We suggested on Monday that Boris Johnson – who delivered a well-judged, resonant and highly effective resignation speech yesterday – tour the country to project his Brexit vision. Think Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign with added jokes. That his speech makes the front pages of the Daily Express, The Guardian, and (inevitably) the Daily Telegraph today is a reminder that, like him or loathe him, Johnson is the only Tory who has real cut-through with voters other than the Prime Minister herself.
And talking of Theresa May and speaking tours, she is preparing to undertake one herself. Today’s Times picks up Mark Wallace’s superlative account, published on this site yesterday, of Downing Street’s lobbying of Party members. It adds that the Prime Minister is to tour Conservative Associations this summer to sell the new Brexit policy set out in the Government’s White Paper.
This means that you, dear Conservative Party member, are now an important person – at least as far as Number Ten and CCHQ are concerned. If local activists set themselves against May’s proposals, it could make their local MP think twice. If he thinks twice, he may not vote for the plans – doubtless in watered-down form after further EU pressure – if they are put to the Commons as a deal. And if he doesn’t vote for the plans, they will go down, and so may the Prime Minister herself.
At the moment, you hear frequently from your local Association if it knows its onions. You hear rather less from the Party leader – though you presumably receive those letters and e-mails asking you give CCHQ even more money than you already do. You have little real say in the Party itself – no policy-making and conference-shaping power – other than one that could matter a lot during the coming months: that’s to say, you will decide, in the event of a leadership election, who will become Party leader and therefore, as matters stand, Prime Minister.
The May tour should therefore offer members the chance to raise anything they like – at least if the communication is not to be one way. They will thus have a chance to lobby for a better deal than they get. That means directly electing the Chairman of the Party Board. Ring-fencing spending for the longer-term. A Party conference with lower costs and more debate. And turning the white light of transparency on candidate selection. Brandon Lewis and James Cleverly are up for bits of this.
But if members want a bigger say, they must press for it themselves, or it won’t happen. As for the Prime Minister’s new proposals, she has a lot of work to do, and then some, to persuade activists that they’re right for Britain. Our recent special survey showed three in five of them opposing the Chequers plan. Mark’s account of a phone-in with May and a meeting with Gavin Barwell suggests roughly the same.
Mind you, happiness writes in white ink on a white page, as De Montherlant once wrote. That’s to say, those satisfied with the Prime Minister’s proposals make less noise than those dissatisfied. But there can be little doubt that the balance is currently against her. Perhaps the summer will see rival tours of Britain – May v Johnson. Who can say? What we do know is that applications to join ConservativeHome’s members’ panel are coming daily.