The war of words in Thirsk and Malton intensified today, with the Yorkshire Post obtaining a copy of a “secret Conservative Party report” into the events that led to the current attempt to deselect Anne McIntosh.
Lord Feldman reportedly found, on investigating, that the vote of the Association’s Executive Council not to select McIntosh was “fundamentally flawed”, due to the last minute addition of several new members through “co-options by any other name”. The report seems to have played a central role in bringing about the ballot of all the Party members in the constituency, the result of which will be known later this week.
In some ways, this is a product of the Conservative Party’s internal tensions (and I don’t mean the sight of Lord Feldman in disagreement with members of the grassroots). While Associations ought to be self-governing, there is also a role for CCHQ to play in ensuring that they obey the constitution of the party.
Local parties must have the right to deselect MPs, or else some places could be saddled forever with lazy or ineffective representatives. But if they do so then they must act within the rules.
Sadly it’s also common for various allegations to be slung around in these situations – anonymous McIntosh supporters suggest her opponents dislike the idea of having a female MP, while those seeking to sack her claim, also anonymously, that she is “impossible to work with”.
The true reason may be either – or both – but all this innuendo and infighting is the worst possible way for party members and MPs to interact.
Take, for example, the suggestion from one person in the Yorkshire Post’s article that Thirsk and Malton is “our very own Falkirk”. There are clearly problems in the Association – and if rules have been broken then that must be dealt with – but this is a world away from the allegation that one of Labour’s biggest donors tried to effectively fix a selection process. It doesn’t help anyone to bring such hyperbole into the situation, and you can be sure Miliband and Co will be itching to use the quote next time their problems come to light.
No doubt local and personal circumstances are at work in this story, but it’s a symptom of a wider problem. The current process for holding sitting MPs to account is inadequate – whether you think Thirsk and Malton is a group of reasonable people unhappy with a difficult MP or a group of anti-woman troublemakers causing havoc, this mess could and should have been avoided.
The process for selecting candidates has happily become much more open and democratic of late. Now it’s time reselections and deselections were reformed, too. If it was routine for every MP to seek reselection by a ballot at a meeting of local party members, we would not only have a lot less confusion and scandal – we would see greater accountability within our party.