Every day last week, ConservativeHome ran an editorial proposing a motion which readers can bring to their local Conservative Association’s AGM, supporting a proper and prompt Brexit. The motion was first passed by the Conservative National Convention, and we reasoned that it would be positive if its message was echoed from local parties.
It’s had some success – we’ve heard from a range of readers who are taking it to their local AGMs in various different parts of the country. Most recently, it was passed last night by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s association in North East Somerset.
However, this appears to have provoked some displeasure at the Party’s headquarters. On Friday an email was sent out, addressed to all “Association and Federation Officers; Agents and Org[anising] Secs; Area Officers; [and] Regional Officers” of the Conservative Party, signed by Alan Mabbutt, CCHQ’s Director General. It read as follows:
‘AGMs – Tabling a Motion
We have had a number of queries about the tabling of motions at Association AGMs. The phrase in the Association rules (9.1.6 in Schedule 7) refers to transacting “such other business as may be brought before it”. This should not be seen as a licence to introduce business at the meeting without notice but an indication that it is possible to include on an agenda items other than the statutory ones (election of officers etc). If motions duly proposed and seconded have been sent to members with notice of the meeting as part of the agenda they can be discussed, so long as they do not propose anything that would contradict the mandatory rules of the Association.’
In clearer, less jargon-laden English, this is an instruction not to accept motions onto the agenda unless they were formally proposed before the notice of the meeting was sent out. In practice, given that AGMs must happen before the end of March and notice must be given a minimum of 21 days in advance, it appears to be an attempt to prevent any associations accepting motions of any sort onto the agenda.
If so, it’s a pretty desperate effort. Mabbutt’s interpretation of the Party’s constitution is creative at best, and was described to me by one Association chairman as “strange”. The section of the rules which the Director General quotes simply says what it says, namely that Associations can consider other business proposed by their members. That, after all, is the point of an Annual General Meeting.
That clause certainly doesn’t bear out his more elaborate reading of how it supposedly should be interpreted, ie that there are specified time limits and stages for when motions may be proposed. I can find no other provision or basis in the Party rules for this overly restrictive interpretation.
The intention appears troubling: to deter Associations from accepting any motion beyond the routine and uncontroversial business of officer elections. I gather some Associations are taking Mabbutt’s advice as a binding instruction, despite the lack of firm basis, and therefore rejecting proposed motions, while others – like North East Somerset – are justifiably ignoring it and holding the debates their members desire.
While this is a retrograde and undemocratic step by the Conservative Party’s headquarters, it’s a good sign that our proposal has evidently been taken up widely if it has produced such a response.
It seems clear that it is a response to our proposed motion, rather than to a push for no confidence motions in MPs. For starters, we report it today because we have heard about it from ConservativeHome readers who are proposing the Brexit motion, while those pushing for motions of no confidence have not reported any such feedback from their work on the ground. They aren’t famously shy about flagging up their efforts, so I’d be surprised if they are quietly sitting on this news without mentioning it.