Update December 21: Since writing this piece I have discovered that the Conservative Home website had already raised objections to the power grab a few days after the convention. The link to their story is here .
It is good news for democrats everywhere that some Conservatives are challenging this. For avoidance of any doubt my Conservative source and myself were unaware of this when I published the story. I have better things to do in life than plagiarise anyone.
While the public and press have been absorbed in Tory battles over Brexit the top hierarchy in the Conservative Party have mounted an extraordinary power grab behind the scenes that strips their ordinary members of any meaningful say in the running of their organisation.
On November 25 the party held a convention in Birmingham attended by 100 invited people which rewrote sections of the party’s constitution. For policy nerds I attach the document sent out by Rob Semple, chairman of the Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board. I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.
Masquerading as ” small suggestions to bring us into the 21st Century “the convention agreed to rewrite the party constitution to remove references to constituencies altogether;limit the right of local associations to choose their own candidates and scrap the annual meeting of the Conservative Convention where people could listen and vote for candidates for top posts. Instead on line voting would be used for all top posts in the party.
The changes will go for final approval next March at a meeting of the Conservative Convention and will be put to MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee in Westminster the same month.
The Tories are hoping that by removing the word constituency from the constitution it will encourage people to form wider associations – which has had some success in Kent where six associations in the Thanet area have combined. But it also reflects the dire state of activists in some Tory constituency associations – where a number have now fallen to fewer than 50 members and operate from a P O Box address.
The change in selection proposed in the constitution gives power to the candidates committee of the Board of the Party – whose members are appointed rather than elected. The new wording is:“The selection of all candidates, including Parliamentary, Police Commissioners, Elected Mayors and local government candidates shall follow a process in accordance with rules and guidance published from time to time by the Committee on Candidates of the Board of the Party.”
Not surprisingly the proposals have been vehemently attacked by Tory members who quite naturally believe if they join a political party – they should have some say in its policies and be able to choose their own candidates.
John Strafford, chairman of Conservative Campaign for Democracy. said: “If these proposed changes are not voted down you might as well say The Conservative Party: The End”
“And if MPs don’t take any action to stop these proposals they will find the only activists campaigning for them at the next general election will be themselves.”
I did put this to Conservative Central Office but there was no response and there appears to have no press release about the changes.
And in addition the review into the failed General Election campaign by Sir Eric Pickles, the former MP and chairman – probably about to be made a peer by Theresa May – contains one extraordinary overlooked proposal.
It suggests the Tory Party – which wasted £4.5 million on consultants to the failed campaign this year – could hand over lock, stock and barrel – the running of the next campaign to a private company.
This frankly is an extraordinary state of affairs in British politics for the 21st century.
Two parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – will fight the next general election with the largest number of members and supporters they have had for ages- reflecting a democratic revolution.
The top Labour Party people will be elected by the membership – there is an election for the National Executive Party going on now. So will the candidates.
But the cash rich Conservative Party will basically turn itself into an unelected commercial organisation – where investors and private companies will decide the presentation of policies for the people.
The contrast could not be much starker. Labour will go into the next general election as a mass movement with a mass membership who can influence policy and decide on who stands for Parliament, the police and the local council.
The Tories go into the election as a small clique with their members little more than cannon fodder.
A libertarian academic suggested to me that the Tories had turned politics back four centuries – to the days when the Elizabethans and the Dutch Indies companies – used private investors to create a joint enterprise to rule parts of the globe and general populus had no say. What an achievement in 2017.