By a clear majority, Crispin Blunt has defeated a postal ballot attempt to deselect him.
Readers will remember that the Executive Council of Reigate Conservative Association voted in September to pursue the unusual action.
I’ve just spoken to Crispin about the news, his thoughts on the ballot and what he intends to do next.
Understandably, he’s delighted with the result. He told me:
“This is a triumphant vote for tolerance which critics outside the party might not have believed possible. It says a great deal about Reigate, and the vote reflects very well on both the community and the local party.”
As the reference to tolerance suggests, this has been a battle which many have felt wasn’t just about liking or disliking him as an MP. The Guardian quotes some of those involved in the anti-Blunt party as citing his sexuality as a reason for their opposition to him.
With the initial vote to pursue this course of action having apparently been taken without any warning or a wider debate, it’s impossible to ascribe those motives to all those members of the Reigate Executive who wanted rid of him. Indeed, Blunt refuses to tar all of his opponents with that brush.
It may be that others reasons were in play – for example it’s easy to imagine that some who are unconcerned about his being gay were still opposed to his divorce. Sad to say, though, the evidence is that for some of those involved his coming out was the trigger for their attempt to unseat him.
In that light, the MP is right to hold this vote up as a vote for tolerance. The members of the Reigate Association have endorsed an openly gay candidate for the first time, confounding those who suggest the Conservative Party is closed-minded (and those who suggest an older membership base means a less tolerant one).
This ought to be a lesson to those modernisers who sometimes suggest the grassroots are too old-fashioned to be trusted with more democratic power in the party.
Interestingly, Blunt himself draws the conclusion that a diffuse Association structure, with overly separate branches, is in part responsible for what happened. If members intermingled more, he suggests, a disgruntled minority would not have convinced themselves that they were in fact representative of the whole Association.
It certainly seems to have been a disastrous misjudgement by his opponents to call this vote – a divisive step which has backfired on them, but one they presumably took in the misguided expectation that they would win the postal ballot.
When we spoke he was keen to emphasise that he wants to move on to more positive themes now, using the victory to unite and grow the Association. The future of the Executive members who voted against him is apparently down to them – hopefully they’ll reconcile their differences, but if they were to leave the party after their defeat I fear UKIP would soon be sniffing around.