In 1641 the Earl of Strafford was charged with an Act of Impeachment. After 17 days of debate the impeachment seemed likely to fail so an Act of Attainder was proposed, which simply decreed treason on the basis of a general presumption of guilt to which the King had to consent. Reluctantly the King did so, even after allowing his 11 year old son to plead for Strafford’s life in the House of Lords.
All to no avail Strafford was found guilty and beheaded. Cardinal Richelieu said of Strafford "The English Nation was so foolish that they would not let the wisest head among them stand on its own shoulders."
The Attainder was reversed in 1662 – a bit too late for Strafford. The minimum sentence for an Act of Attainder is loss of all civil rights – the maximum execution, although I am sure Tony Blair’s worst enemies would not wish the latter on him.
Have you got your pass for the Conservative Party Conference? If not, don't bother. It looks as if this will be the blandest conference ever. Not a single motion for debate. Maximum time for a contribution from the floor - two minutes. All froth and no substance. What happened to the promises to bring back the old style conference?
Tony's Personal Reasons
We have heard a lot this week about how Tony Bliar almost resigned during the summer for personal and family reasons. Was it anything to do with his daughter and a trip to a London hospital? Sadly the story will eventually all come out so why not pre empt the speculation and make a statement. That will be the end of it.
In 1958 the marginal Conservative seat of Rochdale was lost in a by-election to Labour. The Liberals came second with the Tories pushed into third place. The Party Chairman at the time was Lord Hailsham. He offered his resignation to Macmillan in a letter saying "There is something to be said for the rolling of heads when a knock like this comes, and I shall not complain if you select mine for the purpose." Those were the days when words like "honour" did not come amiss when talking about politics.
The Prime Minister takes the United Kingdom into an illegal war and faces no consequences and no censure.
A group of protestors go onto the floor of the House of Commons to defend an oppressed minority knowing full well the consequences of their actions and prepared to accept those consequences.
Who commands the moral heights?
The Falmouth and Camborne Constituency Association recently had a special meeting to consider the de-selection of their parliamentary candidate Ashley Crossley who is gay. Quite rightly the Party Leader and the Party Chairman wrote to the constituency to state unequivocally that there should be no discrimination in the Conservative Party. However the Party Chairman overstepped the mark when he said "I am writing .... to make clear that Ashley Crossley is an excellent candidate who commands the full confidence of Conservative Central Office". Is he going to say the same about every candidate in every selection and if not why not.? This is a dangerous precedent.
To get rid of a Leader the following process would apply:The rules for deciding the procedure by which the 1922 Committee select candidates for submission for election shall be as determined by the Board after consultation with the Executive Committee of the 1922 Committee.
Candidates must be nominated by at least 15% of Conservative Members of Parliament.
If there are more than four candidates then there should be an open ballot of Members of Parliament and the four candidates with the highest number of votes should be put to the entire membership of the Party for election.
If there are four or less candidates then all candidates should be put to the membership for election. The membership should put the candidates in their order of preference. The candidate with the least number of first votes should drop out and their second votes redistributed to the other candidates. The process should be repeated until such time as one candidate has over 50% of the votes, at which time such candidates should be declared the winner.
In a recent Bow Group pamphlet "Who Really Governs Britain", Nirj Deva MEP stated that 55% of the legislation that affects Britain was initiated in the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is possible that at some point in the future the Party would want the Leader of the Party to be an MEP or a member of the House of Lords. This possibility should be catered for. A distinction can be made between the Leader of the Conservative Party and the Leader of the Parliamentary Party at Westminster. For a period in 1940 Neville Chamberlain was the Leader of the Party whilst Sir Winston Churchill was the Leader of the Parliamentary Party. For as long as the Party accepts Westminster as the most important political institution, the Leader of the Party and the Leader of the Parliamentary Party will be one and the same person.(a) 33% of Conservative MPs would notify the Chief Whip that they wished to have a leadership election (The 33% figure is very high but it reflects the anger members felt about the way Duncan Smith was dismissed).
Once the 33% had been obtained an electoral college consisting of Conservative MPs, Conservative members of the House of Lords, Conservative MEPs, and Constituency Chairman would be convened.
There should then be a postal ballot of the electoral college on the question "Should there be a leadership election?"
If the answer to the above question by a majority is "Yes" then a Leadership election should be called.
The existing Leader would be perfectly entitled to stand in such an election
An Alternative Approach to the Rules.
The following is an alternative approach to the rules on a Leadership election but are not the official views of COPOV:
What is clear is that MEPs should have a greater role in the nomination process than they have at present. The House of Lords as one of the national political institutions should also have a role to play in nominating candidates.
If a distinction is made and we have both a Leader of the Party and a Leader of the Parliamentary Party then the rules for electing or dismissing the Leader of the Parliamentary Party would be decided by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
The nominating process for Leader of the Party should be designed to produce a maximum short list of four candidates who would then be put to the whole Party on the basis of One Member One Vote.
Nomination of a candidates should be by 25 MPs, five MEPs and five members of the House of Lords. Should this nominating process produce more than four candidates then a ballot of the Conservative MPs, MEPs and members of the House of Lords should be held with the top four members in the ballot going forward for election by the Party membership. The members of the Party would then be asked to vote by placing the candidates in order of preference. The candidates with the lowest number of votes would be eliminated and his/her votes redistributed in accordance with the second preference and so on until the top candidate had over 50% of the votes.
There should be an Annual General Meeting of the Party and this would take place at the start of the Party Conference. The Leader of the Party would be elected at the Annual General Meeting after a postal ballot of all members of the Party.
Nominations for the Leader of the Party should be invited four weeks before the Annual General Meeting with nominations closing three weeks before the Annual General Meeting.
The qualifying date for members to be eligible to vote in the ballot ought to be the date nominations are requested
We ought to make it easier for members to vote by developing the possibility of voting on the Internet and telephone voting with each member having their own unique pin number.
Finally the rules for election of the Leader of the Party should be in the Party’s Constitution and not left in the hands of the 1922 Executive Committee.
The Electoral College system for changing the Party’s constitution should be scrapped with changes determined at the Annual General Meeting. If 1,000 members of the Party requested a change through the Party’s secure web site then the change should be put to the Annual General Meeting
Note: If we accept the above suggestion we ought also to have the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Treasurer of the Party elected at the Annual General Meeting. The Chairman and Deputy Chairman would be responsible for the Party organisation. They should not serve more than five years.
The Leader of the Party should be strongly discouraged from resigning during the course of his year even if we have lost a General Election.
The Party is still undemocratic.We are still not “One Party”.Participation by ordinary members of the Party in Party policy development is virtually zero.Communication to ordinary members is non-existent.Motivation of Party workers has almost ceased.
The political role of the Party Chairman should be undertaken by the Leader’s appointed Deputy Leader, leaving the Party Chairman responsible for Party Organisation.The Party Chairman and Treasurer should be elected by and thus accountable to the entire membership of the Party.The Party Chairman should present an Annual Report on the party organisation to the National Convention.The Treasurer should be responsible for the income and expenditure of the Party with a remit to balance the books.The Treasurer should present the accounts of the Party to the National Convention for their adoption.Fundraisers should be appointed by and accountable to the Treasurer.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be represented on the Board by their elected Chairmen.The Leader of the Conservative MEPs should be a member of the Board.The Vice Chairmen of the Party are at present appointed by the Leader. They should be elected by the members, and on the Party Board.
There should be three Party Vice Chairmen elected by the National Convention. They should report to the Convention.They should be responsible for Membership, Candidates and Party Conferences.Membership matters should be dealt with by the Membership Committee and not by the Party Board.Individual membership matters should be dealt with by an independent Party Ombudsman whose decision shall be final.The Ethics and Integrity committee should be abolished.Provision should be made in Parliamentary selections for local candidates to apply for selection.
The National Convention should consist of all members of the Party.The Party Constitution may be changed by 66% of those voting at the Convention.
The Party BoardMembers of the Executive of the 1922 Committee1 MEP per RegionRegional Co-ordinatorsRegional TreasurersOfficers of the Conservative Councillors AssociationLeaders and Deputy Leaders of Conservative Groups of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland Assemblies.10 co-options
Regional Chairmen should be elected by all the members in their Region.Twice a year meetings should be held in each Region to which all members of the Region are invited.Regional Treasurers should be elected by all the members of their Region.
As part of the formal structure of the Party the Areas should be scrapped, although some Regions may wish to keep the Areas and can so do.
The Chairman of the Policy Forum will be the Deputy Leader of the Party.The Party Leader will determine the priorities of policies..Two thirds of the Council of the Conservative Policy Forum should be elected by the National Executive.Each Departmental Shadow Cabinet Minister should set up a Policy Group which would produce “Green” papers on policy for discussion through the CPF discussion groups.After discussion and consultation the Policy Groups would produce a “White” paper which would then be put to a National Forum.The National Forum would be open to any member of the Party.After approval by the National Forum the “White” paper would go to the Party Conference for approval.The “Recognised Organisations” should be part of the Policy Forum.
The Three year rule for Officers should be changed to Four years.Each Constituency should have an elected Treasurer.The Deputy Chairmen should not have their roles designated by the Constitution.Every candidate in a Constituency election shall have access to the Association membership list.
By adopting the above proposals we would create a democratic Conservative Party, with increased participation by ordinary members, improved communication and greater motivation. A political Party for the 21st Century.Any member may attend the Party Conference.Any member may propose a motion for the Party Conference - such motion to be put on the Party’s internet site.
|31st December 2003||31st December 2002||31st March 2002|
|(a) Membership Levy||£223,000||£251,000||£276,000|
|(b) Party Membership Fees||£466,000||£326,000||£437,000|
|Central Membership (b) /£15||31,000||22,000||29,000|
Nobody was compromised
By acts you could describe.
Nobody got away with it,
Nobody thought they could,
And all of them were honest men,
And all of them were good.
Nobody bought a cabinet,
Whatever you may hear,
And all of them were honest men,
And all were in the clear.
Nobody did a secret deal,
Nobody was for sale,
Nobody bent the rules at all,
And nobody went to jail,
And all of them were honest men,
As white as driven snow,
And all lived on a higher plane,
And shat on those below.
In arguing against the proposal to directly elect the British Prime Minister your correspondents raise points which need to be answered. Mr James Macdonald states that "Direct election would give rise to a wide spectrum of applicants, not all estimable" (letter 29 July). Democracy is about choice and it is up to the people to decide who is or is not estimable. He then complains that "a fixed term brings governmental paralysis in the last quarter while campaigning goes ahead for the next." Isn’t that exactly what is happening in the UK at the moment at a time when a general election may be a year or more away? His final point is a general acceptance of the party machines grinding out leaders. As our two main political parties are essentially oligarchies – Labour run by the Trade Unions and Conservatives by wealthy individuals – is it really acceptable in a modern democracy that the British Prime Minister should be selected by these small groups of people?
Mr Sydney Perera states that the Prime Minister is accountable to the nation through parliament (letter, 29 July). That, of course, is the theory. In practice what does it mean? The House of Lords is mainly an appointed body and any attempt to control the executive can be over ridden by adding further appointees or implementing the Parliament Act. It is a toothless talking shop even if at times its words contain great wisdom.
The House of Commons could and should hold the Prime Minister accountable but continuously fails to do so, perhaps because the Prime Minister exercises such huge powers of patronage – over 100 MPs owe their appointment and salary as Ministers to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister appoints the government whips who in turn choose the chairmen and members of select committees. Promotion, position, overseas trips, appointment to outside bodies like the European Commission – all rest in the hands of the Prime Minister.
When the political party in power also has a large majority in the House of Commons, the power of the Prime Minister is almost unlimited.
If Parliament refuses to hold the Prime Minister accountable then the people must – that is why we should have a directly elected Prime Minister.
JOHN E. STRAFFORD
"The Week in Westminster"programme on BBC Radio 4 at 11am on Saturday morning. This was a superb programme with professional commentators.
You state (leading article, July 16), "This is not a debate about whether the British Prime Minister is now more "Presidential", but whether he is accountable." Tony Blair is accountable to the people of his constituency of Sedgefield who elected him as their Member of Parliament, and he is accountable to the members of the Labour Party that made him their Leader.
The British Prime Minister is the political voice of the nation but he is not accountable to the nation.
It is time for the Prime Minister to be directly elected by the people for a fixed term. Our democracy would be enhanced by doing so.
JOHN E. STRAFFORD
- In the election for Mayor of London Ken Livingston received 685,541 first preference votes and 142,839 second preference votes. There were 385,952 rejected votes. Either the electorate were stupid (we don't think so) or the ballot paper confusing or a large number of people did not want to vote for any of the candidates. Was there an outcry? No.
- In the European Election a vote in Luxembourg was valued at ten times the value of a vote in the United Kingdom. Luxembourg has one MEP for every 75,000 population. The United Kingdom has one MEP for every 750,000 population.
- In the local elections Labour received 26% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats received 29%. If this was repeated in a General Election Labour would get 242 seats in Parliament. The Liberal Democrats would get 76.
- All troops in Iraq should be placed under the command of the United Nations and they should be authorised to take whatever action is necessary if attacked.
- Sanctions should be lifted immediately.
- A programme should be formulated for holding free and fair elections in Iraq.
- The United Nations should be reformed and a programme for reformation developed giving a higher standing to democratic nations.
- A nation's representatives to the United Nations should be elected by the people of that nation.
- The reconstruction of Iraq should be under the control of the United Nations.
Iain Duncan Smith - Why does he not just admit that he got it wrong on Iraq. Iain you are flogging a dead horse.
With reference to your e mail of 22 April may I make the following comments
about the Party Conference:
1) Bring back the morning sessions and close the afternoon sessions at
2) Bearing in mind that this may be the last Conference before a General
Election, hold genuine debates with motions on areas where Party policy has
still to be developed e.g. The United Nations be more democratic.
Globalisation, GM foods etc. Have top speakers For and Against.
3) We do not want guest speakers that are not members of the Party.
4) There should be a debate on Foreign Affairs. There wasn't one at either
the last Conference or the Spring Forum.
5) Cut out the Question and Answer sessions. All they do is produce froth.
6) Cut down the number of standing ovations. They should not be organised,
but should be a response to an excellent speech.
7) The Policy and Ideas discussions at the last Conference were excellent
but nobody knew about them. If they are to be repeated they should be well
8) The Leader's reception for all attendees at last years Conference was
9) Shadow Minister's should be given at least 20 minutes for their speeches.
Anything less means froth.
10) Invite members to submit motions for debate to the Party's internet site
(This is what the Liberal Democrats do.) It provides more involvement of
Jack Straw MP has called for a written constitution for the European Union (Report, August 28) and the Convention on the Future of Europe is in the process of drawing up such a constitution. By defining what the European Union can or cannot do you also define what the United Kingdom can or cannot do.
Some 55% of legislation affecting the United Kingdom now emanates from Brussels. For the first time in our history we will effectively have a written constitution. Such a critical and historically important step must be put to the people of the United Kingdom in a referendum for their approval or disapproval. All political parties should commit themselves to this now.
JOHN E. STRAFFORD
Letter to Michael Ancram MP
House of Commons,
London SW1A OAA.
Dear Mr. Ancram,
Last week Richard Spring MP wrote to "The Guardian" and demanded a referendum on the European Constitution (Letters, April 5) but there is a question mark against his statement "No constitution can be agreed without the unanimous approval of the EU member states".
Included in the Constitution is the following clause: "If, two years after the signature of the Treaty establishing the Constitution, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council".
Does this mean that the Constitution may be implemented regardless of whether there is unanimous approval of the Member States, and if not what is the point of referring it to the European Council?
It is said that at the time John Major was having difficulty with getting the Maastricht Treaty through parliament he threatened to use the Royal prerogative to sign the Treaty. A perfectly legal use of the prerogative, but also an example as to why the Royal prerogatives should be abolished. Is Tony Bliar thinking along the same lines?
This Airport reminds one of the motorway service stations of twenty years ago. Dark scruffy left over meals not cleared away. Smokers relegated to the furthest point in the Airport. What a contrast to Belfast International Airport - clean sparkling and with special areas for smokers.
- The National Convention was as dull as dishwater. Thanks to Raymond Monbiot the Convention was opened up to all party members to attend, but even so the hall was only half full. Why not make the Convention the Annual General Meeting of the party with every member invited and allowed to vote?
- Sadly because of the dumbing down of the Spring Forum and the Party Conference we no longer see any passionate or "fire in the belly" speeches. This must change and we are looking to Liam Fox to change it.
- It was a mistake to have Michael Ancram give a speech on Foreign Affairs and the European Elections prior to Michael Howard's speech. We expect the Leader to cover these important matters in his own speech.
- We heard that the Conservative Party now has more women Councillors than any other Party. Great - so much for political correctness.
- Seen working the room - Who went round visiting every table at the Conference dinner? Why, Lord Ashcroft. This is usually done only by those that have just been elected or want to stay elected or want to be elected. Lord Ashcroft is not elected so what is he campaigning for?. Could it be that he will soon be throwing his weight behind proposals for elections in the Conservative Party? We will keep you posted.
- Congratulations to those that designed the "Cirque de Soleil" set at the Spring Forum. What a pleasant change from some of the rubbish of the past
- Best Meeting at the Forum was the debate on "Regionalisation" organised by the "Yorkshire Post" A real debate with contributions from the floor. What a pity we could not have had this in the Forum.
COPOV has strongly objected to members of other political Parties participating in the process of selecting a Conservative Party candidate. We therefore read the following with great interest and concluded that if other Associations follow the process outlined we would withdraw our objections. Even so we would prefer only registered Conservative voters participated but if an Association wanted to extend it as Warrington South did we would not object. We are most grateful to Chris Davenport for setting out the process in such detail.
I read with interest your concerns about the 'primary' system for the selection of candidates and, given that I was closely involved in the primary at Warrington South, I felt that my thoughts on the subject might be helpful. My personal involvement with Warrington South began when, as PPC for Halton, I was co-opted to the WSCA officer team. My association ended when I became a ward chairman in another constituency, but I considered applying for the Warrington South seat when it was advertised. At this point, having been made redundant, I was, coincidentally, offered a job by a PR company which had already been contracted to provide PR support to the primary process. This placed me in something of a dilemma. I was uncertain, at this early stage, how the primary would work and I was concerned at the obvious perils of the system, notably, interference by opposition parties and the production of a candidate by an open meeting who was even more superficial and useless than those often selected by Conservative Party members. In short; I had my doubts. On the other hand I was in the pleasurable situation, after more than 20 years as a voluntary activist, of being paid to work for the Conservative Party and I was bound to make the most of the primary. As time went on my misgivings genuinely evaporated.
In the first place, there was very little guidance (or interference) from CCO. The Association was allowed to get on with it and therefore practicality was very much to the fore. The selection committee, ADC and I all worked together to evolve the process, identify the likely problems and find ways to work around them. Where guidance was received it ensured that the process did comply with the rules of the Party. I would want to bring to your attention and that of your readers that although the excellent candidate we have now was selected from a short list of three by public meeting, the shortlist itself had been drawn up solely by Conservative Party members at an SGM, and the emergent final candidate was endorsed by a vote in which only Conservative Party members were allowed to participate. Had the meeting been hijacked by the opposition or had it otherwise produced a candidate unacceptable to the Conservative Party members present, they had the opportunity to reject its decision.
Moreover, I drafted a set or rules for the meeting, which was given to everyone who attended, which stated, among other things, that the chairman could suspend or close the meeting at any point and that any non-member could be asked to leave at any point. Thus, the Association was not bound to put any of the candidates before a hostile or otherwise compromised meeting. And, course, as a final safeguard, the Association is not bound to keep any PPC with which it finds it does not get on.
Please also note the point of the primary process. It is not merely a whim, nor was it in any way imposed on the Association (I have had discussion with another Association which voluntarily considered a primary and independently rejected it with no outside pressure in any direction). In the case of Warrington South, the idea was offered and accepted as a vehicle to enable the local Conservatives to seize the initiative in local media.
Warrington South is at the very tipping point in Parliament; whoever takes it at the next election will almost certainly form the next government. Unfortunately, the Conservative Association has, by a combination of missed opportunities, bad management and poor moral, allowed itself to slip into a distant third place in local government and is - or was - at a point where campaigning at any level had effectively ceased.
The primary gave us the opportunity to obtain extensive coverage in local, regional and national press and on regional television and radio. Our candidate exploded into local public consciousness and we were able to present the local Conservative Party as dynamic and inclusive at precisely the point at which, by coincidence, the local Labour Party was culling many of its councillors. We were the first to have an open primary and we undoubtedly benefited from novelty value. But as a Conservative supporter of long-standing - albeit with the commercial interest I have declared - I believe that the primary will prove to be worth several thousand votes at the next election. It has already resulted in a steady stream of new members, activists and financial donations.
And this is surely the most important point: it matters less how the candidate was selected than how they were seen to have been selected and the potential electorate advantages than can be gained. Warrington South needs a good showing at the next election if it is to remain in contention. I sincerely believe that after a third severe drubbing it would collapse as a serious political force, leaving the field permanently to Labour and the Lib Dems. To avoid this it needs to take a few risks. It is not alone in this. So let's stop being so precious and whinging about the rights and privileges of members who, frankly, have, in general, contributed by their inaction to digging the hole in which we find ourselves, and start thinking about what might actually win us back the respect of the electorate.
My advice for a Conservative Association considering a primary would be:
* It does not come cheap. A safe seat (whether Conservative or opposition) could probably spend the money better in other ways.
* It is hard work and requires more not less commitment from all members than an SGM.
* If you cannot get more people to attend a primary than would attend your SGM you risk looking foolish and wasting your money.
* Make sure that you have a strong and 'showy' chairman for the primary. A boring a badly conducted meeting will prove counterproductive.
* Make sure that your rules enable you to manage the meeting effectively and leave openings to ensure that you are not bound to accept the decision of a compromised meeting.
* See the primary as a beginning not an end; use it as springboard to launch your candidate.
***Star of the Week*** John Pinar In a superb interview on Radio 5 Live he made Alistair Campbell squirm like a fly in in a bowl of Campbell's soup. Pinar was cool, calm, not agressive, but very professional. What a contrast to the previous night when Jeremy Paxton cowed under to Campbell. Is Jeremy losing his touch?
"Wallies of the Week" - Lord Ryder. Why did this temporary Chairman of the BBC grovel to the Government. He should stand up and fight. In fact the people that have come out badly from the Hutton Report are the BBC's Board of Governers. What a bunch of spineless creeps.
Lord Hutton. He has shown that he was brilliant in determining the process of the inquiry, but his judgement demonstrated that he is totally out of touch with real life.
The "Today" programme
One of the problems with the "Today" programme is that it starts too early at 6am. Nobody is listening at that time other than the Downing Street monitoring unit. The end result is that what you get is one journalist talking to another because nobody wants to be interviewed before 7am. Time for a change.
Early last year there was strong objection from Party members to a Primary election being held in which non Party members, even if they were members of other political Parties were allowed to vote. We now have it on good authority from Lord Saatchi that "When associations have been given the chance to select their Candidate using a Primary system, although non-Party members may be involved in the process, the ultimate decision is made and must be endorsed by Party members". Hear, Hear to that.
The Party Bulletin
Communication with members is not one of the Conservative Party's strong points. Nevertheless we used to get on the Party's intranet site the Party Bulletin which told us what was going on, and what changes had taken place at Central Office etc. The last Bulletin was in September 2003. Isn't it time it was updated? If it has been scrapped let us know.
Election for Party Leader
Ideas for the procedure for electing a Party Leader are currently being gathered for implementation after the next election. The rules for electing the Leader should be determined by the whole Party not just by MPs and the Party Board. We recognise that this issue is not a priority but let us ensure that change is not slipped through so that when there is another Leadership election it is all cut and dried and we are told it cannot be changed.
Elections in Iraq
In 1918 the British conducted a plebiscite in Iraq. It gave 85% of the vote to the proposition that "The British should stay in Iraq". Of course the British decided who could vote. Is it possible we are going to go down the same road in June
More State Funding
When Lord Woolton reformed the Conservative Party in 1948 he said in his memoirs that the single most important of his reforms was the provision that a candidate or MP could not give more than £100 per annum to his Constituency Association. The pre-war practise of people buying seats was stopped in its tracks and for the first time no matter how wealthy you were you could become a Conservative MP. In 1951 Ray Mawby became the first Trade Unionist to be become a Conservative MP.
Woolton's rule lasted until the 1990s when two things happened. The Conservative Party found itself with an overdraft of £19 million and the Conservative government began increasing the allowances of MPs. Central Office encouraged MPs to pay part of their allowances to their Constituency Associations, hidden of course as office expenses. As the Constituency Associations were also hard up they accepted this money with no questions asked. Soon selection committees were asking at selection meetings how much the candidate would give the Association if he/she were selected and MPs began to get a stranglehold over the Association. "Do as I say" said the MPs "or the money dries up". Today MPs get over £80,000 per annum for research. 15 years ago research was paid by the political parties. On this item alone the State funds Political Parties with over £50 million.
A new source of funding by the State has begun to emerge. Have you noticed how in recent years allowances to Councillors have rocketed? They will go up even more now, because Constituency Associations are saying "We want our share". Candidates are being asked to commit themselves to paying over 10% of their allowances to the Constituency Association.
So here we are in 2004 with MPs and Councillors paying monies to their Constituency Association, except that now they are using taxpayers money to do so. Lord Woolton is turning in his grave.
Will the Electoral Commission do anything about it? I doubt it. It is in the pockets of the Parties. A nice cosy arrangement. Why doesn't it bite the bullet and stop these charades. Make all State Funding dependent on membership with democratic political Parties accountable to their members. Then we might see some progress. In the mean time the bill to the taxpayer is rising.
It has been suggested that the reason Michael Howard was unanimously elected Leader by the MPs is because COPOV were kicking up such a fuss about the members being excluded that if there had been more than one candidate the MPs could not have refused to put their names to all the members. Only by having one candidate could they avoid this so they were forced into a unanimous agreement. Interesting point.
I Believe Feed Back
The reception of Michael Howard's statement has generally been very positive. Below are some comments:
"You are absolutely right about democracy and freedom" - see below.
"Can Howard take the start he has made with this and make it more British and more democratic."
"Its a good and interesting exercise. Blair and Brown have no equivalent. He should redo the exercise in six months but next time adapt it a bit and make us British good and proper, and then watch the lead in the polls grow."
"There is a hunger for identity especially among younger voters."
Every Conservative will agree with the beliefs of Michael Howard. There was however one glaring omission. He never mentioned "democracy". Three times he talks about "freedom" and if "freedom" is defined as "the ability of people to govern themselves" and "democracy" is the process by which you determine the will of the majority then he may be making the assumption that "democracy" is covered in his beliefs. If so he ought to make it clear that this is the case and even better to demonstrate his belief by starting to make the Conservative Party more democratic. Michael the ball is in your court.
The morale of the Conservative Party is at its highest for years. The Chairman of COPOV has never had so many political comments inserted into the Christmas cards he has received. All of them positive. We show a selection below:
- "Things seem to be a bit better."
- "What a terrible, almost invisible pregnancy we all went through to get there. Will our ship now float?"
- "Politics are interesting again."
- "Yes, hurrah! The clouds are clearing."
- "Things are looking better for the Conservatives at long last."
- "Faint signs of hope - I think?"
- "Things are looking better."
- "I think things are turning our way at last."
- "Lets hope with MH at the helm matters will improve for us."
- "I hope we are now back on track."
Women make up 24% of the candidates on the Parliamentary Candidates list. In the last thirty seats to select candidates 30% of them have selected a woman. The Party is changing. This is good news for those who believe that a Constituency should choose the best candidate regardless of gender but would like to see a better representation of the electorate in Parliament.
The Honours list again
For the third week running the "Sunday Times" has highlighted the way honours are bestowed. They even talked about the political aspect but so far no political names. No mention of peerages. Either the "Sunday Times" has not got any information about the political honours or it is too explosive to raise the issue. I think we should be told.
29 September 2004
The Hunting Debate should now be more correctly referred to as The Hunting Battle with debate moving to the backburner, and direct action by the pro campaign now a daily event. Hidden somewhere on a landscape shrouded by the fog of ‘battle’, inside a swirling smokescreen of high emotion, there are still, amazing as it may seem, despite all the acres of newsprint and weeks of airtime dedicated to this topic, some simple and straightforward issues yet to be aired.
Taking the popular level of the hunting debate, most people sympathetic to an anti stance, take in the fact that foxes are killed and torn to pieces by dogs.This fact alone is enough to sway them, and yet the pro campaigners have never denied this obvious fact. The pro argument hangs totally on the fact that all other methods of controlling the fox population are worse for the fox – whether it be intentional killing such as shooting, trapping or poisoning, or unintentional killing such as being hit by vehicles on the road. As Burns said, very few foxes die in their sleep.Many die lingering deaths.Only hunted animals are assured a quick end.
The case for hunts being the best way to kill foxes has not been taken in by the mass of the population as it has rarely been made available to them by the media. Despite this, 59% of electors think that hunting should not be banned – reaching their verdict on an uninformed kind of instinctive level. If the options were explained properly to the public, I suspect that the 59% would rise to nearer 80%. On any assessment, a decision to ban hunting has no democratic basis from any objective viewpoint.
Politicians of the anti persuasion seem to be almost completely uninterested in the issue of how the fox population is controlled. Roy Hattersley and Dennis Skinner are probably the more outspoken of this category, and they say that banning hunting is the ideal way to repay the Tories for the Miner’s Strike of 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone other than themselves understands why there is any connection between these two topics. The debate at the representative MP level is even less intelligent than that of ordinary people – being based on willful rather than casual ignorance – as Charles Moore points out.
Hunting has also assumed Constitutional importance, as a result of Blair’s desire to manipulate the willful and casual ignorance he has been happy to facilitate, to meet his long term political goals.By ensuring the public remain ignorant of the real issues, it makes it easier for him to weaken the House of Lords and undermine respect for the monarchy, by making both seem to be in the wrong on this issue.
As to the outcome of Blair’s programme which is based on his EU ambitions, we will have to wait and see, but pro-hunters are not surprisingly in despair.British democracy has increasingly been eroded by the growth of media power, the growth of EU power, combined with the cynicism of politicians. As a result, the pro hunt campaigners feel they have nowhere to go except direct action. They know that the real issue on which all else seems to be hanging – that is – how to deal with the fox population, has hardly even got onto the agenda.
The underlying issue is of competence.Are the people who have controlled foxes for generations competent to know the best way to do it – or Labour MP’s who think controlling the fox population has something to do with the miner’s strike?Until the real issue is properly addressed and dealt with, pro hunt campaigners will not rest. Battle has been joined, and the casualty list will grow – hopefully only that of reputations.But as Machiavelli said, you can start a war when you like.You can only get out of it when you can, and you cannot control how things will turn out.
This presents a great opportunity for Michael Howard.He can ensure that the real hunting debate finally takes place, and that Blair’s cynicism for democracy is exposed, while all the time, pro hunt campaigners can be relied on, on an ongoing basis to rub Minster’s noses in the mess they have made.
Gossip from the grass roots
Is it True Freddie?
Freddie Forsyth has always been generous to right wing causes with the profits from, amongst other things, the shares in a military services company. Forsyth is an adviser to the Young Britains Foundation, a far right grouping of Tory wannabes and tried to auction off the name of the lead character of his next book for a five figure sum at the YBF ball on, quite fittingly, the HMS Belfast. There were no bidders.
Current CF chairman, Paul Bristow, who is running for a second term, was in fact funded by many of YBFs donors. The far right of the party are somewhat disappointed with the stooge they have picked. Some people may find the fact that CF elections are funded by mercenary profits very fitting.
(name and address withheld)
The speeches by Michael Howard and David Davis attacking political correctness and compensation culture are the first hesitant beginnings by the leadership to position the Party’s focus, since Blair conceded the EU Constitution referendum. The speeches were good, well argued and gave good examples as to how, by tolerating aspects of human behaviour protected by Human Rights legislation, you encourage standards of behaviour unacceptable to ordinary people. And Howard showed how something as simple as organizing a primary school sack race has become a legal minefield.
Such seemingly trivial aspects (are they?) were picked up and reported, giving the impression that the ideas being discussed were of minor relevance, which they are certainly not. The fact that teachers, nurses and police are now universally entangled in complex paperwork makes it almost impossible for them to deliver a good service, no matter how much they are paid.
The task for the Conservative leadership, having chosen the correct message, is now how to find a way for these messages, which are the right messages and which there is a growing appetite to hear, are delivered in a format which the media find it hard to trivialize.
In a way Michael Howard comes out of a previous era of politics when politicians were only beginning to become media-minded. In their minds eye, their crowning moment was to make formidable speeches in the House, or stir up Conference. It was just the icing on the cake if you could sum up your message with a catchy ‘sound-bite’. The arena has shifted so far that nowadays hardly anyone hears or is even listening to voices that demand any more than 30 seconds of attention, whether in spoken or written material. In a way there are now only sound-bites or attention-grabs, and nothing else.
The media is now so tightly controlled, whether we mean the BBC post-Dyke (or even pre-Dyke), or the Murdoch Empire, or the Barclay Brothers Press, that even good sound-bites will be reported only inasmuch as it pleases the masters. Nearly all newspaper and TV reporting is now focused on other agendas – Conrad Black’s was on cash pay-offs, Murdoch on keeping his Premier League monopoly intact, and the BBC on surviving. If it doesn’t please Blair that Howard’s message is fairly reported, then it won’t be, as every paper knows that it will suffer by not towing the line.
The message delivery vehicles of old that served Conservative leaders well are now all dismantled, and the message will not get out unless other action is taken to ensure it reaches its audience. The only thing that can be done in my opinion, is to get Constituency material to carry the key leadership meassages, and local activists ensure it gets out. This wasn’t what John Major thought of when he advocated ‘back to basics’ but that is exactly what Conservative supporters will have to do. It’s time to bypass the Press and TV, and use leaflets, newsletters, internet and so on.
By doing so, the media will not stand still of course. If people become aware that the media are not delivering the key messages any more, the media will be forced to shift. But that will only happen if they see a determined effort from the grass roots, which they realize is altering the state of play. Otherwise the media might well ignore and misrepresent the Conservative massage all the way to Election Day.
The message needs to be delivered in 30 second intake format, and be locally delivered. It is unlikely that there is anyone in Central Office right now who knows how to create such an animal. The formats being used, even those generously supplied by the Spectator are too long, and assume people are listening. It is far more likely that a good local Constituency with relevant experience and skills will come up with the format required.
People are now suspicious of anything that looks too professional. In a way Howard too is such a professional, that it works to his disadvantage. This is the age of reality TV, where people don’t want clever use of language, slick-sounding 1980’s style ‘bites’. They want not silky smooth Blair polish, but to feel the edges and know for sure that the emotions on display are for real. If expressed a little untidily, it not only doesn’t matter. It’s better. That is why IDS attracted so much support and went ahead. His lack of experience of the dizzy heights which made Conservative MP’s jumpy, was exactly what appealed to the public at large. They could relate to a man who felt so strongly that he was prepared to take on the full force and anger of the media, be attacked by his own party, and limp through each day trying to survive. It was totally true and believable.
IDS is gone, but there are lessons there for Howard and Davis. Emotion cuts through the falseness of the media. Princess Diana bared her soul and was loved for doing it. Show us your soul Michael – be prepared to be more human and open, and less of an image. Use a little less of your great Conservative intellect. The public will love you yet, and the constituencies reactivate like desert flowers after a storm.
September 3rd 2004
Howard’s Way Now
Portillo may be standing down from Parliament but he has yet to cease his endless habit of attacking his party leaders. All the way from Major to Howard with no gaps in between he has lambasted his leaders at every opportunity, eagerly awaiting each of their downfalls.
We are by now all used to his ways, and there are few surprises when he takes the first available opportunity to open up on Howard, as he did in his Sunday Times column last week. His comments on Michael Howard sadly have much truth about them. It is not good enough for a Party leader to be taking his lead from others and adjusting his position to fit neatly alongside opponents (see Policy Polka). Leaders can operate on an amoral political approach as have Blair and Brown, but to successfully oppose an amoral government, it is no use offering a me-too version of the same thing. You have to expose and attack your opponent’s amorality and offer conviction in its place.
To give Michael Howard credit, he did this well when he had the Referendum on the Constitution in his sights, and he managed to manoeuvre Blair well. But as soon as Blair conceded the referendum, Howard had nowhere to go. It was as if the ploy of demanding a referendum was enough. Howard should have been ready to follow up with an attack on the corruption and unfairness of the EU, as soon as the referendum was called and chase a retreating enemy, but he missed his slot and has now been superseded by Kilroy Silk.
His comments on Howard were interesting as they gave a few Parliamentary insights but Portillo’s analysis of the Conservative Party is as usual way off the mark. He wrote, ‘Tory supporters’ morale soared with the election of Michael Howard as leader.’ This sentence is strange to say the least. Any evidence of an ‘election’ in the case of Howard becoming leader would be most welcome. There wasn’t one. Also IDS was very popular with Party members (who Portillo disposes of by claiming them to be an insignificant minority) and he was gaining in popularity with the public at the time he was assassinated.
IDS had a lead of 5% over Labour after the Blackpool Party conference, and Conservatives were nudging 40%. Under Howard Conservative support is at 30%, and yet all Portillo can come up with as a comment is ‘under Howard opinion polls did not show an improvement.’
Having mislead his readers as to the true position of Conservative support under IDS, who he cannot bring himself to mention by name, Portillo’s path lay open to the main thrust of his article, namely that Conservatives can only win support when they fight in the middle ground. And yet it is only by seriously distorting the evidence that he can sustain this claim, which is palpably wrong.
It is only when Conservatives fight with conviction and belief in their underlying principals that they are an effective force. IDS was no smooth operator, but the fact that he was fighting Blair on simple principals meant that he shot more holes in Labour than Howard has managed to do in the last nine months. Under Howard Blair is starting to look good again. Under IDS, he had to face being called a liar, which he is and everyone knows, and that tactic was working well. Howard has spent too much time at university and wants his politics to be on a nice high plane of intellectual poise, as does Oliver Letwyn. But the political messages people need to hear are much simpler. For example, how much more will it cost taxpayers under Labour than Conservatives? £5000 per household per annum? If so, that’s all we need to tell people. Labour are destroying their standard of living.
As for Europe how many jobs will be lost to regulation and poor economic performance if we become the same as all the other members? – 2,000,000 maybe. For Howard, Portillo’s advice is diametrically wrong. The only advice is KISS – keep it simple son. The centre ground is complicated and already full up. The right has a huge vacancy, and there is huge unmet pent-up demand. The way for Howard must be to meet that demand, or others will do it for you.
Did you hear Michael Howard on Desert Island Discs? It was almost a denial
of his position as Party leader. He repeated several times, ‘Others will
decide – not me’ when asked what decisions he would be taking by Sue Lawley.
‘It’s the nature of politics that others decide,’ he said. What did he
There is a policy ‘polka’ going on at the moment. First there’s the NHS
waltz, then the Education quickstep. The Transport trot will no doubt be
next. Essentially both main parties announce similar sounding policies,
fluff them up claiming they are very different from the other party’s
version. Then they all retake their seats, smiles all round. It’s a bit odd
to say the least. What are the forces that persuade two supposedly opposed
parties to stop competing on policy, and instead take part in a media beauty
We know that Blair is content to be lead from Brussels on nearly any point
of policy. Gordon Brown sometimes appears to have a more independent slant
on things, but whisperers assure us it is just a case of leader envy. Brown
wants to be the one selling Britain out to the EU – and not Blair. Blair
and Brown are almost certainly set on following the Brussels line. The
evidence of 7 years is accumulating.
But is Howard really so minded as well? Why doesn’t he for example ‘lead’
the Conservative Party to a lower tax, lower spend, reform public services
platform? - and attack Labour and EU corruption? It seems that something
as crude as corruption cannot really be mentioned in the beauty contest
being played out in front of us. They all have to look good for next week’s
polka, and everything else can wait.
If the ‘others’ who will decide Conservative moves are not EU Commissioners,
who else could ‘they’ be? Hardly Conservative Party Members, and hardly the
public at large. Howard has to a large extent kept the same key Shadow
cabinet members as Iain Duncan Smith, and he has to some extent continued
with his policies, and to be fair it is mostly Labour that has acted
chameleon-like to imitate them. Iain Duncan Smith has recently launched the
Centre for Social Justice, and is continuing to advocate policy initiatives.
Is this where Howard intends to find his inspiration?
It seems more likely that Howard is just a pragmatist replacing IDS’
conviction politics. This certainly pleases the media, and especially
Rupert Murdoch, who felt sidelined by IDS’ idealism and disinterest in doing
deals for favours. The BBC had IDS marked down as a man of the ‘Far
Right’, but the public were secretly fascinated by the reality TV that he
provided. They knew he was real because he couldn’t ‘polka’. Despite the
media feeling that Howard is more their man than IDS, the polls don’t show
that voters are any happier with Howard than they were before – in fact
rather the opposite.
In October 2003 Conservatives were riding high. Many Labour supporters were
attracted by IDS’ brand of politics with its emphasis on social justice,
hatred of corruption and independence from bureaucracy. They see Howard as
a more typical Tory and when abandoning Labour, they are now more likely to
plump for Lib Dem or UKIP. Since the fall of IDS, Labour has been able to
close the 5% lead that IDS had opened up.
The media, the government and image-conscious Conservative MP’s might feel
happier with IDS gone, without the need to defend something as crude as
conviction and belief, in a world that loves only image. The public though
feel differently. Image is all around and apparently all powerful but in
fact people yearn for something more real – someone willing to look and
sound less professional, and have the courage to say what they actually
This is the true corruption of our society. People know they are not
getting what they want, but the democratic system which used to respond to
voters’ views, has been hijacked. Parliament now operates with one eye on
Brussels, and the other on the media. There are only two eyes and the
public are no longer in sight.
Howard wants to win this ‘big’ power game, and so he plays his moves
carefully to win it. He avoids challenging the systemic corruption around
him. At some point the little guy will take his revenge, and the polka will
be over. Meanwhile the dance of the media elite that loves its place in the
limelight, and fears the intrusion of reality, plays on.
As Michael Howard walks off the field of the Euro elections, he must be feeling the same as David Beckham. It will be a while before he can take it in. He had Blair squirming all over the shop. The polls were showing healthy swings towards the Conservatives based on his promise of a referendum. Then an Irish couple of weeks before the poll, Blair caves into the pressure, and announces a EU Constitution referendum. The clear sight of a Labour open goal was lost.
Howard had scored big in getting Blair to crack on the Referendum, but somehow he was unable to punch home his victory. Out of the mist appeared a new shining knight in UKIP strip, Robert Kilroy Silk. Standing beside him on the rostrum getting all the attention that should have all been for Howard the statistical winner, was this newcomer, promising things that Conservatives yearn for but which their leader feels constrained to offer.
To say that these events have left political commentators reeling in confusion would be an understatement. The goalposts have moved so far that no one knows which way round the pitch is. So what hints are there as to how events might next unfold?
The crux of the UKIP dilemma for Conservative voters in the past has always been that they broadly support the UKIP approach, but that if they divide themselves between UKIP and the Conservatives, that will allow Labour to win. Instead of dividing Labour and Lib Dem, and ruling, they will become the ones being divided and ruled.
In the past, up to maybe 90% of UKIP support was coming from ex-conservatives, and so the dangers of a UKIP vote were obvious. The latest surge however, we are told by pollsters, and as appears from our own soundings, is a lot more broadly based. 55% of the new UKIP support is coming from Labour and Lib Dem supporters, and only 45% from Conservatives. This changes the situation dramatically, in that a UKIP surge in a General election scenario could hurt Labour more than Conservatives, courtesy of the new ‘shining knight’. The risks of supporting UKIP are getting a lot less for Conservatives, and the potential rewards higher.
There is no question from the Conservative point of view that if Howard doesn’t return to the Duncan Smith position on the EU, and attack the corruption of some of his own MEP’s, and split from the EPP, and start offering an explicit eurosceptic ticket, he will come under increasing pressure. Ken Clarke may threaten a split within the Conservatives if he does. But the split with Clarke and the pro-EU faction will cost the Conservatives very few votes. If he doesn’t split with Clarke, he will literally be sunk. He has little choice.
It would be most convenient for Conservatives if Ken Clarke was ‘withdrawn’ by his own constituents. Otherwise, he will either have to announce a new Party of his own called pro-EU Conservatives, or just shut up. He could maybe skip over and join Labour. Blair would be delighted to have him to help shore up his defence of his ‘heart of Europe’ strategy.
If Howard moves accordingly, and the material being circulated to voters by the Conservatives starts to hit the eurosceptic spot, then the UKIP surge will be capped. The quality of UKIP personnel is dubious. A lot of the people in line to push the agenda along are close to being Robin Hood and his Merry Men, or possibly Dad’s Army. With Max Clifford and Kilroy Silk greatly enhancing their public appeal, many might not notice that the quality of most UKIP politicians is to say the least amateurish. However that is undoubtedly what they are.
There would be great risks for Conservative voters in allowing the strength of the Conservative Party to be damaged by this UKIP flurry. If Howard can bolster his eurosceptic appeal, and keep building his support – welcome back to Theresa May for example – then it will increasingly be Labour and Lib Dem eurosceptic voters who feel their views are not represented by their traditional parties, and who will find their way to UKIP. The three way split of Lib Dem, Labour, Conservative could easily become a four way split, with UKIP getting a toe hold in Parliament. The job for Howard is now to ensure that the four way split damages Labour more than Conservative.
His task is not complicated, but will he address it? I hope so. As Sven might say, the warnings have been duly delivered. The team can, however still win the contest in the end of the day.
Thank You Iain Duncan Smith
Is it not possible to consider all the evidence, weigh the balance of arguments and reach the conclusion that the Euro is not for us, and to declare that British Parliamentary Democracy must live on - without growing pointed ears?
Realism is a self-confessed agnostic or sitter on the fence. He is wrong in my opinion to imagine that those who commit themselves to a position on issues such as the Euro are automatically extreme. Lets just say that people are different, and that by and large it is better to imagine that when someone else holds an opinion different to ones own, in most cases there is nothing sinister about it.
Some people like the EU. Most people it has to be said don't. The role of politicians should be to represent the views of their electors. Many people today believe that too many politicians are pursuing their own agenda, as are media moguls, and the views of mere electors are being ignored or misrepresented as extreme for example. These are important issues.
As for IDS, think back to February 2003. He was very nearly removed from the leadership by a co-ordinated and sustained media attack then. In that period, summarised pictorially by a memorable Spectator cover, Portillo and his supporters were at the forefront of the campaign to undermine Iain's authority. They were no doubt still smarting from their failure to win the Party leadership, and unhappy at their loss of influence at Party Headquarters.
Had Iain fallen then, Michael Howard would probably not have been in the running. The most likely contestants pre-Iraq would have been Portillo and Clarke, and I don't imagine the party would have achieved unity with either as leader. The fact that IDS lasted another eight months till October 2003 gave him enough time to define the Party's policies on a whole raft of issues including the EU. He had time to bed in his team, which included Letwin, Ancram and Howard. These three hold the key shadow cabinet positions. The Portillistas are defeated, and Clarke is nowhere near the figure he was a year ago.
It was the defeat of the Portillistas in February of 2003, especially the campaign to deselect Michael Portillo in Kensington & Chelsea that stopped the attacks on IDS and enabled him to survive eight more months, giving the Conservatives a sound base on which Michael Howard is now building, gaining maximum advantage from it.
If this assessment is correct, then the strength of the current Conservative position owes everything to the IDS two year period of office. I believe in credit where credit is due. It takes nothing away from Michael Howard to take stock, and be grateful to Iain Duncan Smith for the incredible contribution he made.
I am pleased to be described as vigorous in my views by Realism. I admire his caution, but cannot claim to suffer from it much myself. For example, it was me that organised and ran the campaign to deselect Michael Portillo last February, acting as an ordinary voter exercising my democratic rights.
Henry CurteisI would like to take issue with the ‘realism at last’ (RAL) opinion. It is simply not true that the IDS regime was the ‘road to nowhere’ - or indeed that under IDS ‘we were a laughing stock’ as stated by Michael Fabricant MP in a speech recently. Such statements are not consistent with the respect people had for IDS, and the huge and sustained revival in Conservative fortunes which he oversaw, lifting the Party from 20% behind to 5% ahead of Labour – a level incidentally that Michael Howard has yet to equal.
Howard will need time to establish himself, and everyone I am sure wishes him all the best. But to start off by misrepresenting the Party’s recent past will not help anybody. Only an accurate assessment of our strengths and weaknesses will assist a strong move forward, not an unnecessary rubbishing of what went before. The nature of IDS’ removal from office (basically he was pulped by a co-ordinated and sustained media campaign - See Democracy Assassinated) has confused many Conservatives. IDS had weaknesses, but the campaign to remove him greatly exaggerated them and that seems to have blinded some people as to his strengths, and most importantly, the strength of the position he had achieved for the Party.
The reason IDS re-established Conservative credibility in the eyes of millions of voters was that he had done what neither Hague or Major had not managed to do, namely settle the European issue. He placed the Euro permanently out of bounds for Britain, and developed a policy of the EU becoming not a Superstate, but a trading agreement between free democratic countries. His Shadow cabinet all stood behind these policies.
It was the strength of this position that allowed the Party to put Europe to one side for the first time in a generation, and refocus attention on the main issues of every day politics such as Health and Education, where Conservatives now have a lot to say in the light of Labour’s primary failure to deliver. IDS’ detractors who think that he had a poor image as a potential PM, should acknowledge this strategic achievement. If they don’t, then they could be unnecessarily exposing the Party to renewed weakness.
Michael Howard has ‘rebalanced’ the Party placing Europhiles in the Shadow cabinet and permitted Ken Clarke a prominent media role. This ambiguity obviously pleases the media and buys kinder treatment. For the Party itself however, there is the danger of slipping back to where it was under Hague. Either the party could begin fighting openly over Europe again, or if they don’t, the media will be delighted to give prominence to the pro-EU faction however small they actually are, riling potential Conservative voters and pushing them into the hands of other parties.
Clarke is already popping up on TV now, regularly espousing his pro-EU views, and so is Portillo now openly advocating membership of the Euro (Sunday Times) and burying Britain in the ‘heart’ of Europe. Howard’s approach to this so far is to try to keep the cork in the bottle by asking all Conservative MP’s not to talk about the EU issue. This is obviously not working as already the above mentioned are clearly ignoring him.
RAL does not seem to understand where the strength of the Conservative position has come from, and more worryingly, is unaware of how easily it could be lost. RAL states that the threat from the Lib Dems has been reduced by the take-over by Howard. This is partly true as Howard has strong electoral appeal. But it is only by exposing Lib Dem double-speak that Lib Dem support can be whittled down. That will need the Tories in a strong IDS-like position, not in a muddle. To expose confusion in the thinking of others, you need clarity in your own.
So why can’t we have the clarity of the IDS strategy combined with the personal appeal of Michael Howard?
One can imagine that Howard has made deals with senior Tories at the time of his selection as leader, in order to prevent a long drawn out leadership battle. The trouble is that he may now have obligations to act in ways that are detrimental to the position of the Party. This is the trouble with not consulting the Party membership. When IDS was challenged, he always referred to the fact that he was the leader because he was elected by the membership. The media had no respect for this of course, but it gave IDS’ position tremendous strength. Howard unfortunately is dependent on deals he had to make for his position.
The centres of power in British politics have shifted. So much so that Blair can eliminate the Lord Chancellor, tamper more or less at will with the House of Lords, and frequently ignore the House of Commons. He does not need the Commons, as his power base is in the media. Also the media saw how quickly they were able to ‘execute’ IDS, and after years of Blair promoting them over and above the Commons, they are starting to see themselves as very powerful indeed.
While Howard lacks the strength of an elected position, he does have the advantage that the commentariat and the media moguls feel they put him where he is. They like the Conservative Party being more ambiguous as that provides them with a bigger role, playing off one wing against another. In Murdoch’s case, he can use the current ambiguity to play off against EU Competition authorities. The media though should feel more committed to Howard than they did to IDS, as they put him in place, and they should stick with him as he starts to flex his muscles and impose a little discipline in the coming months.
Power ultimately resides with electors, and they will hardly be impressed by another Blair-like leader who loves the media game over and above that of talking straight with voters. IDS was getting very good indeed at striking a chord with voters, expressing his own strongly held convictions. RAL should salute his achievements, and encourage Michael Howard to gradually move back towards the strength of the IDS position, and not be lulled into a false sense of security by the current media honeymoon.
If Howard can strengthen his grip on the Party without sacrificing media support, that would justify the position of Conservative MP’s in bringing IDS’ leadership to an end. But if the end of IDS is just an abandonment of any real attempt at overall strategic direction, then the loss of IDS is a tragedy, as voters will not be impressed. Cheap shots at IDS need to end, and Conservative thinking needs to harden, if the Party is now serious about winning power, as it claims.