Andrew Feldman languishes at the bottom of this site’s Cabinet League Table on minus 24 per cent – the only entrant with a negative rating. This is evidently a response to the Mark Clarke fiasco, and many respondents clearly share this site’s view that the Party Chairman should have resigned in its wake, since the buck for it stopped with him.
But the paradox is that Feldman is popular with MPs, and in at least one sense deservedly so, since he has hauled the Party out of debt and overseen a dramatic election win. The Party Chairman spoke to the weekly 1922 Committee meeting of Conservative MPs yesterday evening about the Feldman Review. “He was received quite well,” one MP who was told me. I asked what they liked about the Review’s proposals. “Professional approach to membership and federations,” he said.
Another MP present gave me a different account. “Some of the more experienced colleagues clocked very quickly what is going on,” he said. The point some focused on was the federation plan. ConservativeHome has already given an outline of the proposal, but Feldman offered more detail.
CCHQ wants every Association to be a member of a federation. Each will itself presumably be able to put up ideas, but whether so or not CCHQ intends to produce plans for each one. All Party members in the Associations concerned will then vote on them (though it is not clear how this process will be managed). So, for example, were it to be proposed that all Associations in Buckinghamshire form a Buckingshire federation, all Party members in Buckinghamshire would have a chance to vote on such a plan. There will be pilots.
The concern of some Tory MPs is that their Association will be welded into a federation and CCHQ will then sell their local office and stroll off with the assets (though there might be legal complications with such a course). Andrew Kennedy has proposed large federations on this site, on the condition that they keep the money raised by the sale of any Association properties, and says that he has received an “absolute guarantee” that this will be so. ConservativeHome is all for federations – and so were Party members in our Feldman Review survey, by 50 per cent to 34 per cent.
So on the narrow point of the proposal itself, a lot will depend on how the vote will be managed. On the wider one of the Feldman Review as a whole, it is all give and no take. CCHQ wants federations and a bigger slice of the suggested £25 membership fee, but local members are set to get nothing much back: no directly elected Party Board members, no change in conference venues to make them affordable, no opening up of the conference to more debate and discussion, no more transparency in selections. As I say, Party members told our survey last year that they were for federations (see chart above). However, they were against these being created on compulsion by 58 per cent to 29 per cent. I asked my source what proportion of the MPs present raised concerns about the Review as a whole: “about a third of them,” he said.
Downing Street has underestimated the number of Conservative MPs who are for Brexit. It expected about a quarter. It will end with the better part of half – and more than half, we suspect, of backbenchers. On an issue that has echoes of the Corn Laws and tariff reform, this may turn out to be a blunder of historic proportions. It could be making a mistake, albeit on a much smaller scale, over the Feldman Review.