John Strafford is the author of Our Fight for Democracy – A History of Democracy in the United Kingdom and has held office at virtually every level in the voluntary party, including nine years on the former National Union Executive Committee. He is the Chairman of the Conservative Yes to AV Campaign. Here he calls for members to help reverse CCHQ’s decision to ban Conservative organisations supporting a Yes Vote from the Spring Forum.
Where better we thought to formally launch an organisation titled Conservatives for AV and allow party members to properly debate a subject as significant as changing the voting system, than at our very own spring forum.
We have a number of elected conservatives and peers already signed up and were anticipating a healthy turnout, until being informed in no uncertain terms by Conservative Central Office that our presence was not to be allowed at our own forum.
Whatever happened to “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. In the past the Party happily and all too readily accepted money from pro reform organisations such as the Conservative Action for Electoral Reform, to boast party coffers and allowed them to hold meetings. What has changed? Are CCHQ are so scared of losing the referendum that they won’t let party members hear the other side of the debate? Do the party hierarchy not trust us enough to make an informed decision and prefer we receive only one side of the argument?
I am sure the No2AV campaign were not consulted about this decision beforehand and would be appalled to think that party members were being alienated and discriminated against in this way for the sake of their beliefs. I call on them to publically denounce this decision and urge CCHQ to think again. Having followed their website and email newsletters I know they welcome the chance to debate.
There is an important principle at stake here! Regardless of our views on this issue, surely we all can agree that each side has the right to have their voices heard. All we are asking for is that a group of like minded conservatives are allowed to hold a small fringe event at our own conference. I have no problem with paying for the privilege of free speech and will even provide free wine and nibbles… David Cameron has said that Conservatives will have a free vote on this issue. Was this just a hollow promise?
It would appear that I find myself a member of a party that not only won’t hear dissenting views, but positively alienates and discriminates against those that hold them. What next – being dragged out of the conference for heckling? I suspect many members will have similar concerns about the top down control imposed by CCHQ. Remember the golden days when we actually had debates in the Conference Hall? Now the fringe is to be closed down also.
Please email our Party Co-Chairmen, Sayeeda Warsi and Andrew Feldman, asking them what has the Conservative Party got to be scared of and urge them to reverse this ridiculously undemocratic policy.
Let us prove together that it is the Labour Party who are the control freaks and that the Conservative Party is a democratic party that listens to its members, does not discriminate and believes in free speech.