A few weeks ago, David Jones, the former Welsh Secretary, went public with his disappointment that the Prime Minister had used the Party’s Welsh Conference to promote a Remain vote in the EU referendum. At the time, he said:
“The party announced last September that it would remain neutral in the referendum campaign. It is therefore very disappointing that the prime minister should use a Conservative conference to promote the Remain cause, particularly when no other speakers are being allowed to speak in favour of Brexit. It is important that everyone in this debate from the leader down should play by the rules if party unity is to be maintained.”
He was surely right – Conservative Party conferences are not Government events, they are organised by Conservative Party staff and financed with Conservative Party funds. As such, they ought to be covered by the neutrality agreement that the Prime Minister struck with the Party Board.
That isn’t to say that a pro-EU speaker like Cameron shouldn’t mention the forthcoming referendum – in most circumstances it would be odd to pretend that it isn’t taking place. Rather it should mean that there’s a balance on offer in the agenda, with another senior Conservative given the opportunity to argue for a Leave vote.
The breach of neutrality seen at the Welsh Conference was not the first – at the Scottish Conference a week earlier the Prime Minister also used a Party platform to promote a Remain vote without any apparent opportunity for the other side of the argument to be presented to the audience.
This coming Saturday is the Conservative Party Spring Forum in London. The agenda hasn’t been published, but it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Cameron take to the stage. Going on his record in Scotland and Wales, he may well make his pitch for Tories to vote in favour of staying in the EU. If he, or another speaker, does so, then there ought to be a chance for a senior Conservative – Boris, for example – to make the opposite case. If the Party cannot retain a neutral silence at its events then it should ensure a balance.