Derek Tipp’s fifth of six questions refers to the issue which gave ConservativeHome its early life – the right of members to vote in the leadership election…

Did you vote for or against the proposal to allow MP’s alone to select
the Party Leader in the ballot of Constitutional College members in
September 2005?

JOHN FLACK: Short Answer –  I voted against.  Detailed Answer – As many are aware I spoke forcibly at the FRAC meeting and the subsequent National Convention meeting in London on the 3rd September. I feel passionately that voting for the Leader should not be handed back lock stock and barrel to just our M.P’s.  I appreciate that this is an unpopular view in some quarters. I understand the concerns about the existing system and I was in favour of a compromise with the creation of an electoral college, that would give MP’s a greater voice but would still leave the majority of votes with other members, such as our working peers, MEP’s, Council Group Leaders, Association, Area & Regional officers etc. It was a great shame that the board was not able to bring forward an Electoral College “compromise” last autumn.

JEREMY MIDDLETON: I did support the Board proposals to change the rules.  However, the election campaign for our new Leader turned out to be open, positive and exciting.  It worked for us then and I therefore think we should stick with our current system.  All methods of electing a Leader carry risks but it would now take a lot to convince me to change it.

SIMON MORT: Not MPs alone.

I did not have a vote, as it happened, as I was not a member of the National Convention.  But I would never vote either to remove the Membership from having its say in the Leader of the Party or to give MPs sole right to select the Leader.

I did support the vote for allowing MP’s alone to select the Party Leader in September 2005. On this question you have not asked for reasons however I consider it essential to explain my rationale for doing so.

In my eyes, this election was far from ideal, and it was with much reluctance that supported a vote to take away the hard earned influence from the voluntary party. However, I did not believe that the system that had been used in 2001, which had resulted in the election of Iain Duncan Smith could be used again. The result of that election had proved to be disastrous for our Party – wasted months where the Party made no progress at all in increasing our electability in the eyes of the general public. It is clear; whichever Leader is chosen it is absolutely essential that the Members of Parliament are able to give them their support. In the case of the Iain Duncan Smith v. Kenneth Clarke election the MP’s very foolishly gave the voluntary party no real options in the choice of candidates. Had there been three candidates then perhaps the result would have been quite different?

I believe, that it was right for Michael Howard to seek to change the leadership election rules as soon as he was appointed as Leader, however he was strongly discouraged from doing so as we were very close to a likely General Election. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Michael Howard should have been allowed the opportunity to look at reforming the rules. I am sure though, if this had happened the media would have portrayed this internal debate as yet more ‘naval gazing’ by the Conservatives. They would have said that we are more interested in our own internal politics than in the real matter of how we govern the country.

When Michael Howard stood down straight after last year’s General Election, we were forced into the debate once again of how we should elect our Leader. This initially was part of a much wider remit – the thought provoking ‘21st Century Party’ discussion paper.

I attended 8 discussion meetings held by different Associations in my Area. I came away from each meeting with the clear understanding that the majority of the members that had attended felt that neither proposal for the election of Leader was ideal. This particular agenda item of the discussion paper was in the end decoupled from the rest of the consultation. Regrettably, the membership of the National Convention, were presented with two, in my view, imperfect options. To retain the status quo or to vote for a motion that was the total reversal of this. I felt some ‘half way house’ would be the better option.

As things worked out, the existing rules were maintained, and the leadership election was fought out on this criteria. What a positive exercise this proved to be!! (As is often said – hindsight is a wonderful thing!) There was still the possibility of a similar result as had occurred in 2001 being reached. I like to think that our Parliamentary colleagues had been the error of their ways, and they too like us, the voluntary members, realised they had to give the membership two acceptable candidates. Either of which, both the volunteers and the Parliamentarians could work with.

As I mentioned before I believe that the system does need to be reformed – it could fail us again as it did in 2001. We should look at all options. I have a completely open mind to this. Perhaps as I suggested earlier we need to have a wider choice of candidates being put before the membership for the final vote, or we look at the voluntary party having the first ‘say’ and then giving the Parliamentary Party the final ‘say’ from a short list that we draw up.

I am fully aware that Lord Hodgson worked extremely hard to gain us, the voluntary party, a right to have a say in choosing our Leader, but as we saw in 2001 this can produce a very unsatisfactory result. We need to ensure that this does not happen again.

If elected to the Board, I would work hard to get this debate brought to the table again, sooner rather than later, I want to see a system that is fair and transparent – not having too much power in one arena. Whatever decision/resolution is reached it must have the backing of both the volunteers and the Parliamentary Party. I will seek to achieve this, and will most definitely seek the advice and views of all sections of the voluntary party that I represent in doing so.

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