By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
A Conservative Party Chairman who sits in the Lords is no less accessible to party members than one who sits in the Commons. But there are two reasons why he or she should be a member of the latter. First, a Commons Chairman is more accessible to Tory MPs: they can't approach the Chairman in the voting lobbies, or huddle with him round a Commons tea table, if he simply isn't there. Second, and more importantly, an MP has a certain independence from Downing Street. He has been sent to Parliament by his constituents, not appointed to it by the Prime Minister.
Former Chairmen such as Lords Baker, Patten and Tebbit were among the biggest of Big Beasts. But they also had an advantage that neither of today's co-Chairmen had: they could look Margaret Thatcher or John Major in the eye as fellow MPs. By removing the Chairmanship from the Commons, as it were, David Cameron has moved it nearer Number 10, and it has been further weakened by being divided in two. This should change. Members and MPs and the media and voters respond instinctively to a single Chairman who carries a natural authority of his own.
This is why Tim Montgomerie and I want to see as Chairman, respectively, Michael Gove and William Hague – two senior Cabinet Ministers and MPs of top-flight ability who the Cameron/Osborne duopoly listen to carefully. (We will fight it out between us, while the Prime Minister doubless earmarks someone else for the post.) So Sayeeda Warsi and Andrew Feldman should both be moved from their current co-Chairmen posts, though given Lord Feldman's management skills there's no reason why he shouldn't stay on as Chief Executive.
Lady Warsi has a point in today's Daily Telegraph about the benefits of more diverse Tory voices. Tim and I agree, which is why he has recommended more working-class candidates and I urged northern promotions – particularly from the crucial north-west – earlier this week. Fighting to save her job, she told the paper: "I’m a woman, I’m not white, I’m from an urban
area, I’m from the North, I’m working class – I kind of fit the bill. All
the groups that we’re aiming for are groups that I’m familiar with."
But if this thinking is pushed to its exteme, it follows that only working class people can make a political case to other working class people, only Muslims can do so to other Muslims and so on. Such segregationalist logic eats its own tail: under it, the Baroness would be steered away from Hindu voters, for example. I have argued before that it has been unfair not to free her from the politics of ethnicity and religion by letting her get on with a Ministerial portfolio. The other half of her current job is in the Cabinet Office. She should stay in it – and in the Cabinet.