‘Concerned Activist’ authors this anonymous Platform about the party’s reluctance to oust MPs who are past their sell by date.
If there is a classic example of why Conservatives are not the nasty party it is the attitude that constituency associations have towards Members of Parliament who are well past their sell by date and in many cases are indolent and no use at all. “Ah, but what about Churchill” one is reminded. Had he retired in 1935 where would we be?
The response must be is that government, politics and the media are very different today, not only here but all over the world. FDR was one of the greatest of all US Presidents, where would he have been in Iowa in January 2008 – nowhere.
Then there are the stories about Labour deselecting MPs in the 1980s. We remember the pamphlet “How to deselect your MP”. In many cases these were not the bed blockers but those who had fallen out with the left.
To go back to our proverbial MPs. If they have been in the House for years, then they will have answered some letters, held the odd surgery and smiled at a branch secretary. In many cases that makes them a statesman.
The late Nick Scott served over 30 years in Parliament. He was photographed “kissing the pavement at the 1996 party conference” . Nick was a decent chap and well liked. He was well into his 60s, his pension was secure. Why did he want to carry on? The journalists took about ten minutes to find a local councillor who wailed “it is so unfair, Nick is a statesman”. Yup, flat on his face and headlined “Sir Nick Scotch”.
In 1983 Harrow was reduced from three to two seats. The main change was attaching much of Harrow Central to Harrow East. Harrow Central was represented by the thoroughly decent, loyal and hard working Anthony Grant. Harrow East returned Hugh Dykes. At the inaugural meeting, with the support of most Harrow East activists, the constituency elected officers who were mainly from Harrow Central. The votes showed that Anthony Grant would have beaten Dykes hands down in a selection battle. However, gent that he is, Tony Grant did the decent thing and withdrew leaving Dykes to cause havoc to the local Harrow party, and then take a Lib Dem seat in the Lords.
Nowadays too many people see Parliament as a sinecure. Why do we need
MPs who are years and years past retiring dates, who have extensive
business interests that keep them away from Parliament, do little in
their seats and somehow persuade their local party that they will
eventually chair the Select Committee on Widgets or become third deputy
Speaker whenever there is an R in the month.
Nowadays other parties know where there are weak MPs and can act accordingly. The electorate has become the equivalent of “political
tarts” moving from party to party with far more ease than in the past.
The punters are unaware or chose to ignore that their local MP was
Under Secretary for droughts and overcast skies during the second
Thatcher administration. They get a shiny and glossy focus and see
someone who is coasting, compared to that nice, well scrubbed local
councillor from Upper Bumbledon. We all know what happens next.
The current parliamentary party has probably 30 Members whose time is
up. They will never hold office, they are unlikely to chair a Select
Committee and there can only ever be one Speaker, should Gorbals Mick
get the push. You can add the 10-15 who do not fit in and probably
should never have been selected in the first place. Want a profile? An
overambitious nonentity who actually believes that he should be
Ambassador to France and two fingers to the people of Grantham and
What can we and associations do? Let us not be too sentimental. We are
unlikely to see 45 go at once. However officers need to be realistic as
does the parliamentary party. Surely there should be a meeting of
minds? In some cases if such a meeting took place then the MP might
even do the decent thing.
For the local party the sign from HQ must be the end of the wretched
and discredited priority list. Most local parties are fully aware
that we need more women MPs. Voters are more sensible than people
think. The State of Iowa is more than 92% white, hello Senator Obama.
The stupid pundits wrote him off because of the ethnicity of the state,
but the actual people spoke.
Too many on the A list when interviewed, simply look second rate or out
of their depth. It is all very well saying “I joined because of David
Cameron” but not so good when their idea of retail need is the Whole
Food market in Kensington High Street. As a famous Iowan said “people
need to be reminded that food doesn’t grow on a supermarket shelf”.
Most selection committees are able enough to look through a list of applicants and find the best.
The party should set the constituencies free. When they do I suspect
that quite a number of chairmen will find the courage to suggest to
certain bed blockers that it is time to organise that moving and
tearful farewell collection.