Some believe that MPs are representatives, who must take decisions that they believe to be right, regardless of the view of their local Association. Others hold that MPs are delegates, who must represent the Association’s view. Burke’s famous speech to the electors of Bristol is an exemplar of the first view, and we bow to the wisdom of the grandfather of modern conservatism – almost.
There is more than a whiff of blue Corbynism – or should we say purple Corbynism? – about some of the demands for the deselection of some MPs. A Conservative Party with a pro-Brexit wing only is unlikely to appeal in Remain-tilting London and the South-East…just as one with an anti-Brexit wing only would be in even bigger trouble, from the point of view of the beliefs of most of its members as well as in the Leave-voting provinces of England (and Wales).
But the problem of Conservative MPs who backed the Party’s pro-Brexit manifesto, voted for Article 50 and then for the EU Withdrawal Bill cannot simply be brushed aside.
Rightly or wrongly, we are very reluctant to get into individual cases. But local Association members considering deselecting or reselecting their Conservative MP might want to ask some of the following questions.
If the MP in question is pro-Remain, did he or she say so in their manifesto in 2017? Did he vote for Article 50? If he is voting regularly against the whip, is he doing so in way that contradicts his previous commitments? If his manifesto committed him to supporting Brexit, and he voted for Article 50, but is now seeking to resile on his previous position, local members would be entitled to take a very unfavourable view indeed – and back deselection.
If the MP is pro-Soft Brexit that is not, in our view, at all the same thing. There is a variety of views about how Brexit should be undertaken among Conservative voters – and potential Conservative voters too – and a Parliamentary Party that backed only one of them would be very narrow. The difficulty for pro-Soft Brexit MPs comes if they can reasonably be believed to be working with pro-Remain ones who seek to frustrate Brexit despite previous commitments to it, and if local members feel that the former are thereby making revocation more likely.
Above all, local activists should be asking a range of other questions that are not about Brexit at all. Does the local MP work hard? Is he committed to the constituency? Is he active in promoting local causes? Brexit is vital, but the Tories can’t be a one issue party.
Having said that we are unwilling to get into individual cases, we end by breaking our rule – in order to point out that in nearly every case in which a local MP is in trouble over his views on Brexit, it turns out that there is a pre-history of strained relations over other matters too.
This seems to be so in the case of Nick Boles, about which a mass of information has headed this website’s way. We are absolutely not in favour of deselecting one of the Conservatives’ most original MPs – and one who is a Soft Brexiteer, please note, not a Remainer.
But we can’t help wondering that a central issue in his story may be whether he really wants to stay on as MP for Grantham and Stamford or not. It looks as though we will find out very soon.