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« David Cameron's old views on drug liberalisation are new blow to his campaign | Main | Dr Fox launches campaign with blend of Euroscepticism and compassionate conservatism »

Comments

Oberon Houston

Sir David Kelly wrote in Sunday Telegraph letters yesterday:

SIR - It is imperative that the Leader of the Conservative Party has the support of a majority of MPs. They should therefore choose him or her and the National Convention should vote to effect this.

Two myths need exploding. First, it is not undemocratic as Charles Moore suggests (Opinion, September 3) for the membership to delegate to MPs this responsibility. We party members choose candidates and thus MPs. As democrats we can choose to delegate to them the task of choosing a leader.

The second myth is that it is a "callous insult from a Westminster elite that does not trust them" if a "backbench dictatorship" (Opinion, September 2) makes the choice. My experience suggests that the vast majority of members joined the party to play a part in the return of Conservative governments to Westminster and council chambers, not to have "benefits" such as choosing the leader.

The party needs a decision to demonstrate that it is more interested in gaining power than sometimes self-indulgent procedural debate.

---

I agree with these views entirely, and believe that even if the same leader was chosen with either system, the party would be stronger, more and stable if the MPs were seen to do the selecting. The party is not stongly united at the moment and if the National Convention or members select the new leader, the potential for disaster is very high. We must try our utmost to prevent that situation arising.

James Hellyer

Let's explode a few myths!

Sir David Kelly sayd that "It is imperative that the Leader of the Conservative Party has the support of a majority of MPs."

The problem is that allowing the MPs control over the leadership process does not guarantee their loyalty to the leader. Thatcher, Major, Hague and Howard all suffered from the very MPs who elected them, then plotting against them.

"First, it is not undemocratic as Charles Moore suggests (Opinion, September 3) for the membership to delegate to MPs this responsibility. We party members choose candidates and thus MPs."

This is simply disingeneous. MPs are not chosen by "party members". Candidates are approved by Conservative Central Office. Constituency selection committees then pick from approved candidates who apply to their seat. Selection committees are not the party membership, they are a tiny subsection of it.

"The second myth is that it is a "callous insult from a Westminster elite that does not trust them" if a "backbench dictatorship" (Opinion, September 2) makes the choice. My experience suggests that the vast majority of members joined the party to play a part in the return of Conservative governments to Westminster and council chambers, not to have "benefits" such as choosing the leader."

Kelly's rebuttal of this myth in no way explodes it. MPs wanted to disenfranchise members because they believed the membership coudl not be trusted. The evidence that is cited here is the election of IDS: a candidate selected by MPs for presentation to the membership, and whom the MPs therefore presumably thought they could work with. This is then an insult to the members. It blames them for the MPs selecting an unacceptable candidate (Clarke) and an unexceptional one (IDS).

Sir David asserts that members join the party because they want Conservative government, rather than the benefit of electing a leader, and while right, he ignores a few key caveats.

Firstly, the members want a Conservative government, not one that is Conservative in name alone.

Secondly, delivering this Conservative government relies on the selection of the right leader who articulate a vision that appeals to the nation. There is no evidence that suggests that the MPs alone are the ones to judge this. Thatcher emerged not because of the MPs wisdom, but because of Airey Neave's manoueverings.

Going beyond that, we have to ask whether MPs judge candidates by the right criteria. Too much attention can be paid to old grudges, to who offers the best chance of preferment, to who plays best in the Commons chamber. The problem is that none of this means that someone will paly well with the country. Hague and Howard were formidable in the Commons but hopelsss on TV.

And then there's the issue of representation. Who is more in touch with the needs and hopes of people in target seats: the members who live there or the Member for Buckingham?


James Hellyer

Sir David's leter was actually from the 10th. It was rebutted in today's Telegraph as follows:

Sir - Sir David Kelly suggests that the Conservative Party membership should delegate the choice of leader to MPs (Letters, September 10). Unfortunately, the majority of party members do not have an MP to whom they can delegate.

Douglas Crook, Cheadle Hulme, Ches

http://telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/09/12/dt1201.xml#head3

Selsdon Man

Poor John Bercow! Singled out again!

James Hellyer

Just you remember the Conservative Home punishment of choice is a weekend with John Bercow!

Selsdon Man

Do you think that would worse than a weekend with Tim Yeo or John Gummer?

James Hellyer


Such a weekend might be deathly dull (or fuelled by gin and golf), but it wouldn't be half as scary as watching someone recount their political journey from cleaning the spit off the Monday Club floor to banging on New Labour's door!

malcolm

Oberon,Lord Hodgson put forward a number of detailed points as to why the leader should be chosen by the members.Do you really think Sir David Kelly answers any of them?
Personally I think Kelly was being exceptionally pompous and adopting a parental 'do as I say' approach which may have worked in the 1930's but doesn't have a cat in hells chance of working now.
On a practical level I think as a Clarke supporter you will have more chance of Clarke being elected by the members than by M.P.s alone.But that to me is of secondary importance.
I'm really still waiting for anyone to put forward a case for MPs to choose which is in any way persuasive to me or to the good of the party I love.

Oberon Houston

Malcolm, please find below a more specific ‘reply’ to Lord Hodgsons speech. I have tried to deal with each of his most important statements in turn.

LH begins by saying that he was involved with the changes that eventually led to the current system due to the ‘chronic indiscipline’ within the party, and “witness the continued low polls ratings”. These two statements are true, but root cause is not the way we select the leader, but directly related to the ongoing internal differences between those in the centre of the party who wish to see a party that takes on Labour in the centre ground and those on the right that wish to offer the electorate a Conservative party with a more radical liberalising agenda and greater separation from Europe. Lord Hodgsons aims of greater unity and discipline cannot be met by using differing rules for electing the leader of the Party. Unity and discipline will arise when the case is one by one side or the other regarding the direction the party should take. My personal view is that until the party unites behind a centralist agenda and engages the electorate at all levels in a more positive manner, it will remain unelectable.

LH goes on to recall the selection of IDS, I would argue, again, that the sequence of events is directly related to the underlying differences within the party – and the leadership election outcomes are a symptom of this not a cause.

LH asserts that MPs are too localised to judge a popular leader with the electorate. I do not believe that there is much difference between either system of selection wrt to this, and history will back me up on this. This point is also valid for LH’s comments regarding the media. In short these points are of little significance and do not hold much weight.

LH then goes on to discuss the length of time a member vote takes. He diverts attention from this true point by saying that the members are being bounced into accepting the new rules given the timetable. Again, he is not addressing the issue. I believe that this period of discussion, whilst frequently painful, is of huge benefit to the future of the Party. Time will tell.

Finally, his views that there is a groundswell of support for an Electoral Collage system is undermined by recent polls which show a majority of members would like to defer final leadership selection to MPs.

He does not discuss issues such as the leaders legitimacy in the eyes of the MPs, incentive to select a leader that is popular with the wider electorate, or the potential lack of legitimacy of a leader rejected by a majority of MPs, but elected by a collection of people (many who are not directly linked to Westminster, MEPs, MSPs, Councillors etc.) who will never have to work directly with, remain loyal to, or rely on for promotion, or their job for that matter.

James Hellyer

"root cause is not the way we select the leader, but directly related to the ongoing internal differences between those in the centre of the party who wish to see a party that takes on Labour in the centre ground and those on the right that wish to offer the electorate a Conservative party with a more radical liberalising agenda and greater separation from Europe."

That makes it sound like there are two discrete voting blocs vying for support. I really don't think it's that simple. If it were, the MPs would never have chosen Howard to replace IDS. Presumably IDS was nixed by the "centrist" wing. Why then would they let another one of the "bastards" take over?

The root cause is the disloyalty of MPs and this dates back to the Thatcher regicide. If a leader who could deliver three substantial election victories in a row could be be removed from office, why should any of the succession of lesser figures to have followed her into the leadership presume that they would be allowed any leeway?

It's this knowledge that leaders are transitory figures, as well as the MPs demand for immediate results, that has led to the party never pursuing a coherent strategy.

"LH asserts that MPs are too localised to judge a popular leader with the electorate. I do not believe that there is much difference between either system of selection wrt to this, and history will back me up on this."

As the membership has only has a say in one election, and then could only pick between two candidates selected by MPs, both of the whom the MPs presumably felt they could work with, it's somewhat disingeneous to claim that history backs you up. The membership has never really had its say.

Where Lord Hodgson does have a point is that MPs often judge candidates by the wrong criteria (career preferment, for example). Moreover oratorial skills that impress at the despatch box don't always play well on tv (see Howard's lawerly wriggling).

"LH then goes on to discuss the length of time a member vote takes. He diverts attention from this true point by saying that the members are being bounced into accepting the new rules given the timetable. Again, he is not addressing the issue."

He is addressing the issue. Cost and the timescale have both been used as arguments against the current rules. He dismisses them both as a new leader could be in place and the party several thousand in new donations better off.

" I believe that this period of discussion, whilst frequently painful, is of huge benefit to the future of the Party."

Except it isn't. Out of all the candidates, only Dr Fox has really addressed Michael Howard's intent in holding a prolonged contest. Ken Clarke certainly hasn't. All he has offered are the politics of personality. That's hardly an argument on the party's future direction.

"Finally, his views that there is a groundswell of support for an Electoral Collage system is undermined by recent polls which show a majority of members would like to defer final leadership selection to MPs."

No, that shows you don't understand how an electoral college would work. MPs would most likely keep the majority of the votes. The polls you refer to do however show overwhelming support for keeping a vote for members.

"He does not discuss issues such as the leaders legitimacy in the eyes of the MPs, incentive to select a leader that is popular with the wider electorate, or the potential lack of legitimacy of a leader rejected by a majority of MPs, but elected by a collection of people (many who are not directly linked to Westminster, MEPs, MSPs, Councillors etc.) who will never have to work directly with, remain loyal to, or rely on for promotion, or their job for that matter."

Whose party is it anyway? The MPs or the members?

malcolm

Oberon, I have no wish to be pedantic with you,if you wish,I will make a detailed response to your post tomorrow (when the fortunes of the English cricket team isn't uppermost in my thoughts)but I still don't really believe that you have put forward one positive reason for changing the rules.
Whether you believe in a centralist or not is entirely irrelevant, after all it was the MPs themselves who voted for Thatcher,Major,Hague and put IDS on the shortlist.All of these were believed to be rightwing candidates.
I simply do not believe that 'history backs you up' on whether MPs or activists have the greater local knowledge.It is merely an assertion with zero evidence to back it up.The fact is we have to hold seats in our major cities and in Scotland and Wales for an assertion like this to have an validity at all.Currently as I'm sure you are aware this is not the case.
That the current discussion is painful is true, but that the members are being 'bounced' into a false timetable is true also.Nobody but nobody has asked us our views on the issue.To argue otherwise I regret to say is facile.
How you believe that taking away 'ownership' of the party away from the people who work for it ,raise money,deliver leaflets,argue its case in a 21st century democracy when both our opponent parties organise themselves democratically is entirely beyond me.

Oberon Houston

Malcolm, I too am rather distracted with the Cricket (and very exiting it is too),

Quote from the Telegraph:

“A surprise finding in the survey is that 63 per cent of members favour the controversial reform plan under which they would give up the final say over who should be leader and hand it back to MPs, compared with 31 per cent who are against it.”

…So I find it difficult when James writes in reply that this is irrelevant and you think it beyond belief.

I would like MP’s to decide.
MP’s would like to decide
A majority of members would like MP’s to decide

I have listened to the arguments and have decided that it would be best if MPs decide. The fact that both James and yourself are prepared to hammer on so much about this and refuse to accept that anybody in their right mind would, or could, think otherwise sniffs of denial.

James Hellyer

"…So I find it difficult when James writes in reply that this is irrelevant and you think it beyond belief"

I did not say that.

"I would like MP’s to decide.
MP’s would like to decide
A majority of members would like MP’s to decide"

A majority of members would like the members to keep some form of vote in the process. That's the key point you are ignoring. Monbiot's proposal gives them no say beyond a sham consultation.

"The fact that both James and yourself are prepared to hammer on so much about this and refuse to accept that anybody in their right mind would, or could, think otherwise sniffs of denial."

The fact that you ignore the arguments raised, and instead despatch straw men, implies that you're the one in denial.

Simon C

Danny Finkelstein has weighed into this in today's Times. And he's absolutely right:

"Ken Clarke argues that the Tory party shouldn’t be obsessed with Europe. And he’s correct. But the person in the party most obsessed with Europe is him. He never shuts up about it. Never. He has been prepared to split the party and lock himself out of the leadership for a decade in order dogmatically to promote a policy he knew that almost every other Tory hated, without even the saving grace of being right.

Now he wonders whether the Conservative Party has changed. But I wonder whether he has.

His response, of course, is that there’s no need to worry about any differences because the issue won’t come up. No constitutional issues at all. Not in the next eight years. Yeah, right.

Leave aside whether it would be responsible for a British prime minister to refuse any discussion of European institutions over the next decade; leave aside whether this is remotely likely given the pace of change on the Continent; leave aside the frequency with which issues will arise like yesterday’s European Court decision on criminal law. Leave all this aside and just think about the politics.

If you were Gordon Brown fighting a Conservative Party led by Ken Clarke, what would be your first tactical move? Precisely. You would start talking about Europe.

It was notable that at the end of one of his boreathons about globalisation in the Financial Times last week, Gordon Brown finished with the words: “Big and difficult decisions will have to be taken on European integration and reform. European issues will continue to dominate British political debate for years to come.”

All this is a tragedy because the attractions of Ken Clarke are obvious. The Conservative Party desperately needs a big beast, bluff, self-confident, a world statesman, as its leader. But it also desperately needs to avoid a split. It was splitting that finally did for the Liberal Party and it could do for the Tory party too.

Europe will come up. It will. Ken Clarke cannot be leader unless he tell us what he will say when it does. It"’s as simple as that."

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