The lobbying effort against the plan to protect incumbent MEPs is beginning to bear some fruit. Jeremy Middleton has assured one ConservativeHome correspondent that he will be voting to protect members’ rights with regard to the selection of all MEPs. Thank you Jeremy. He will be one party board member that won’t be vulnerable to a challenge in next year’s Board elections. Emma Pidding has an out of office message on her email system and it warns that she won’t be in the office until after Monday’s crucial vote. Hmmm. No comment has yet been received from Charles Barwell.
This effort to protect incumbent MEPs is, of course, only the latest example of the party leadership’s attempt to dilute party democracy. There was the attempt to strip members of the vote in the election of party leader and the aborted plan from the Party Board to substantially restrict the autonomy of local Associations. The A-list process has been characterised by restrictions on local candidates, half-women shortlists and, in some constituencies, the exclusion of all members from the decisive final stage of selections. In unguarded comments to ToryRadio, John Maples gave the ‘we-know-best’ game away a few weeks ago when he said that he – if he was selection ‘dictator’ – he could pick better candidates than local members. Earlier this week we had the Dyke debacle and the behind-closed-doors attempt to impose a non-Tory candidate on London Conservatives.
The scheme to protect incumbent MEPs and the proposed introduction of the Conservative Party’s first all-women shortlist fits neatly into a two year pattern of the party leadership distrusting people if those people are Conservative members. If we do not continue to fight the centralising instincts of the party leadership we will cease to be a fully democratic party and the party’s claim to want localism for the nation at large will look pretty thin.
Links to excellent letters from MEP Watch and CF Chairman Mark Clarke are pasted below.
"The Conservative party should continue to be a bastion of liberty and democratic principle. We urge you to seriously consider the implications of any proposals, and draw the conclusion that, we the undersigned and the supporters of our campaign have come to; that the only acceptable outcome from the meeting of the Conservative Party Board is an unanimous approval of party democracy in the continuation of grassroots members’ democratic rights to rank and select European candidates at regional hustings on the basis of one person, one vote."
Mark Clarke, Chairman of Conservative Future, says that he has never had so much correspondence from CF members on a single issue. He has also written a letter to the Party Board outlining his concerns:
"We have 5,000 university based CF members concentrated in 50 constituencies. In all these constituencies the University members could take control of an Association at an AGM if they so chose. I have been contacted by numerous University CF Chairmen who are adamantly opposed to the Party’s plans to remove the vote from Party members. They are frustrated that the only way that they can influence MEP selection on a par with other Party members would be to involve themselves in Association politics.
Personally, I believe that such a move would be detrimental to the Party. CF is enjoying exceptionally good relations with Associations up and down the country. In Exeter recently, the relations were so good that the Primary was deliberately held on the University campus. CF is fielding 100s of candidates in the upcoming local elections. Just this weekend alone I know of over twenty CF local campaign days.
There are a number of solutions to this problem. By far the best in my view would be to have Party members maintain the vote on MEP selection. I believe that this would be in keeping with the Change agenda which David Cameron has outlined. It also recognises that politics is becoming more inclusive, involving more people – not shrinking towards giving more power to a small elite."