In my original report on the tensions between association executive and MP in Grantham and Stamford, I suggested one way for Nick Boles to address the situation would be to delay:
‘…the outcome can be influenced by Boles himself. Playing for time might defuse a bit of the anger. While the association executive is pressing for a swift process, he would probably also benefit if he was able to delay proceedings…’
This possibility came to mind because the Conservative Party’s rules on the re-adoption process for sitting MPs are so vague that they don’t provide any timings at all for such a situation. They specify the period in which an executive must respond to an MP’s request for a decision – presumably to avoid association officers unduly obstructing the process – but whoever drafted the Conservative Party’s constitution does not appear to have considered the reverse situation cropping up.
It has now done so, because those in Grantham and Stamford who are behind what Boles describes as “obviously an attempt to give the association an opportunity to vote against my reselection” are using the loosely-phrased rules in what appears to be a new way, to accelerate the re-adoption process.
Cannily, the MP has spotted the opportunity in the constitution to respond to this rulebook warfare with a loophole of his own, ahead of tonight’s crucial executive meeting.
The Sunday Times reports him saying “I’m not intending to give them [his critics] the pleasure” of such a vote:
“I have no intention of telling them now my plans for an election which is not due to be run until 2022″…“I will make up my mind when I’m fit and ready and certainly well in advance of the 2022 election, but not before.”
It’s a smart move on his part, which creates something of an impasse. On my reading of the rules he is within his rights simply to refuse to answer, and there is no formal body in the Party which could compel him to do otherwise.
Of course, while it might postpone the formal process indefinitely, that wouldn’t soothe the already troubled relationship which underlies this clash. Those who want him deselected would be unlikely to give up, and might simply switch to informal routes like non-binding ballots in the association or simply refusing to campaign. Meanwhile, those who are trying to steer the association through its crisis are dealt an ever more impossible hand.
The calculation is obvious and understandable – better to stave off a vote than to risk losing one (cf. T. May) – but it also underscores how dire things have got locally, where drawing out, and perhaps exacerbating, such an uncomfortable situation is the preferable result.