This site supports the autonomy of local Conservative Associations, and believes that the Conservative Party should implement the Brexit referendum decision. These views interact in the case of David Gauke who, later today, faces a no-confidence vote from members of his Association in South-West Hertfordshire. They do so in the following ways.
First, this evening’s vote will not be binding. But each local Association should have the right to select whoever it wants as its Parliamentary candidate. If members in South-West Hertfordshire want to select a candidate other than the Lord Chancellor for the next election, that should be their right, and neither Downing Street nor CCHQ should seek to bar them.
Second, there is no suggestion that Gauke is anything less than a diligent constituency MP. Nor is he in breach of the Conservative Manifesto’s commitments on Brexit. Indeed, he has voted to leave the EU three times. You may or may not like the form of Brexit that he has supported – Theresa May’s deal. But that is beside the point, or should be. If blocking leaving is your measure, you might as well seek to deselect every single Spartan.
Finally, the Justice Secretary will be blamed by some for helping to drive extension – and, thereby, the imposition of June’s European elections, the rise of the Brexit Party, the collapse of Tory poll ratings, and the threat to the Party’s future. The charge is justified. But extension is not in itself wide of the manifesto. And the ultimate responsibility for it rests not with Gauke, but with the person who buckled under pressure, and conceded it: Theresa May.
So, in our view, his local Association should not vote today to deselect him. But there is a sting in the tail.
The 2017 Conservative Manifesto is one thing; the next election’s manifesto will be another. We may well be very close indeed to that election, and therefore to the manifesto being written. Boris Johnson has committed himself to leading Britain out of the EU by October 31 at the latest. And, in his his interview with this site yesterday, to members of a future Johnson Cabinet being fully signed up to this policy.
Gauke has already indicated, quite properly, that he couldn’t serve in such a Cabinet, if leaving on October 31 meant leaving with No Deal. But if the Commons seeks to frustrate such as outcome, and a general election followed, the Conservative Manifesto must commit the Party to the same end as Johnson’s Cabinet appointments: in other words, to leaving the EU with No Deal if necessary.
At this point, Association autonomy and Brexit commitments may clash. What should happen if a local Association wants, in such circumstances, to reselect a pro-Remain local Tory MP? Our answer is uncompromising. Autonomy must prevail. But to say that an Association has the right to select whoever it wants as its candidates is not to say that it should simply act as it wishes. What one is free to do isn’t always what it is wise to do.
So if the next Conservative Manifesto commits to a No Deal Brexit if necessary, as it should, our take for what it’s worth is that each Association should select a candidate committed to the pledge. If that means not selecting the present MP, so be it. That is the principle which should apply – even if the MP in question holds an office as distinguished as that of Lord Chancellor.