I debated with John Bercow on this morning’s Radio 4 Week in Westminster programme.  The debate was about tax and you can listen again by clicking here at any time over the next seven days.

I admire John in many ways – not least for the role he has played in encouraging our party to champion the world’s poorest and most neglected people (especially Darfur) – but his attitude to the rank-and-file Tory membership is disappointing and all too typical of many Conservative MPs.  We grassroots members shouldn’t quickly forget that two-thirds of Tory MPs voted to stop us – the members who selected them – from having any direct say in the election of party leader.  In the WiW interview Mr Bercow conceded that he was not preoccupied with the views of Tory members – who accounted for a "tiny" proportion of the electorate.  What matters he said was not what Tory members thought but the people who weren’t voting Conservative.  He went on to say that it was vital that Tories did not appear "like a bunch of fire-breathing dragons preaching the mantra –  the moral case for low taxation".  That’s a classic case of demonising your opponents without really engaging with their argument.

I have some questions for Mr Bercow about his attitude to Tory members:

  • Did you win your Buckinghamshire seat because of your innate qualities or because you stood on the Conservative platform?  Who has kept the Conservative Party alive over the last few years?  Isn’t it in large part the members who fundraise, deliver leaflets and help run councils?
  • Who is more representative of modern Britain and more in touch with its hopes and fears?  The male-dominated parliamentary party – heavily concentrated in southern and rural Britain and mainly from legal, financial and political backgrounds?  Or is it the rank-and-file party membership?   Although it is older and wealthier than the country at large aren’t the grassroots at least exposed to the real world in ways in which MPs with their protected pensions are not?
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    Are there any polls that suggest that Tory members have very different views from the voters at large?  Didn’t a recent ICM/ Sunday Telegraph poll actually suggest that, if anything, Tory supporters were more inclined to support economic stability over tax cuts than all voters? 

I don’t seek to increase tensions between members and parliamentarians –  most of our MPs are excellent representatives of the Conservative cause – but a little more respect for members would be welcome.