John Strafford is Chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.
Before the present Conservative Party constitution was adopted in 1998 Constituency Associations were virtually autonomous. Is this still the case?
In July last year, Dominic Grieve, our local MP, made a long speech about Brexit. Despite him previously having declared that he would abide by the result of the EU referendum, and having voted in favour of the moving of Article 50, it had become obvious that he was determined to do everything possible to stop us leaving.
In the light of this development, I lost all confidence in him as my MP and started to collect the names of other members of Beaconsfield Conservatice Association who felt the same, and no longer wished him to be our candidate at the next general election.
On February 27th, I gave a written motion of no confidence in Dominic Grieve to the Chairman of the Association. On March 4th, I was told that the motion was invalid since I was no longer a member of the Conservative Party – after 56 years of membership.
By the time I had sorted the matter out, and obtained a membership card from CCHQ, the agenda for the Association’s Annual General Meeting had been published and my motion of “no confidence” had been replaced by a motion of “confidence”. (Incidentally my membership card was dated before the date when I submitted the motion – thus starting the many attempts to prevent me and others from speaking out.)
When the AGM duly took place on March 29th, Grieve lost that vote of confidence by 182 votes to 131. He then made it clear that he would ignore the vote.
In view of his reaction, 60 members of the Association presented a petition requesting a Special General Meeting of the Association to the Secretary of the Executive Council in accordance with Schedule 7, clause 10.1.2 of the Party’s Constitution which states:
“10: Special General Meetings
10.1.2 upon a petition signed by not less than fifty members of the Association or 10% of the total membership of the Association for the previous year (whichever is less) sent to the Secretary of the Executive Council of the Association requesting him to convene such a meeting;
10.1.3 Notice of the Special General Meeting shall be given to every member of the Association. The business of the meeting shall be stated in the notice convening it and no other business shall be discussed.
There is no restriction on what business may be brought forward to Special General Meetings. The petition was duly presented to the Secretary of the Executive Council on May 9th, and read as follows:
“Under Schedule 7, clause 10.1.2 of the Constitution of the Conservative Party we, the undersigned, being members of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association petition you to convene a Special General Meeting of members of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association in order that the following business shall be conducted:
“The Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association at its Annual General Meeting on 29th March 2019 did not express full confidence in the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP.
We therefore resolve that: he should not be the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Beaconsfield at the next general election and the Association should immediately start the process of selecting a new candidate”.
The petition was rejected by the Chairman of the Association on the grounds that it was ultra vires, and that any such motion should follow the procedures of the Executive Council.
I understand that this was the view expressed to the Chairman of the Association by CCCHQ. Who decided it was Ultra Vires and on what grounds? Was the decision made by the Party Board and if not, under what authority was the decision made?
I would point out that Schedule 7 Clause 6.5 of the Party’s Constitution states as follows:
6.5 The Executive Council shall have the following powers and responsibilities:
6.5.1 The Executive Council shall have the power (subject to any resolutions of the Association made at an Annual General Meeting or a Special General Meeting) to deal with all matters affecting the Association and its membership, and to exercise control over all ward and polling district Branches and specialist committees or groups.
A motion at a Special General Meeting overrides the actions of the Executive Council. Subsequent to the amendment to the Representation of the Peoples Act passed in 2006, there is no requirement to hold an adoption meeting for the parliamentary candidate. This had previouly provided the opportunity for every member of an Association to vote for or against the adoption in questions. A number of constituencies, including Beaconsfield, did not hold an adoption meeting at the last general election.
If our petition is to be rejected, it follows that it is possible for a sitting Conservative MP to be re-adopted without the agreement of the majority of the members of their Association.
The Party Board has been asked to instruct the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association to proceed with a Special General Meeting as was petitioned for, or give detailed reasons as to why it is not allowed. The Chairman of the Party Board was written to on May 24th, but no reply has been received.
After the motion which had been put forward was rejected, it was decided to go ahead with the Special General Meeting, and the Chairman of the Association tabled the following motion:
“That this Association instructs the Executive Council to now request our sitting Member of Parliament to make a written application to seek his re-adoption as our Parliamentary Candidate for the next General Election”.
An amendment was proposed to the motion to insert after application “within 14 days”. This amendment was rejected by the Chairman as once again being Ultra Vires, apparently also at the behest of CCHQ. Yet as we have seen earlier. a Special General Meeting overrides the Executive Council. The same question arises: who issued this instruction, and how was the amendment Ultra Vires?
The unamended motion was carried by 140 votes to 120. Grieve has again decided to ignore it.
If the right of Party members to determine who their candidate should be at general election has now been taken away, what rights are left?
A general election could well be imminent, which is why this issue should be resolved now. It would be a travesty of fairness, democracy and justice if sitting Conservative MPs went forward as Parliamentary Candidates without the support of a majority of their Association members.