Francis Maude writes the first of a series of regular posts about the Tory leadership election. Later today MPs Paul Goodman (for the Davis campaign) and Michael Gove (for the Cameron campaign) will post their first contributions.
As about the only MP who the leadership candidates don’t talk to about the election, taking my neutrality admirably seriously, this website has been a goldmine for me – it’s my only way of finding out what’s going on. The threads are a heady mix of gossip, rumour, speculation, philosophy, leavened with a sprinkling of malice. Not too much of the last, I’m relieved to see. One of the really encouraging things people have said about the Party Conference was that people were being nice to each other and nice about each other. And people outside really noticed it – we seemed a warmer, friendlier, more generous party.
So it was disappointing to hear our delightful Editor’s near namesake on the Today Programme on Friday spouting unpleasant rubbish. Even after more than twenty years in public life I’m still not really accustomed to people who know nothing about you thinking it’s absolutely fine to attribute the basest and most dishonourable actions and intentions to you. Feeble, I know, but do we really want all of our politicians to be so hard-boiled that they stop minding this kind of stuff? No, I’m not going to sue him for slander, although slanderous he certainly was.
But what I really object to is that what he said was quite simply untrue, and he must have known it was untrue. The rules have not been somehow changed to disenfranchise some members. The rules have been unchanged since soon after the 2001 leadership election, when some very minor changes were implemented. They aren’t particularly straightforward, and the Editor helpfully posted them on Saturday. In any event I don’t decide who gets a vote; I’m not the Returning Officer, thank goodness. That’s Michael Spicer, the Chairman of the 1922.
I was a little disconcerted when I called this other Mr Montgomery on Friday to alert him to the mischievously misleading nature of his comments. He answered his mobile, said the signal wasn’t good – it sounded fine to me – and would call back on his landline. He didn’t, nor did he respond to text messages, voicemails and further calls from my office. In the meantime hundreds of distressed party members were calling CCHQ and their local offices because they believed him. His broadcast on Friday was grotesquely irresponsible, causing real distress to real people and real damage to our party.
I thought my former PPS David Davis was bang on the money in his conference speech when he quoted Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: “Never speak ill of a fellow Conservative”. We’re never all going to agree on everything, but we all belong to the same movement. How can we expect people to think good things of us if we don’t think and say good things of each other? How can we expect people to respect us if we don’t seem to respect each other?
So far this post-election period and leadership contest has been good for our reputation. We’re being talked about, and for good rather than bad reasons. We’ve seemed open and honest, better attuned to today’s Britain, able to conduct a serious debate about the future of the party and the country in a way that is mellow and good humoured. Do let’s keep it like that…