could be thrown out, what hope do these lesser figures leading us in opposition have?

There's no long term thinking or planning. If a strategy doesn't deliver immediate results, it's dropped lest the MPs become restless. I think Howard's tenure as leader stands testament to that.


Margaret Thatcher's memoirs (vol. 1 p. 269) have a revealing passage that seems to speak to this discussion: "[Party establishment comments] showed many people from modest backgrounds like mine how close to the surface of the Tory grandees lay an ugly streak of contempt for those they considered voting fodder."

William Norton

It would be acceptable to have the vote going exclusively back to the MPs if there was a greater willingness among members to deselect duff MPs. The browsing-and-sluicing type would keep closer to their activists if there was a serious prospect of being kicked out.

Sean Fear

It's sad but true that among the membership of the Party, deference still lives on. Many think "it's not for the likes of us" to either vote for the leader, or deselect a non-performing MP.

Mark O'Brien

Part of the problem might be that the membership sees all the popular support for David Davis (and even in Parliament, his backers are growing in numbers) and assumes that he will win. Because he's their man, the membership are happy that MPs will make the right choice. However, if Ken Clarke or David Cameron were the runaway favourites, the members might pull up their boot straps and get fighting for their rights.

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