In his excellent speech on civility of yesterday, David Cameron said this:
"A responsible society is one in which people feel a strong sense of control over their lives. That is why we are also committed to transferring power from central government to local institutions… When people are directly involved in something, they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. They change. They behave more like adults and less like children… Localisation of decision-making is not just a question of administrative efficiency and democratic accountability although I happen to believe that if decisions are taken closer to the people who are affected by them, they will be better decisions that more accurately reflect the will of the people. Localisation is a central part of encouraging more civil behaviour."
Yesterday’s decisions by the Party Board to (1) protect incumbent MEPs by withdrawing grassroot members’ right to delist them and (2) to introduce the Conservative Party’s first compulsory women’s shortlist were completely at odds with our party leader’s fine words. Members will have less control over MEP selection. Power is being centralised by the party. Members will have less ownership of the process.
The decisions were, however, consistent with the Party Board’s recent track record. It was a 2005 Board proposal, remember, that grassroots members should lose their say in the election of party leader. It’s Alice in Wonderland stuff when representatives of the voluntary party are so eager to surrender the rights of the voluntary party. Some credit must go to Francis Maude, however, who argued against the much less democratic proposals tabled by the National European Forum.
As a response to this track record ConservativeHome is looking to find candidates for next year’s Board elections that will always vote to protect members’ voting rights. In private discussions we have already received support from MPs and candidates for this initiative. ConservativeHome will act as the immediate gathering point for those interested in being or supporting those candidates but we are keen for a new grouping – perhaps formally titled or perhaps not – to organise the actual campaign for a new Party Board.
The aim will be for a very positive campaign. We will seek candidates with proven commitment to the party and who will command the respect of the narrow electorate – the National Convention – that decides the limited number of places on the Board that are available to grassroots members. Over the coming months we will develop a platform that does not just protect democracy within the party but that will campaign for a sea change in the way that the party treats its members. In the internet age we need a system that is much more transparent. We need a system where members receive regular communication and are actively included in decisions that affect them. We won’t rule out supporting existing or past Board members who are willing to sign up to our aims.
If you are interested in being part of this campaign please email us. Nothing will get underway until after May’s elections.
After those local elections we’ll also be working with MEP Watch to examine the records of those MEPs who publicly opposed David Cameron’s EPP commitment: Richard Ashworth, Sir Robert Atkins, Christopher Beazley, John Bowis, Philip Bushill-Matthews, Giles Chichester, James Elles, Jonathan Evans, Malcolm Harbour, Caroline Jackson, Edward McMillan Scott, John Purvis and Struan Stevenson. The select few who will be evaluating the non-retiring MEPs within that group should at least know what rank-and-file members think.
We’ll also establish the detail of the commitment MEP candidates will sign on the EPP. ConservativeHome had understood that candidates would have to say that they would leave the EPP. New information has reached us that suggests that the pledge may be weaker than that and only involve a commitment to join whatever parliamentary grouping the party leader decides upon.