At a Party Board meeting on Monday, Graham Brady proposed that a decision on the Feldman Review proposals, which had come under fire from the Daily Telegraph earlier that day, be postponed: one was due to be taken at next month’s Spring Forum.
Three days later came the news that a decision has indeed been deferred. Party members received a letter from Andrew Feldman yesterday saying that the proposals will be submitted “for final approval to the National Convention at our Party Conference in October”.
ConservativeHome understands that Downing Street stepped in – futher confirmation, were any needed, that it is Number 10 and not CCHQ that runs the show. The former will have been frightened off a decision next month by the timing.
As this site suggested last month, the conjunction of a pro-Remain Conservative leadership, June’s referendum and the centralising Feldman Review (whose proposals would effectively hand the leadership more power) was always a hazardous one. This being so, Downing Street has backed off.
Some of the review’s proposals are sensible enough. For example, it is right to have a central record of members – an idea floated on Conservative Home before the review’s original proposals were drawn up, and one which won the backing of 80 per cent of respondents in our special Feldman Review survey.
The bursary scheme for lower income candidates is one that this site has supported since Tim Montgomerie’s time as editor and more recently, in Cameron’s Children, we noted the Party’s main diversity failing when it comes to Parliamentary candidates: too few in the safer seats have real experience of working in the public sector.
The review is proposing an outreach programme to ensure greater candidate diversity. We hope that it has at least as much success as CCHQ has had in finding more ethnic minority candidates. (By the way, a majority of Tory ethnic minority MPs are for Brexit, as Mark Wallace notes on ConservativeHome this morning.)
Associations working together in federations, in order to campaign more effectively, is an idea that also has merit and which, indeed, already happens – for example, in West Kent. Andrew Kennedy wrote about extending federations on this site last year: as the Group Agent for West Kent, he plays a big part in making it work.
However, the review eventually proposed not federations, strictly speaking, but multi-constituency Associations – in other words, effectively abolishing Associations and welding them into bigger ones. One might describe the plan as “ever-closer union”.
Although members in each proposed MCA would have a vote on whether or not to merge, Associations would not be able to “opt-out”. So to take a hypothetical example, if Party members in Buckinghamshire as a whole voted for a county-wide MCA as a whole but those in Beaconsfield did not, the latter would none the less be merged.
It was this suggestion that met the most critical reception at Monday’s Board meeting, at least from the MPs present who sit on the Board as Parliamentary Party representatives. The Board then agreed that any Association with more than 200 Members and “a fully operational structure” will be able to opt out of MCAs.
There will also be a mechanism so that MCAs can be dissolved if they don’t work out, which wasn’t in the original proposals. The MCA scheme will also be piloted, which was. This site has been picking up rising suspicion of the MCA idea among MPs since Feldman addressed the 1922 Committee recently.
The key problem with the review is not that all its proposals are flawed – though the MCA one still is, even in its amended form – but that what is not in it matters just as much as what is. There is no plan to elect any of the Board’s members, make conference more affordable, debate policy or safeguard candidate selection for Associations.
Feldman’s letter promises “additional benefits to enhance the membership experience” – such as “additional Gold and Silver membership”. Could we gently suggest that what might enhance membership experience most is members having a bigger say in their own Party?
What exists at present is too often like Wooden Spoon membership. There are lots of unanswered questions about the review’s proposals and we will be asking some of them shortly. The bottom line is that the review is all take and no give. Perhaps the Party might publish the submissions that were made to it?