Candidates should always enjoy a certain freedom of expression. I am glad, for example, that Eurosceptic candidates are free to support the Better Off Out campaign, despite the frontbench’s commitment to EU membership. Many candidates take strong positions against the Iraq war that disappoint me but I respect their convictions. There has to be certain discipline, however, in candidate-party relations. Ali Miraj’s pattern of ill discipline justified CCHQ’s decision to suspend him from the candidates’ list.
Yesterday’s attack on the party leadership was not the first time Ali has pushed his luck. Last year he appeared to suggest that his own difficulties in finding a seat could be related to his ethnicity. He wondered aloud if Witham and other Tory Associations were guilty of prejudice in candidate selection. Witham’s decision to adopt Priti Patel as their candidate was the grassroots’ best possible response to the slur.
On Monday night Ali Miraj launched a direct attack on David Cameron’s leadership. His attack (read it in full here) contained criticisms that many ConservativeHome readers would have sympathy with but he didn’t stop there. On yesterday’s World at One he launched a machine gun attack on Team Cameron. On top of his criticism of David Cameron as a PR obsessive he questioned the Tory leader’s integrity and then brought up communication chief Andy Coulson’s record at the News of the World. As his attack grew wider his political grave got deeper. Recent events are regrettable as Ali has made a number of thoughtful contributions to the party’s policy development. The row over his alleged request for a peerage is a sad way for his Conservative career to end.
Although David Cameron has suffered a trying few months we should not exaggerate his difficulties. Most of his critics are not ‘Top Tories’ as the media likes to describe them. Although dissatisfaction with his strategy is considerable there is rightly little desire to replace him as party leader. He still retains enormous goodwill and he should use that goodwill to enforce more discipline. The suspension of Ali Miraj was an encouraging sign in this regard. The next step should be to encourage a fuller-time shadow cabinet. The extent of outside interests is little short of disgraceful. He should also demand to know why his media team are not in daily and personal contact with the country’s top journalists.
The Conservative leader (visiting Afghanistan today) is right to say that the fundamental failures of Labour will eventually kill the Brown bounce but there must be worries that Brown will still be bouncing high if he chooses an early election. As recommended last week we need a guerilla war against Brown over the summer to prevent an autumn election. Every month we can now buy will give the party an opportunity to bring Brown’s ratings back to earth.
The last few days’ noise from Brady, Kalms, Miraj and Saatchi hid some solid announcements over the last week. I think of Peter Lilley’s excellent report on international development; William Hague’s openness to a private referendum on the EU Treaty; a commitment to special needs schools; and yesterday’s strong statement on school discipline. Not only were each of the announcements good in themselves they were a balance of core and modernising themes – ‘the politics of and’ in action. They give us hope that the strategy is evolving in the right direction.