FROM THE GRASSROOTS
BOURNEMOUTH CONFERENCE DIARY – 2006
Sunday, 1st October
15.15pm. Headed for Conference. Entrance this year via the hill on the sea front leading to the Highcliffe Hotel where all the bigwigs stay. Heard part of William Hague’s address – typical Hague. Witty, urbane, generous,delighted to be part of the Cameron team.
Prospective U.S. Republican Presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, was warmly received. Speech was that of a well respected elder statesman – thoughtful, measured and fairly low key. My immediate thought: "The Christian ‘moral majority’ on the right who now control the Republican Party probably won’t wear it." Might be better for him to stand as a Republican-Independent. Probably would not win but might poll a lot of votes leaving a possible Democrat President to extract the United States (and us) from the Iraq/Afghanistan mess.
16.45 David Cameron’s first major speech to the party faithful. Another great communicator and he seems to have clear objectives for the future. We are charting a new course, thankfully. Generally well received but I suppose he would have got a standing ovation had he simply ready out the Bournemouth telephone directory. The lady sitting near me muttered to the gentleman next to me "But it’s not Tory." I nearly said to her: "Madam, we’ve tried basic Tory and it still left us with less than 200 MPs in 2005". Between Senator McCain’s speech and that of our Dave, the wide conference screen reminded us of past Tory leaders and philosophers, starting with Edmund Burke and William Pitt. Poor Edward Heath was booed by some representatives – a pity because going into the then Common Market in 1973 seemed a good thing (not the cumbersome bureaucracy it is now) and Heath’s 1971 Industrial Relations Act was passed 10 years before its time. On the other hand it was nice that John Major got a cheer. Though his administration ended in disaster it is generally forgotten that in 1992 he polled over 14 million votes, the highest Conservative vote ever, and was rewarded with one of the smallest overall majorities ever (21) since universal suffrage.
And so to one of the over 200 fringe meetings arranged over the four days. I chose to go to the Trouville Hotel to hear George Osborne speak. Room packed. Very interesting interview followed by questions on tax, council tax, pensions, housing, public spending etc. Most memorable quote, repeated in his main speech on Tuesday, "There’s no such thing as a tax cutting Shadow Chancellor". On the way back to my hotel the taxi driver told me they had been ferrying representatives back to the station as they had no conference passes. Who is responsible for this mess up? Will heads roll? Probably not.
Monday, 2nd October
10am Arrived in conference when David "Two Brains" Willetts was speaking. Session wound up by a speech, mainly on health, by Andrew Lansley. In between a good array of speakers, a number of whom were professionals and not members of the Party. How refreshing this is. Interesting footnote: in today’s Daily Telegraph a letter from Diana Heimann, daughter of the late Iain Macleod (one of my heroes) who was Minister of Health from 1952 to 1955. Even in those early days Macleod was conscious of the problems the NHS might face and wrote: "The quicker we can actually decentralise more authority to those who actually work in the service, the better for the NHS itself." Ingenious foresight or simply a pipe dream?
Debate on crime and anti social behaviour particularly by teenagers and young adults opened by Damian Green in a well constructed and thoughtful speech. Close speech by Shadow Home secretary David Davis. Enough here to please the ‘true blues’ but also enough to appeal to the middle ground where elections are won and lost. No mention of bringing back hanging or the brandishing of handcuffs at this conference, thank goodness. Again varying views across a whole range of important subjects with contributions by non conservatives.
12.30pm Lunchtime fringe meeting with George Osborne again and sponsored by The Times – Conservatives and the Voters. Conservatives and the non voters would have been more apt. Lively packed meeting. Was lucky to get a place standing. Would have liked to ask a question but because of the crowd failed to catch the chairman’s attention.
Afternoon session. Missed early part of the debate on the environment but arrived to hear speeches from four prospective parliamentary candidates – Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, a black farmer from Devon who is contesting the new seat of Chippenham, another gentleman contesting Wyre Forest, formerly a safe Conservative seat but held at present by an independent doctor on a Save Kidderminster Hospital platform, and two women candidates in Central Derbyshire, another new seat, and Solihull how on earth did we lose here in 2005? Good candidates, but can they succeed where others have failed? Theresa May hosted the first of three "Meet the Candidates" sessions in which six people were invited to put forward a favourite policy to be part of the policy review. Each candidate was cross examined by a panel of four experts including Oliver Letwin. When we voted the winner with 29% was a lady concerned with the environment.
17.45 And so to my one evening fringe meeting, again at the Trouville, to hear Andrew Roberts, author of "Eminent Churchillians" lecture on the subject: "Advice to Dave from great Tory Leaders of the Past". Roberts gave a tour de force of advice previous leaders might give – Peel, Disraeli, Lord Salisbury, Balfour, Bonar Law, Baldwin and so on. All it would appear had in Harold Macmillan’s world: "Little local difficulties". Made an observation in an interesting lecture with relevant questions afterwards. The former Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, was present at the meeting.
Tuesday, 3rd October
Arrived in the main hall for the social justice discussion at about 10am. Speakers included the Bishop of Rochester. Social justice is, apparently, the main theme of this year’s conference. General opinion was that much more could and should be done to reduce poverty and inequalities in health and education and that the voluntary sector should be involved to achieve this end. Much more emphasis should be put on the family as a unit of stability in our society, even though it was recognised that for many, maybe the majority, there was no family to fall back on. Policy should be more family friendly.
11am. Debate on role of business in society. General conclusion, not surprisingly, was that more must be done to encourage business by reducing taxes and cutting red tape.
11.30amEconomic discussion opened by Alan Duncan. Shadow Secretary of State for Industry and Trade, who told us about the Tyneside project. Apparently the Trade and Industry team are going to Geordieland to help in and learn about the regeneration of industry in this deprived area of Great Britain. The balance between work and leisure was thoughtfully considered by Will Hutton, formerly editor of The Observer. The challenges posed by the internet and information technology were the subject of a discourse from an American professor, whose name escapes me. Finally, an effective "wind up" speech by George Osborne who confirmed his support of tax cuts in the long run and wanted to reduce the amount of around 43% which the State currently spent to 38% but refused to put economic stability at risk. Generally well received.
12.45pm And so over to the Hermitage Hotel to hear Andrew Tyrie MP and John Strafford argue on how the political parties should be financed. About 50 present. Wide ranging analysis by Andrew Tyrie with John Strafford repeating much of what has been previously written in these pages. Made an observation regarding the financing from organisations such as Aims for Industry and trust funds, both effectively answered by Andrew Tyrie in his closing remarks. Met and John and Caroline Strafford for the first time after corresponding with them for nearly nine years.
17.45pm Very wet so took a taxi over to the Trouville to hear Charles Moore interview Simon Jenkins about his recent book "Thatcher and Sons". Jenkins asserts that there were in fact two Thatcher revolutions – the first being the substantial reduction in income tax rates, the trade union legislation and the privatisation of industries. The second, continued by Major and then by Blair and Brown (the latter having almost total control over domestic policy), resulted in the centralising of power in Number 10 by taking it away from institution such as local authorities and the universities. Interesting comments and questions. But are Blair and Brown truly Thatcherites and have they all, in the 16 years since her fall, been responding to the Thatcherite agenda in much the same way as the Conservatives in the 1950’s and early 1960’s accepted the welfare state, including the NHS, and the corporate solution of the 1945/51 Labour Governments. Only time will tell. Certainly Blair, by tearing up Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution, carried out one of Margaret Thatcher’s dearest wishes – the demise of unreconstructed state socialism.
Wednesday, 4th October
Decided to go to the conference late and remain in BIC until David Cameron’s speech. Arrived at about 11.15am for part of the debate on globalisation and global poverty. How interesting and informative have been this week’s discussions. Debate wound up by Andrew Mitchell. Memorable quote: "This is not a Labour issue or a Conservative issue: it is a world issue". Then to Meet the Candidates again with Theresa May and selected guests including Ann Widdecombe celebrating her 59th birthday. Winner a young candidate from Leeds who missed out last time by 400 votes.Wanted zero VAT on certain energy saving light bulbs. Finally, the Conference choice debate: "Should Jamie Oliver be regarded as a national treasure?" Panel included Boris Johnson who had made some fatuous remarks about school dinners and had been hounded by the press the previous evening. Boris was his usual, inimitable eccentric self which is why everybody loves him – the human side of the Tory party showing we are not all stuffed shirts. The proposition was eventually carried by 77% to 23%.
14.00 Francis Maude addresses conference profusely apologising for the ‘mess up’
over the conference passes. Commends those from Central Office who have worked night and day to clear the backlog. Stephen Castle, who chaired the conference, was presented with a bell – a tradition going back to 1958, when Lord Hailsham was Chairman and famously rang it at the conference preceding the 1959 general election. He thanked everyone who had made the conference a success – in particular the police, security and fire services. During the week party members from the highest to the lowest had been working on the restoration and reconstruction of the St Mary’s Church, a dilapidated and run down building. The MP for Bournemouth East, Tobias Elwood, in his building overalls reported progress. The keys to the church had to be handed back by 4.30pm that afternoon. The project was dubbed: "The Conservatives and Social Action".
14.30 And so to our leader David Cameron who brings the conference to a close in a wide ranging speech covering all the topics discussed over the last four days. This man certainly has charisma and spoke with ease, compassion and, I hope, sincerity on subjects which, in previous conferences, would not have been considered winners – notably the NHS and the environment. We have to move on – the world is much changed since we were last in government – and has fundamentally changed since 9/11. Of course, he needs to put flesh on what are, at present, the bare bones of policy but there is probably no Clause 4 equivalent for him as the free market argument has been won. I have been following politics, particularly Conservative politics, for over 40 years and every Conservative leader from Harold Macmillan and to Michael Howard has had his or her critics. In December 2005, we, the grass roots members, voted for a change of direction and David Cameron can hardly be blamed for trying to deliver it. Only time will tell whether his strategy has been successful. If it is (and recent opinion polls suggest that even the NHS has been neutralised as a possible vote loser) then there will be plenty of takers for his brand of liberal conservatism.
For the first time since 1992 there is a genuine optimism that we could possibly form the next government. We have to support the current leadership and to misquote St Paul:
"There now abideth three things: Faith, Hope and Dave".
FROM THE GRASSROOTS
It is just over eight months since David Cameron was elected as our leader – enough time, I think, for an ordinary member of the Party, such as myself, to make an initial appraisal. In a previous article I admitted that I switched from supporting David Davis and backed David Cameron. Although I did not actually hear Cameron’s speech at Blackpool, from the reports I read, it was evident that he was addressing the nation as a whole, not just the Party faithful, and touching upon subjects which might not, in normal circumstances, be associated with our Party. Here was a man who could ‘reach out’ to all sections of society.
At the same time I recognised that Cameron had had no ministerial experience, not even at a junior level, other than as an adviser to ministers in John Major’s Government. In addition, he had been an MP for less than five years. I took a gamble and, although I have been disappointed in some aspects of Cameron’s leadership (and I will return to these later) I believe that last December I put my cross in the right box. The truth is that way back in 1991, we did not fully realise how much Labour, under the ruthless leadership of Blair, Mandelson and Campbell, had re-positioned itself and that Socialism would now be achieved not by nationalisation but by stealth, much higher taxation and Government spending, the gradual erosion of civil liberties, and continual Government interference in the lives of ordinary people. We thought that Labour, as previously, would ‘mess up’ the economy, there would be a sterling crisis and economic chaos. How wrong we were! For the first time since 1906 we have been in opposition for three consecutive Parliaments. We have failed to ‘see off’ the second opposition Party (the Liberal Democrats, previously the Liberals) and have had to learn a very harsh lesson: no Party has a divine right to govern.
I agree with those who say that to simply rely on our ‘core’ vote will not win a General Election (2001 and 2005 proved that) and there must be a broader appeal to encourage former supporters to return and to attract new voters. But I pose this question: what happens if, as happened in the Bromley and Chislehurst by election, your natural supporters stay at home and don’t bother to vote? The by-election result, in my view, was a disaster which could have and should have been prevented. On so many occasions in the past we have seen the Labour vote collapse in suburban seats and the Liberal Democrats are always the beneficiaries. (Look at Richmond, Kingston and Sutton in South West London). Even in 2005 the combined Labour/Liberal Democrat vote was 20,000 in Bromley/Chislehurst against the late Eric Forth’s 24,000. I suspect that many of our members in the constituency are over 65 and that the actual active membership may only be about 50, if that. We can make all sorts of excuses – the holiday period, the fine weather, the World Cup, Wimbledon and so on. But the fact remains. We could not get out the Conservative vote in Bromley/Chislehurst.
And even though I don’t live in the constituency I am bitter. Bitter because of an unnecessary humiliation. A few months ago I was invited to become a ‘Patron’ of the Party, contributing £50 per month to the Party Funds. Apart from the fact that I cannot afford it, I have no intention of giving any more; firstly because I know the money will not be well spent, and, secondly, because I do not receive a copy of the Annual Accounts, showing the income received and expenditure made. In other words, if I contribute let me see how it is spent.
My main reservation about David Cameron is whether he is remaining true to Conservative principles. Or is he a prisoner of the ‘Notting Hill’ set that surrounds his (and I guarantee their life style is miles away from my own) and is pandering to what I call the middle class metropolitan liberal elite? That is those who naturally veer towards the left but who can through either wealth or position escape from the trendy ideas and policies they wish to foist on others; particularly when the going gets tough.
A letter in the Sunday Telegraph recently argued strongly against neglecting the ‘core’ vote and restated principles and ideas which should put clear blue water between ourselves and new Labour; principles which have, incidentally, won us many General Elections in the past and will do so in the future. As a Conservative I dislike ‘big’ Government and the idea that the gentleman in Whitehall does know best. In my experience Governments waste large sums of money on schemes devised by bureaucrats to please their own masters. In my lifetime we have spent billions and billions only to be told 40 years later that perhaps it was foolish to spend such large sums – the building of high rise blocks of flats in places like the East End of London and the desire to build large comprehensive schools (bog standard or not) are but two examples of the state nonchalantly spending taxpayers money. Our taxation system should not be a tool to punish the wealthy; it should be used to encourage wealth creation so that businesses, especially small businesses, may thrive and prosper and thus create jobs. There must be an end to the ever increasing burdensome ‘form filling’ which employers (especially those with a few employees) have to undertake simply to please a wheeze thought up by a Government department. We seem to have ruled out a ‘flat rate’ of Income Tax (which is a pity) and seem ready to accept an Inheritance Tax system which for many means handing over to the State 40% of anything above £285,000, now the average price of a modest house in London or South East England. Our plans should be bold and radical – the Inheritance tax exemption limit raised to £1 million perhaps, or the exempt transfer between husband and wife extended to maybe a third or fourth generation.
On things like Health and Education, ‘Free at the point of use but as much diversity and choice as is possible and practicable’ should be our slogan. We should be prepared to face up the vested interests who will place all sorts of obstacles in our way. In many ways Gordon Brown’s desire to spend the same amount on a child educated by the State as one educated privately is laudable. The difference though is this: the State has no control over the child, and has no idea if the money is being spent wisely or wasted. In the private sector, the parent or whoever is responsible, is likely to have direct access to the school and will soon complain if the money spent is not producing the desired result, i.e. a good education for the child.
Like many Conservatives, I regret voting ‘Yes to Europe’ in the referendum way back in 1975. I believe we were deceived and never thought I would see the day when the laws passed by the European Parliament would override or be superior to those passed by Westminster. It is not, therefore, surprising that UKIP has attracted so many former Conservative voters. Their slogan is simple and easily understood: they cannot be vilified as loonies or nutters for most are patriots who want to see Britain freed from the shackles of bureaucracy and collectivism which characterise so much of the thinking of the European Parliament. A great country which 80 years ago not only had an Empire covering a quarter of the globe but fought two World Wards to preserve the freedom we enjoy today is now reduced to a province on a map of ‘Greater Europe’. What is even sadder is that few people are willing to stand up and say: "I’m proud to be British and to be part of her history and traditions". What a contrast with the United State of America where every day school children acknowledge their inheritance by revering ‘The Stars and Stripes’ coupled in most cases with a (Christian) act of worship.
The election of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in 1999 completed the process ensuring that Westminster, were it in the unlikely event of superseding Brussels as supreme law maker, would never be the same again. For we now have nearly 100 MPs who have no control over domestic matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Nationalism, certainly in Scotland, is as strong as ever (it holds four seats at Westminster which would, otherwise, in all probability be Conservative). The system of proportional representation (admirable in many ways) has resulted in Scotland having a Labour Liberal-Democrat coalition in perpetuity and a Labour administration in Cardiff with no overall majority. The UK taxpayers as a whole contribute 20% more to public expenditure in Scotland than in England and, with the ‘West Lothian’ question completely unresolved. Many – probably the majority – of England’s voters are decidedly unhappy. Who can blame them?
The truth is that Labour voting Scotland and Labour voting Wales (the latter often with Conservative Secretaries of State from English seats) wanted to be rid of Conservative voting England and a UK Parliament in which the Conservatives had a majority. And, as with so much other legislation, Labour did not properly think through the consequences of its own proposals. The ‘English Question’ was left unaddressed and the chickens are eventually coming home to roost. Some prominent political commentators are even calling for a completely independent Scotland. It is said that Scotland is pursuing Socialist policies which can only lead to long term decline and impoverishment. Since the Union Scotland has produced many fine doctors, lawyers, inventors – even Prime Ministers. It would be a great shame if, simply for short-term gain, the Union has been fragmented, maybe forever. Ours is a rapidly changing world and a dangerous one in which terror groups, Islamic and others, thrive. 9/11 has failed to shake us out our complacency and we could be subjected to another terrorist attack like that at London a year ago at any time.
By the time the next General Election comes in 2009/2010 Labour will have been in office for 12-13 years with, in all probability, Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. I would like to see David Cameron fight the election based on sound Conservative policies which are realistic and not dogmatic or based upon the flimsy findings of some ‘focus’ group. I want the best candidates fighting the seats we hold and the winnable marginals. I don’t care whether they are black, white, yellow, male, female, gay, straight, professionals or manual workers. The appalling ‘A’ list should be torn up for the simple reason that it is saying that one particular candidate is more worthy of representing us in Parliament than another. Yes, I would like a wider ‘mix’ but not by this method. Labour has over 100 women MPs but 90% are faceless wonders just there to do the whips bidding and cheer on Tony Blair.
Although historically we have had comparatively few MPs who were women, those who have got to Westminster have done so through their ability. Margaret Thatcher is the obvious example and, more recently, Ann Widdecombe. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the redoubtable Dame Irene Ward from Tynemouth was a thorn in the side of both Conservative and Labour ministers. The blue rinsed, Dame Joan Vickers, twice beat Michael Foot in the dockers’ seat of Plymouth Davenport. Dame Pat Hornsby-Smith was a junior minister in Macmillan’s Government and created a Privy Councillor.
In conclusion I believe we should
choose the best candidates;
run a campaign based on sound Conservative principles;
have policies that have a broad appeal, but do not neglect the ‘core’ vote;
not be thrown off course by our opponents campaign tactics;
continue to ram home the message that despite being No 2 in the Labour Government, (for nine) or whatever years, Gordon Brown, whether ‘old’ Labour or ‘new’ Labour, is as much responsible for its failures as was his predecessor.
Telling A Cameron
Henry CurteisIt’s very trusting of COPOV to say they agree with Cameron’s proposal to cut the number of
MP’s by 10%.
If a schedule of which MP’s are to be cut is produced, and the method of exclusion explained,
then it might be possible to agree with such a proposal. But giving open-ended consent to a
proposal of unknown detail which could have enormous ramifications, is surely a case of
democrats naively assenting to the dismantling of their own long established democratic state.
I see no evidence that Cameron has any regard for the British Constitution. His talk is of
‘trusting people’, and ‘supporting institutions’. In reality he prefers ‘manipulating people’ by
pushing the European programme for the state funding of political parties without even
mentioning there is such a thing (Maastricht Treaty). He is reducing the influence and the
role of MP’s, centralising Party decisions, disempowering constituencies, and making the
media the primary arena of political influence and ‘debate’.
As for the EPP, I am quite convinced he has absolutely no intention of quitting at any time.
I hope that COPOV stops trying to meet Cameron half way, and strong eurosceptics stop
naively waiting for the moment of delivery. It’s like Ashdown trusting Blair. You’ll waste ten
years trying to find a core of honesty which simply is not there.
FROM THE GRASS ROOTS
BY A CONSERVATIVE
TONY BLAIR - IN OFFICE BUT NOT IN POWER?
The recent death of John Profumo brings back vivid memories of that 1963 summer. I was 16
and preparing to take my ‘O’ levels in a South Wales grammar school (Cowbridge) which had
a 300 year connection with Jesus College, Oxford and a headmaster who had played
international rugby for Wales and in the famous 1935 Wales victory over the New Zealand All
Blacks. Hot June days are never the best time for studying and as I tried to remember the
main features of Castlereagh’s (or was it Canning’s ?) early 19th century foreign policy, the
political scandal of the century provided a welcome distraction. Not only was the Minister in
question found to have slept with a call girl but in addition, he lied about the affair. Of course,
there had been other scandals – five years early the obscure Member for Harrow East, a
junior Minister, had been forced to resign after being found chatting up and in the arms of a
Guardsman. But the ‘Profumo affair’ (as it became known) was something different. As a Privy
Councillor and Minister for War, Profumo had access to intelligence and security could have
been compromised. In addition, Harold Macmillan’s administration seemed tired and lack
lustre after nearly 12 years in office. It had already been engulfed by other difficulties –
economic and social – and in Harold Wilson, Labour had a new dynamic leader breathing the
merits of the "white hot heat of the technological revolution’. Broken by the Profumo affair
and ill health, Macmillan resigned, handing over the leadership and Premiership not to the
favourite, R.A. Butler, but to a Member of the House of Lords, the 14th Earl of Home
(pronounced Hume). With the assassination on November 22 of United Stated President,
John F. Kennedy, 1963 was a memorable year. These then were the events which kindled
my interest in politics. Unfortunately the lessons of 1963 have not been learnt by those who
govern or aspire to govern us today. For John Profumo, stripped of his Privy Councillorship
and his seat in Parliament, there was no coming back – no second chance. Yet in the past nine
years, two Cabinet Ministers have resigned, come back and resigned again. In 1963 when the
Profumo affair was debated in the House, Macmillan was forced to account for his actions
(or lack of them) and 30 Conservative MPs abstained in the final vote when the House divided
and within a year the United States somehow became involved in an unwinnable war in
Vietnam (shades of Iraq?) and (cave Gordon Brown) the favourite sometimes never wins the
ultimate prize, particularly when he is not supported by the outgoing Prime Minister.
The 1963-64 period was exciting in many ways and the fact that, even when led by an
aristocrat, our Party in the 1964 election polled over 12 million votes and (with its Ulster
Unionist allies) had 303 MPs in the House of Commons should remind us of the mountain we
still have to climb in 2009/2010.
As Conservatives it comes as no surprise to us that third term Governments soon hit troubled
waters – we have experienced it twice since World War Two. Even before the Profumo
scandal referred to previously, Macmillan’s Government had hit the rocks. Orpington was lost
to the Liberals in March 1962. Margaret Thatcher’s third term was marred by quarrels over
Europe (the famous 1988 Bruges speech), disagreements with her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson,
who had no love for Sir Alan Walters, Thatcher’s economics adviser and, of course, the
notorious ‘Poll’ tax. Scotland was already out of love with us but this measure, imposed a year
earlier North of the Border, was the straw that finally broke us – and we are, even now, 16
years later, still feeling its effects, as our disastrous performance in the recent Dunfermline
In 1981, Margaret Thatcher was the most unpopular Prime Minister since the advent of
political polling yet by the start of her third term, July 1987, all her trade union legislation had
been passed, inflation was seemingly under control, many state controlled industries had been
privatised and a war against a military dictatorship been won. Had she retired on the 10th
anniversary of her premiership (May 1989) the chances are that our Party would have been
spared the terrible turmoil on the 1990’s and the self doubt which has (and still does) afflict us.
What will Tony Blair’s legacy be? Having read Simon Jenkin’s article in the Sunday Times
(March 19), it is clear that Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell et alia took over
the Labour Party, and with all the weapons that modern technology could muster and skilled
media presentation, wielded it into a formidable election force with the one object of gaining
power after 18 years in the wilderness, and it worked. The writer also happens to believe that
by 1997 whoever led the Labour Party would have defeated John Major so tarnished, tired
and out of touch had his Government become.
Tony Blair has now been overtaken by what Harold Macmillan called "Events". Probably the
biggest mistake in the first term was to sack Frank Field, his Social Security Minister, for
wanting to think the unthinkable over social security and benefit. The Iraq War, the row with
the BBC and the death of Dr David Kelly dominated the second term. On current form, a
messy compromise on schools together with loans by prominent businessmen in exchange for
favours look set to dominate his third. Nor has he been helped by the brooding presence of his
would be successor, Gordon Brown. Margaret Thatcher was fortunate in that neither of her
Chancellors in her first two terms, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, was a likely successor
and that, unlike Blair, she dominated her Cabinet and was a good butcher. She knew her stuff
and heaven help a Minister who was unprepared. Tony Blair, by contrast, has been forced
into messy compromises either because ministers were unwilling to move, or because Gordon
Brown wanted them to stay. Tony Blair, on his own admission, is not of the Labour Party but
came into it via his wife. His roots are not from those of the organised working classes, but
because he had charm and great presentational skills he won over the doubters who could see
he would go down well with the voters in those seats Labour needed to win to form a
Government, i.e. Middle England. Part of his legacy will be to have turned Labour into a social
democratic party (just as Roy Jenkins wanted) and to have made it electable. But at what
cost? Blair came into power promising to be "whiter than white" but the latest scandal proves
what we already knew. The general public as a whole is cynical about all politicians no matter
the party and rightly so. Turnout at General Elections is at a record low. When I read in the
Daily Telegraph one day that the marketing guru who propelled David Cameron into the
leadership of our Party earns £276,000 a year and one of our own MP’s complains of the
sacrifice he has made to serve in Parliament (£200,000? including allowances), I shake my
head in disgust because in the world in which I live and for the people I meet it would take
eight to 10 years to earn such a sum: and what must old age pensioners, faced with ever
increasing bills, and on fixed incomes, think of such largesse? A couple of weeks ago I was
astounded to read that a single mother trying to earn a modest wage would be paying back to
the Government 70% of what she earned. If she increased her earnings from £7,500 to £8,500
she would pay an extra £220 in tax, £110 in National Insurance and lose Social Security
benefits of £370. So much for fairness in Gordon Brown’s Britain for the Chancellor, whilst
substantially increasing the public sector payroll, has not only devised the most complicated
tax and benefits system in history, but is also strangling the private profitable sector with
regulations, red tape and an ever rising tax burden, and some of the salaries on offer, in what
I regard as "Mickey Mouse" jobs, make the mind boggle. Labour is in the process of making
more and more people dependent on this state (is it really true that 44% of the population
rely on the state for more than half their income?), and the tragedy is that most people cannot
or do not realise we are sleep walking to disaster. The number of Labour MPs who have run a
business, with all the form filling and rules as outlined in countless Parliamentary Acts or
European Directives, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even though our
manufacturing base continues to shrink, small businesses are still the lifeblood of the
country. If Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister and were the next election to result in a
"hung Parliament" in which he was forced to enter into a coalition with (say) the Liberal
Democrats, then the West Lothian question, postponed for so long, will have to be answered.
Let me give an example. Prescription charges in England are increasing by 15p per item.
Here, in Wales, because the Assembly has control, they are being reduced to £3 and are
likely to be abolished entirely in 2007/2008. So if you live in Oswestry in Shropshire you still
pay, yet in Welshpool 20 miles away, you will eventually pay nothing. This is Labour’s ‘fair’
United Kingdom which is why I cannot understand why our leader, David Cameron, wants to
be seen as the heir to Blair. Labour’s leaders in the late 50’s and 60’s, Hugh Gaitskell and
Harold Wilson, were social democrats yet we still won in 1959 and in 1970. And for those with
long memories, in 1970 Edward Heath won on a platform of smaller Government, lower taxes,
and control of the Trade Unions – policies which, for a variety of reasons, he was forced to
abandon but ones which Margaret Thatcher implemented. Ten years later, history is not all
bunk. I am all for modernising, but we can also learn from the past. After 1945 the
Conservative Research Department under R A Butler came to terms with the new situation
and 1951 ushered in not only 13 years of Conservative Government but some of the brightest
MPs in the Party’s long history, many of whom became senior ministers. The task, surely, is
to apply Conservative principles in a new and ever changing world. And I am truly astonished
to read in The Spectator that a Conservative MP believe "There is no appetite out there for a
smaller state". And why have we abandoned any idea of a flat rate of income tax? Are we
afraid that our opponents would claim we are only reducing the tax burden for the very rich?
Are head teachers, policemen, nurses, highly skilled workers, now classed as "very rich"
because what is known as "fiscal drag" has brought them into a 40% tax bracket? Is there
no-one in our Party capable of making the case? We have become mesmerised by the
Labour "spin" machine where every failure is classed as a success and, where any opinion
contrary to Labour doctrine, is rubbished.
Electorally, we are still a long way from power. And in the "cash for coronets" scandal we, as
a Party, need to ask ourselves serious questions. "Why", for example, "would Dr Chai Patel,
chief executive of the Priory Group of private hospitals, be willing to lend £1.5million to a
Party historically opposed to private medicine? It can only be to influence the decisions of the
Party in Government. And when Labour supports private medicine it is always for the good of
the public as a whole, unlike the greedy Tories who are only out for private gain. And do we
ever attempt to answer the charge? No, in the main our spokespersons become tongue-tied
and apologetic. And we are not helped by those in our Party who have openly said we are
perceived as "nasty" and "out of touch". At this point in time, there is no-one who is more
"out of touch" both with his Party and the British public than Tony Blair.
"New Labour" is in the twilight of its existence and has served its purpose. When Gordon
Brown takes over he will not be burdened by any Clause 4 Constitution demanding the
wholescale nationalisation of industry. Instead we will have an over bossy Government trying
to meddle in people’s every day lives and promising to give money to the next focus group
that takes its attention. The State will become the universal provider. Even now, through
advertising, we are being invited to contact the Inland Revenue if we think someone is not
paying tax. And we don’t even have to give our name and address. (Shades of 1984?)
Our Party needs to get its act together pretty quickly. David Cameron has appeal because he
is new and, in choosing him, I think our Party has shown that it is prepared to break with its
past. But he has to tread carefully and make sure that for every new supporter won,
traditional support is not eroded. It is a delicate balancing act. I agree that, with no election
until 2009/2010 it would be foolish to make specific proposals at this stage. But we need to
know the direction in which we are heading and how a Conservative Government would differ
from the present one. When we return to Government, the Thatcher and Major years will be
a fond memory for many, just as the Macmillan Government is a fond memory of my youth
and every Government since my youth has ended in failure, whether at the hands of the
electorate or at the hands of Members of Parliament. Tony Blair is just the most recent
casualty, as someone once said "All Governments end in failure".
They save the taxpayer money.They enhance our democracy by having democratic political parties.They put the political parties on a sound financial footing.They encourage the parties to increase their membership.They take the perception of financial influence out of our party politics.
There is one other point that could have been made regarding a political party having to change its constitution. The Labour Party has been forced to accept that the people in Northern Ireland are entitled to be members of the Party. It also looks as though the Labour Party will have to have Party branches in Northern Ireland, so it is not unique for external forces to make a political Party change its constitution.
- Do you think the current system (with a few minor changes) needs further time to bed in before thinking of more radical change?
Scenario 2No. The current system is in disrepute. The two main political Parties are in serious financial difficulty and action is urgent to avoid a crisis. Action is required as soon as possible.
- Do you favour the specific ideas described in scenario 2 for increasing transparency?
No. The increased amount of information about an individual donor is an invasion of privacy. The only criterion for an individual donor is that they should be on the Register of Electors.
Only individual donors should be allowed to make donations in excess of £5,000. Corporations, Unincorporated Associations and Trade Unions should be restricted to a maximum donation of £5,000. The decision to make a political donation should be made by an individual. Unincorporated Associations have been used on occasion to hide the identities of individuals.
- What do you think of the idea of decreasing the amount parties can spend nationally on campaigning?
The amount spent on national campaigning should be reduced to a maximum of £15 million in any one year.
- Do you think that the amount that can be spent on local campaigning should be increased?
Scenario 3The local campaigning limits seem to be about right so should not be increased
- What do you think of the proposal that donations should be capped?
Scenario 4Donations from individuals should be capped at £25,000. From any other organisation, including Trade Unions, they should be capped at £5,000. At present the Conservative Party has proposed that donations should be capped at £50,000. They have 60-70 individuals that give that amount to the Party. By decreasing the cap to £25,000 it can safely be said that the number of individuals would increase to a point where no one individual could buy influence.
- Do you support the principle that additional public funds should go to political parties?
In principal political parties should not receive any additional public funds. They should stand or fall on their own endeavours. However they are in such a critical condition at the moment that funding is required to help them put their houses in order and to prevent a collapse in the political system. Any additional funding should be phased out over a period of five years. This would give them time to adjust their operating methods.
- If so, do you support the idea of a general cash subsidy or a more targeted grant or the idea of financial incentives to encourage small donations?
GeneralI support the idea of a financial incentive to encourage membership of political parties. To enhance democracy the State should pay a per capita amount (say £25.00) to each political party dependent on the number of audited members of the party paying a minimum subscription of £10.00 and subject to the parties having democratic constitutions. This would encourage them to concentrate on building up their membership.Members would only be included that had paid a subscription in the previous 15 months.
The Interim Assessment states p62 "If the figures were audited externally to control this, it would remove the current confidentiality over who belongs to a party." Auditors are bound by their professional code of conduct to respect confidentiality. Any breach would therefore be a breach of their code and be subject to discipline by their professional body.
The question of confidentiality should not therefore be an obstacle.
With reference to the Trade Unions and Labour Party membership, the Unions could be regarded as acting as Agents of the Labour party in collecting subscriptions for membership. Once a Trade Union had passed the minimum subscription (£10 per member) to the Labour party those members would have all the rights of a Party member whose subscription had been collected directly by the Party.
Any other payment by a Trade Union would be limited to a maximum of £5,000. This would curb the abuse whereby the government paid £10 million to the Trade Unions Modernisation Fund under the Employment Relations Act of 2004 and the Unions then paid £12 million to the Labour Party in 2005.
- Which elements of the above scenarios do you think are most important?
The most important is tying any further funding to membership and phasing the funding out over a period of five years.
- Are there any issues, which you think are important that we have not covered?
The Policy Development Grants should be abolished. They are a crude mechanism for giving more State funding, and are biased in favour of those Parties with Members of Parliament.
I set out below the financial situation of the proposals where it is possible to do so:
Abolish Policy Development Grants - saving (2,000,000)
Abolish free post at a General Election saving - (20,000,000)
Subsidy based on membership – extra 15,000,000
Saving to the Taxpayer in year one £ 7,000,000
As the subsidy is diminished each year the saving to the taxpayer increases. Taken as a whole I believe the above proposals would be acceptable to the people and would solve the current problems. For a taxpayer neutral effect the subsidy per member could be increased to £35.00 in year one. I set out below my full recommendations amended from my initial report.
There is some ambiguity here. Does it mean that Constituencies, which are not "Target" or "Conservative Held", can select their candidates in accordance with the previous rules? There is no definition of "Target" seats. They are determined pragmatically, which we do not object to, but who decides whether or not a seat is a "Target" seat? Do the Constituency Associations have any right of appeal? If so whom do they appeal to?
The Electoral Commission today published figures for donations to political parties in the second quarter of 2006. These showed that Labour received a total of £3.4 million in donations, of which £2.5 million, or 74 per cent came from the unions. This compares to a total of £5,819,668 in the second quarter of 2005, of which £3,511,411, or 60 per cent, came from the unions (Electoral Commission).
Labour rejects reform of union funding
In the NEC consultation on the future of party funding, Labour say that they: ‘….totally reject any assertion by our political opponents that the affiliated link is one of the problems in party funding.’ (NEC consultation: the future of party funding, June 2006, p.41)
The Reality: Unions Controlling Labour
In Government, Labour has granted wide-ranging concessions to the unions:
• Under an agreement reached with the unions in July 2004, the ‘Warwick Agreement’, Labour agreed over 60 concessions, including the watering down of anti-strike legislation and additional Government funding for the unions. In return, the unions agreed to provide funding for Labour’s 2005 General Election campaign.
• Labour introduced the Employment Relations Act 2004 which created a £10 million ‘modernisation fund’ for the unions, with few conditions attached.
• Labour bowed to union pressure and shelved plans to force existing public sector employees to retire at 65.
Labour continue to be funded by the unions:
• During 2005, over half of Labour’s funding came from the unions. Out of a total £21,716,133 donated to Labour in 2005, £11,972,816 came from the unions (Electoral Commission).
• Since the beginning of 2001, around two thirds of Labour’s funding has come from the unions. The Labour Party has received £82 million in donations, of which £52 million has come from the unions (Electoral Commission).
The unions continue to govern the Labour Party:
• They account for one third of the votes for the next leader of the Labour Party.
• They make Labour Party policy through the National Policy Forum.
• They exercise a 50 per cent block vote on policy motions debated at the Labour Party conference.
So now we see that both of the main political Parties are undemocratic. The people know this so expect a minuscule turnout at the next election.
"The Board shall have power to do anything which in its opinion relates to the management and administration of the Party"
The power of the Board is backed up by its ability under the constitution to place a constituency into "Support Status", which effectively means that they take over the Association. The whole process has become very undemocratic. Prior to the Hague reforms the Constituency Association was all powerful. Now it is the Party Board.
At the National Convention last October COPOV tried to get the Chairman of the Candidates Committee elected by and accountable to the Convention. This proposal was kicked into the long grass but we will return to it.
- It looks as though membership is slightly down in spite of the surge in membership when the new Leader was elected. The per capita levy dropped to £312,000 from £319,000. Membership is almost certainly below 250,000. Why doesn't the Conservative Party show membership figures? The Labour Party does.
- The Party seems to be suffering from a vast increase in bureaucracy with committees by the bucketful and lots of appointed Vice Chairmen. Who has heard of the "Individuals" Committee? What do all these people do? This is a good reason why the Party should have an Annual General Meeting at which the the Board would report and the Accounts of the Party would be presented, just like any other transparent democratic organisation. If it did, the rubber stamp National Convention could be scrapped. It has become a total waste of time.
- In the Treasurers Report written in July 2005 accompanying the Accounts for the year ended 31st December 2004 Jonathan Marland said "We are continuing to impose tight controls, through the Finance Committee, and we are working towards our break-even budget for 2005". So what was the result - a Deficit for the year of £14,999,000 and this after receiving £4,586,000 in State Funding. Do we no longer understand the English language? Some break even! Never mind, for these abysmal results the Treasurer received his peerage. The Party now has negative assets of over £18,000,000. It is a disgrace, so what does the Party have to say about it? "Its not as bad as Labour who now have a Deficit of over £27,000,000". On the other hand Labour's deficit for the year was of a similar amount to the Tories and they did not have the benefit of State funding. Also included in Labour's total deficit is provision of over £6,000,000 for pension liabilities. The Conservative Party neatly skates round creating a provision, presumably on the grounds that some of the Agents are not their employees. It really is time that we had a Party Treasurer elected by the members and accountable to the members otherwise this shambles will continue until one day we wake up to find that we are bust.
- In 2004 the Party received £762,000 income from commercial activities. In 2005 this went up to £2,388,000. Good you might say, but on closer examination we made a profit on commercial activities in 2004 of £580,000 whereas in 2005 the profit was only £93,000. At this rate it will not be long before we are losing money on commercial activities.
- Finally we have the weird situation regarding 32 Smith Square. In the Accounts at 31st December 2005 the lease of the building is shown as having a value of £10,000,000. Then we were told that the Party had bought the freehold with a bank loan for £15,000,000 because it could sell the it for £25-30 million. In the mean time costs are being incurred, interest paid, the costs of moving to Victoria St together with the costs of the lease there. All in order to make a profit of between nil and £5 million. What is going on? Rumours of a foreign company's involvement are emerging. It is time someone came clean and told us exactly what the position is.
Members of the Party
When the Party brought in the Party Constitution individual Constituency Associations were asked to ratify this. Most did, but some did not. What is their position? We know of at least two Constituency Associations which have never ratified the Constitution and consequently have not ratified model rules. When choosing candidates this could become an important issue. Has your Constituency complied? Let me know.Two Conversations
Amongst others I had two interesting conversations this week. A friend called out a doctor on a Saturday in Central London because their child was ill. A Locum came to visit the child. The Locum was from Germany and explained that they flew to England on a Friday evening, stayed until Sunday and for this were paid £1,400.00
Relating this story to a friend, they told me that their daughter is a physiotherapist in Devon. She had recently been called out to a sick child for which she was paid £10. Funny old world isn't it? The NHS is in a mess. Labour are incapable of managing anything. After all they haven't managed anything in their lives so why should they suddenly be able to manage something when they get into government?
Saturday it was agreed to campaign for the abolition of the "A" list and the
return of constituency autonomy in the selection of parliamentary
the "A" list and called for the process to be opened up so that any
Conservative member could be on the list. Central Office's role would be
to filter out the mad, bad, and sad. The real problem that should be
addressed was how to attract more female and ethnic minority candidates.
This would only happen if we broke down the barriers to entry to the list
and made the Party more democratic.
elected by the National Convention and thus accountable to it.
candidates and party members will be invited to plan the campaign leading up
to an open meeting at the Party Conference.
It was reported in "The TeleGraph" this week that David Cameron had said that there would be more women on the Priority List than men and that 10% of the list would be ethnic minorities. This is appalling. Two wrongs do not make a right. Will the hierarchy never learn? For the 440 candidates that are waiting to hear whether they are "A" list or "B" List or nothing their wait will soon be over. We hear that they will be informed immediately after the local elections. What a cynical way to treat candidates. Work hard in the local elections then get kicked in the guts for your efforts. Disgraceful!
We agree with the strategy of the Party. First of all we have to rebrand it. David Cameron is doing an excellent job in this. Next we have to spend time looking at and developing policies. This is right, but here a major mistake is being made. The Voluntary Party is excluded from this process. So when the policies are announced the first thing will be to win over a resentful voluntary Party. Whereas if they had been involved in the process they would accept the results of the process and accept ownership of the process.. You would then have the whole Party selling the policies to the electorate. Unless there are changes watch out for fireworks when we start announcing policies.
The area that the Party is falling down on at the moment is in opposing vigorously the Labour Government. They are reeling and we need some sharp attacks to put the knife in. They are on their knees. We should not let them get back up. Now is the time to go for them with all guns firing. Timer to bring on the heavy hitters, the bovver boys of the Party, For the next year we should concentrate on attacking our opponents so that by the time we begin to announce our policies Labour and Liberal Democrats have no credibility.
Will John Prescott become the first Minister to be laughed out of office?
In 1815 the Home Office employed 15 civil servants and the Foreign Office 40. I know we were running an Empire then but when I see that today the Home Office employs 70,000 then I just wonder where we have gone wrong.
Lloyd George created 150 Peers. Tony Blair has created 293. Who was the crook?
***Star of the Week *** - It has to be David Cameron. His trip to the arctic was a resounding success. Anybody that watched "Newsnight" will know that he is in the process of changing the public perception of the Conservative Party. This is good news. His strategy is 100% correct. That does not mean that the Conservative Party is above criticism. Indeed, now is the time we should be having healthy debate. We have 18 months to flesh out our policies, but it is nice to know that at last we are on the right track.
"Vote Blue go Green" Doesn't green make you feel sick? Mustn't criticise. After all we are paying £300,000 a year for these slogans.
Selection of Candidates
The Party has published guidelines on the selection procedure for parliamentary candidates. Among them are the following:
associations to either consult with the community during selection or hold a primary.
an end to candidates making a big speech at their selection meeting.
We are quite happy with Associations holding primaries as long as the safeguards used in the Warrington selection are in place.
As for consulting with the community what a load of rubbish. Who is the community? We are told they are to be non-party member representatives from the local community. Does this mean non Conservative Party member or non any political Party member? Who are they? Who decides who they are? How many should there be? This whole section has not been thought out and should be dispatched to the rubbish bin. It gives an ideal method of manipulating the selection process.
Why shouldn't candidates make a speech if the Association wants them to? The control freak mentality of Central Office is taking over. Whatever happened to Constituency autonomy? Who is it that is so arrogant they they and they alone know the best way to choose a parliamentary candidate? Soon Associations will be told who their candidate is and the Party will all but disappear at local level other than Councillors. It is a disgrace.
The "A" list
We now know that there are about 440 candidates on the candidates list. Of these about 25% are women, i.e about 110. The "A" list will consist of 70 women and 70 men, so if you are female your chances of getting on the "A" list are better than 2 to 1. If you are a man it will be over 4 to 1. This is totally unfair. Candidates should be chosen on merit regardless of sex, if there is to be a list at all.
We totally oppose the concept of an "A" list. We believe in the wisdom of the crowd. The bigger the number taking part the more likely to get the best candidate. Nevertheless let us suppose that the "A" list is the right way to go. We all want to see more women MPs. If it is successful then we will end up with 70 more women MPs on top of the 19 at present, in other words a total of 89 women MPs out of a total of 340 Conservative MPs, about 26% At the moment they comprise about 10%.
The argument put forward for adopting this undemocratic and draconian measure is that the existing Parliamentary Party is unrepresentative of the people. It consists of mainly white middle class men privately educated, large numbers of which went to Oxbridge and worked in the City or are barristers. If we want to bring about real change,then it is no good tinkering with candidates it is the existing Party which has to change. Logic tells us that in that case what should happen is that at the next General Election every sitting MP should come up for re-selection and to make it fair there should be a primary election held. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Rather than imposing their will on the voluntary Party let us see whether the Parliamentary Party has the guts to apply its own demands on itself. I fancy we will have to wait a long time.
At the National Convention last week Don Porter (the new Chairman of the Convention) made one of the most significant announcements in the history of the Tory Party. He said that the Party were looking into giving an email pin number to each Party member. The ramifications of this could be enormous. It would mean that ordinary members could vote for National officers direct rather than through the discredited pyramid voting system we use at present. So, for example the members could elect their representatives on the Party Board. They could even elect the Party Chairman and the Party Treasurer.
It addition to all this it could mean Party members being directly consulted on policy matters. This is one of the most far seeing approaches from a Party which is at last beginning to realise that we are in the 21st century. The quicker we get on with it the better.
Aims and Values
At the Spring Convention the Chairman of COPOV intervened in the Aims and Values debate. He accused the Party of Blairite presentation. He went on:
"The aim of the Conservative Party should be to love mother. Our values should be judged by the value of a home baked apple pie cooked by Jamie Oliver. We know from focus groups that such aims and values would have the support from every elector. The people would love us. They would see we had changed.
Then we would have a reality check. We would wake up.
The exercise is unutterable junk. At a time when there are no debates at Party Conference, when we have no vote on policy, when we have no vote on party organisation, when our choice of parliamentary candidates is being restricted, do not insult the intelligence of the ordinary Party member by giving them a vote on this rubbish.
Dare I say it, at the moment the Emperor has no clothes. It is time we started to dress him with some policies."
As a foreigner I am not allowed to donate money to a British political Party. This is a real nuisance. I would like an honour. Some of my companies do business with the Government and I am told that donations to the Parties give influence in these matters. How do I overcome this. I have thought out one or two ideas. Just suppose that the Party has property, let us say worth £10 million. I could buy it from them for say £15 million. Property is hard to value. On the other hand I could sell them a property worth £30 million for say £15 million. Either way I have managed to give them a donation of £5 million in one case or £15 million in the other. I could of course employ some staff of the Party directly by my companies. Although they were working for me and paid by me through one of my many companies some of them foreign, who would know. Now Mr. Electoral Commissioner what is wrong with this. I think it is so good I must have a word with Lord .... After all he should know about these things. He might even arrange for me to get a peerage. Lord Machiavelli, now that would be something!
North West Conservatives
It was very nice to get a thank you from the North West Conservative office to all those that went canvassing during the Spring Forum.Well done and good luck in the elections.
Control of the Party
Gavin Barwell (Director of Campaigning at Central Office) is off to work for Lord Ashcroft. He joins another former Director of Campaigning Stephen Gilbert. At this rate how soon will it be before all Central Office employees are employed by Deputy Chairman of the Party, Lord Ashcroft? His grip on the Party tightens. In charge of fighting marginal constituencies, a big lender to the Party, (£3.5 million at the last count), former Treasurer and so on. Yet never elected by Party members? How can one man become so powerful? Money! Some of his ideas are good, some not so good, but isn't it time he issued a manifesto so that we can see where he is leading us? Does he have a political agenda? We should know.
LLoyd George created 150 Peers. Tony Bliar has created 293 Peers. Who is the crook?
This was a very interesting Spring Forum. I did not think it would be. There were no motions for debate and virtually no opportunities for discussion or participation by the members. It was more like a Summer School, and a chance to learn about the Inner Cities than a political conference. There is room for us to have both, either back to back or on separate occasions.
Some interesting points come out of it all:
Communication was appalling. People turning up for the Spring Forum were not told about the dinner on the Thursday evening. Hardly anybody knew other than Councillors about the meeting with Ken Clarke and his democracy task force. In any case it was held in a pub with a jazz band practising whilst the meeting was going on. Somebody needs to get their act together.
The National Convention is an appalling waste of time. The platform talks to the floor. It should be scrapped and an Annual General Meeting of the whole Party held to which every member is invited. Questions should be allowed to the candidates for election as was proposed and passed by the Convention years ago.
Conservative Way Forward held a very interesting meeting with Nirj Deva MEP who made an excellent speech about Aid in the developing countries.
Nearly everybody that wanted to went canvassing or delivering leaflets for the local government elections on the Friday evening. The Chairman of COPOV was not looking forward to this and he got soaked in the process. In fact it was a very successful exercise and helped create a feeling of togetherness. Four bus loads went to Salford and Bury and parts of Manchester. The effect was to deliver 15.000 leaflets and to get 800 pledges. Well done to all. We were rewarded with a free meal at the Midland Hotel. This added to the pleasure. (I do not know whether this forms part of election expenses and if it was subsidised runs foul of election law. Presumably somebody in Central Office checked it out?) Hopefully the meal was subsidised because the Midland Hotel must rank as the most expensive Conference Hotel ever and I would hate to think that Party funds were used in such an extravagant way. Nevertheless it rounded off a good day.
There were 630 candidates on the old candidates list of which 440 have re-applied for the new list. 21 candidates have been fast tracked into marginal seats.
The Isle of Sheppey has passed a resolution at its Annual General Meeting demanding that its candidate at the General Election be reinstated on the list. The candidate having been told that he had been thrown off in spite of losing the seat by only 79 votes. We await to see what happens.
One of the problems that is beginning to loom over this ridiculous "A" Priority list is that the expectations of ethnic minority candidates are being raised to unsustainable levels. Out of 100 on the list the most that ethnic minorities might expect to have is 10. Some are going to be bitterly disappointed.
We hear that David Cameron has not yet held a meeting with Conservative MEPs, This is disgraceful. A meeting should be held immediately. Whether we are in the EPP or not does not matter. These MEPs are part of the Conservative Party. Time to act David and now. Action this day!.
Once again the two main Parties are deep in the mire over Party funding. So deep in the mud are they that all you can see are the bubbles popping through the surface. The male equivalent of cow dung is pouring all over David Cameron's head. It could have been so different. He could have taken the high ground and fired those that took the secret loans. He could have disclosed everything from the start but he has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century and he has still a long way to go.
One day the Conservative Party will have an elected Treasurer and an elected Party Chairman. It will be democratic. It will have an Annual General Meeting to which all members are invited and at which the officers of the Party can be questioned. If David Cameron did all this now it could be his Clause IV moment. It would demonstrate that the Conservative Party had changed. If he does not do it the Conservative Party and their copiers the Labour party will go down the tubes. There are 18 million people who did not vote at the last General Election who said we cannot stand any of you. You are all mired with the same brush. Of those that did vote 40% were aged over 60 and these are the generation forgotten by all politicians. One day someone will start speaking for them.
We have learnt something in the last week. Of the 13 loans disclosed as outstanding at 31st March, 6 were made by former or current Party Treasurers. So there we have it, loan the Party £100,000 and you will be made a Party Treasurer. Nice one David. We also know that at least two lenders demanded anonymity. I will tell you right now David their names will come out in the end, so you may as well tell them now.
Is this the full list? After all, this system of "Commercial" loans started in 2001. How many lenders have there been and how many were repaid in the period since then? If you were a "Commercial" lender you would want to know what existing loans there were and on what terms they had to be repaid. Didn't any of the secret lenders ask these questions. What "Commercial" lender would lend money to an organisation that had negative assets of £5 million at 31st December 2004 without security? So what security was given? If these were loans on "Commercial" terms why didn't the Party go and borrow from the bank?
On top of all this we have the odd situation of 32 Smith Square As At 31st December 2004 32 Smith Square is consolidated into the Conservative Party Accounts as a fixed asset worth £10 million. It was owned by C&UCO Properties Ltd. The Party has now borrowed £16 million from the bank in order to purchase the freehold which together with the adjoining property are now worth over £30 million. Clever stuff this. You sell an asset worth £10 million then borrow £16 million to buy it back and when you have bought it back it is now worth £30 million. Where did the £10 million cash you sold it for go? See also below 32 Smith Square
One final point. Check out the amount of donations given before a peerage with those given after a peerage. With one or two exceptions the amounts before exceed those after. I wonder why.
Do you want to be a Conservative Candidate? If you get as far as being asked for an interview you will be allotted forty-five minutes for the interview with one MP plus one other. A decision will then be taken as to whether you will be on the "A" list but you will not be told this until the end of May. Your future career rests in the hands of these super individuals who are so clever that they know exactly what the elector wants. What unbelievable arrogance. Why do the members of the Party put up with this junk? The answer is that they do not. They leave. That is the history of the Party for the last fifty years. Soon there will be no members left. Do the MPs care? No! They ask for State Funding so we the taxpayer coughs up the money with no accountability as to how it is spent.
Party Political Loans
The sad and sorry saga of the Party loans continues. The Conservative Party could have taken the high ground by immediately announcing who had given loans to the Party but failed to do so. The end result is that the Party is as deep in the mire as the Labour party. We all know that eventually the names of the Tory Party "donors" will come out so why not get them out now instead of in dribs and drabs. The Conservative Party Treasurer is appointed so there is less pressure to disclose the loans. The one redeeming feature of Labour's Loans is that the story came out because they have an elected treasurer who has to report back to their Party Conference.
It is time that the Conservative Party Treasurer was elected by the members of the Party and had to report on the Accounts to an Annual General meeting of the Party at which he could be questioned. David Cameron is looking as though he is going to fail his first test in Party democracy. What a shame. The only person to come out of this with any credit is the Shadow Attorney General, Dominic Grieve who called for transparency. No wonder he won the award for Politician of the Year. He has more political nous and courage than the rest of them put together. Well done Dominic. Keep it up. In the end you will be victorious.
One other good thing is that at last the Party is beginning to face reality and has come out with some proposals for the future financing of political parties. They propose a cap on donations of £50,000. This is too high and should be reduced to £10,000. We agree with capping General Election expenditure to £15 million. We agree all their proposals for cutting expenditure. Some of these are quite bold and the Party is to be commended on these initiatives. Reforming the honours system, having a substantially elected House of Lords are all very good.
Where we disagree is on giving tax relief on donations. Both Main Parties are keen on donations. It means that there is no accountability. Tax relief can only be justified if it is given on membership subscriptions and then only if the political parties meet certain democratic criteria. The Electoral Commission has been particularly lax in not demanding these fundamental criteria for any political party to receive state funds . The effect of not doing so is that large amounts of taxpayers money ( over £20 million to the Tories since 1997) is being given to small oligarchies. This is a disgrace and should be remedied forthwith.
The Tory Party is at last beginning to move towards getting its house in order. What a pity it is taking so long. We are told that Andrew Tyrie MP (who does a good job for democracy) has been working on this subject for some time. In which case why hasn't the voluntary party been consulted? They do have an interest in the result.
32 Smith Square
It was announced this week that The Conservative party has purchased the freehold of 32 Smith Square. This is another saga and it links in to the secret loans.
32 Smith Square was purchased in 1954 by Lord Woolton (almost his last act as Party Chairman) for just under £1 million from the Conservative controlled Westminster Council, Within eighteen months its value had increased to £1,5 million. An astronomic rise for the time, but journalists were not so inquisitive then. The property was bought in the name of the Bourne Association Ltd ( later to change its name to C&UCO Properties Ltd). At the time there were a number of Companies which the Conservative Party used which were all named after different rivers. The Directors of the Company were the great and good in the Tory Party (the men in grey suits). Bourne Association gave a long lease to the Conservative Party at a peppercorn rent of £1.00 per annum
Over the years as property values increased so did the value of 32 Smith Square. By the early nineties the value had increased to £6 million. The Party had large overdrafts which were secured against the property. At 31st March 2000 the Party had an overdraft of £3.234 million together with interest free loans (excluding loans from constituencies) of £3.150 million.
In 2000 the Electoral Commission was set up and donations to political Parties of over £5,000 had to be disclosed but not loans at a commercial rate of interest. In the year to 31st March 2001 the overdraft disappeared as did the interest free loans and were replaced by interest bearing loans of £5.670 million. By 31st December 2002 32 Smith Square had increased in value to £10 million and did not have to be secured because there was no overdraft. By 31st December 2004 the interest bearing loans had increased to £9.249 million but there was still no overdraft and the Conservative Party moved into 25 Victoria Street in July 2004 leaving 32 Smith Square empty. It was thought apparently that Smith Square could be sold and the proceeds used in the General Election, but the building was not owned by the Party but by C& UCO Properties Ltd.
Then comes the mystery bit which we are told involved a South African link. What it was exactly we do not know, but now we have the announcement that the Conservative Party has bought the freehold. It is reported that it was bought for £15 million, although according to one report it is worth £30 million. It raises the following questions.
Did C&UCO Properties sell the freehold to the South Africans or was it the peppercorn lease which was sold or neither? If there was a sale how much was it sold for?
Is it the Conservative Party which has bought the freehold and who did it buy it from? Was it bought from C&UCO Properties or somebody else or has C&UCO Properties bought back the property?
The weird thing about all this is that it has been announced that the Conservative Party is not going back into 32 Smith Square so why is it doing all this wheeling and dealing. It appears to be acting like some speculative cowboy developer. Do we really want our Party to be involved in speculative development and what happens if it all goes wrong?
One more reason why we should have an elected Party Treasurer accountable to the members so that we could be told the full story. This is all beginning to feel like 1954.
We hear that it is being proposed that the lists for European Candidates are to be elected on a man, woman, man, woman basis. In this age of political correctness we think this is disgraceful. What about gays, lesbians, old, young, singles, marrieds, ethnic minorities, disabled etc. In fact there are so many categories that should be represented there are not enough places on the lists. So bad is it, that we might have to go back to choosing candidates on merit. If any candidate feels hard done by write to David Cameron at Conservative Central Office. Tell him that there is a growing perception that all the Conservative party is interested in are white, married, middle aged Old Etonians. What is he going to do about it?
Bias in the BBC
Did you notice that on Saturday 100,000 people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square calling for our excellent troops to be brought home from Iraq. You would not have done if you watched the BBC. It got hardly a mention, in contrast to Sky News and ITV news. Is it just possible that the BBC is still sucking up to the government?
The row over Party funding was waiting to happen. Both main political parties are undemocratic. Both have treated their members with contempt for years. Is it any wonder that membership has suffered long term decline? The one redeeming factor as far as the Labour Party is concerned is that at least their Party Treasurer is an elected position and has to report back to their conference.
The Conservative Party still feels that it is alright for a small oligarchy to control the Party. The Party Treasurer and the Party Chairman should be elected by the members of the Party and accountable to them at an Annual General Meeting of the Party to which all members are invited. It is at this AGM that the Report and Accounts of the Party should be presented and members have the right to ask questions about the Report and Accounts.
It is unacceptable that each year £4, 000,000 of taxpayer's money is given to a small oligarchy that controls the Party. Since 1997 the Conservative Party has received over £20 million in taxpayer funding. Why doesn't the Electoral Commission demand minimum standards of democracy in any political Party in receipt of taxpayer funding? It is a disgrace.
Coming on to the questions of Loans these are in fact more dangerous than outright gifts for the Party has an ongoing commitment and the loans can be withdrawn. In his book Lord Ashcroft said that he was owed £2.5 million by the Party which was due for repayment on January 31st 2006 and he was going to insist on it being repaid. Then David Cameron was elected Leader and Lord Ashcroft became a Deputy Chairman of the Party. Rather than repaying the Loan he went on to add a further £1.4 million to it. Now Lord Ashcroft has done many fine things for the Tory Party, not only in the money field, but it is highly dangerous for a political Party to be so reliant on one source for such a large amount. Suppose Lord Ashcroft became disillusioned with David Cameron and wanted his money back. Could the Party repay it?
We are told that the Parties are going to show who has got loans outstanding at the moment, but this will not give the full picture. It is feasible to make a loan to the Party on January 1st, have it repaid on December 30th and it doesn't show anywhere. We are told that the loans are at commercial rates, but why then didn't the Parties borrow them from their banks? Is it possible that their Banks would not lend them anything and if this is the case what is a commercial rate?
Up until 2001 the Conservative Party always had an overdraft. In that year it disappeared and was replaced by loans. Now, one wonders what the terms of the loans were and what has happened since then.
Tomorrow David Cameron is to announce that the number of MPs should be cut to enable State funding of political Parties. We welcome that. We also welcome a limit on donations, but would suggest that a sensible limit be £10,000 per donation.
The rumbles about the "A" list of parliamentary candidates continues. We hear that a group of "failed" candidates has got together and are investigating whether they can find out the reasons they have been so summarily dismissed by using the "Freedom of Information Act. Good luck to them.
It is all very ironic. David Cameron puts the following as the number one value of the Conservative Party:
"The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become."
He could equally have said:
"The more we trust the membership the stronger they and the Party become."
Why then does he insist on a small oligarchy deciding who should be on the "A" list of parliamentary candidates? Trust the members to decide.
David Cameron has been looking for a Clause IV moment to establish his Leadership. There is one that is looking him in the face. Make the Conservative Party a democratic Party fit for the 21st Century. It is quite simple really:
Make the Party Chairman and the Party Treasurer electable by the members and accountable to the members at an Annual General Meeting of the Conservative Party where they would have to present an Annual Report.
Bring back the Regions with meetings of members held every six months and make the officers of the Regions electable by the membership.
Scrap the "A" list of candidates and allow any Conservative party member to be a candidate with Central Office having a final vetting process to eliminate the mad, bad, and sad.
Do these things David and you will have your Clause IV moment, because a great squeal will go up from the vested interests in the Party, but you will have right on your side and will win. Have you the guts to do it? That is the question.
It has been announced that then Party Board has been considering how to take forward the proposals to amend the Party's membership rules. It proposes a further consultation paper in May following the local elections and to implement any changes from 1st January 2007. Hopefully they will have dropped some of the dafter proposals. Otherwise look forward to a fight from the Constituency Associations.
More on Candidates
The rumbles about the Candidates list continue. There are now at least two Constituency Associations which are preparing Special Resolutions of their members demanding the reinstatement of their candidate onto the List. Feeling is running high, with threats of resignation and the possibility of Independent Candidates. In addition at least one Constituency has declared that it does not want to be a "Target Seat", because one of the requirements is that they have to choose a candidate from the "A" list. They want to have the ability to interview local candidates. It seems that the Party is moving to allow this facility overturning a previous decision not to allow local candidates.
At the last election 40% of the votes cast were by people over the age of 60. This group is growing. when is the Conservative Party going to recognise this? We should be targeting this age group. The obsession with the young is admirable but will not give the kin=d of returns that we would get by targeting the old. Perhaps we should be demanding a few Conservative old age pensioners should be on the Candidates List or would that be ageism?
How the Party can save money!
It was announced last week by David Cameron that he "will ask the Party to adopt a final version of the statement of aims and values by putting it to a ballot of the entire membership." So what are these aims and values? I quote:
To improve the quality of life for everyone through:
A dynamic economy
A strong society
A sustainable environment
The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become.
We're all in this together - government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.
If any Conservative disagrees with this let me know and I will pass their name to Central Office and to their local Doctor. By doing this I will be able to save the Party tens of thousands of pounds on a pointless, useless exercise which insults the intelligence of normal people. What maniac came up with this idea? Just how stupid will the Party look when the result is announced that 99.9% have voted Yes and 0.01% have voted No.?
In the "Evening Standard" this week it said:
"The Tories are no longer seeking donations of more than £50,000. Party Treasurer Jonathan Marland said he did not "want to feel that one person was owning the party." This is good news and a step in the right direction for it will help to concentrate the mind on increasing party membership, but I wonder what Stuart Wheeler and Lord Ashcroft (last known to be owed £3 million by the party) think of it?
Good news!. Howard Flight and Danny Kruger have been accepted onto the new Candidates List. Congratulations to them. Now what about Adrian Hilton?
Conservative Policy Forum
Many congratulations to the Conservative Policy Forum on getting its new format off the ground. It has also made a good start with the CPF web site. This has tremendous potential. At last the Party is moving into the 21st Century. One other point, on Friday I took the opportunity of putting a question onto the feedback part of the site. I had a response within 24 hours. This is excellent. Well done.
How can it be right that three unelected members of a Tribunal who are unaccountable to anybody can overturn the democratic decision of the electorate of London? This is an utter disgrace. The Conservative Party should be protesting from the roof tops. Thank goodness Steve Norris spoke out, but where were our parliamentarians? Oh of course, they were on holiday, except for Therese Villiers MP who was on "Question Time" and gave an appalling response to a question about the evil David Irving by saying she wanted further curtailments of free speech. If she represents the Conservative Party God help us!
This week was a bad week for the United Kingdom. The three principles of Freedom Liberty and Justice came under attack by this Labour Government. The Conservative Party put up a valiant defence on two of the principles but unfortunately on the third a number of Conservatives helped this Government on its way to creating a fascist dictatorship.
Freedom moved a step away when the government got its way over ID cards. Soon they will be compulsory. Information is power and the power of the State over all we do is increasing and should be diminished. A vicious government will begin to use this power. Privacy is dead. We will be followed by the State wherever we are. They will know all that we do. and they will use this information for their own ends.
Liberty took a knock with the ban on smoking. In a free society the rights of minorities are recognised, otherwise we end up with the tyranny of the majority. This will fundamentally undermine democracy. We know that this is what the Labour Party wants but why oh why did some Conservatives support them. They should hang their heads in shame. Foxhunting banned, smoking banned, what next. Who will speak up for the 18 million that did not vote at the last general election. Sooner rather than later the people will take to the streets to throw this lousy rotten government out. Will it be any wonder if Conservatives who supported them were tarred with the same brush?
Justice will be badly damaged by the Government winning the vote regarding the "glorification" of terrorism. Whatever does this mean? Guy Fawkes, Nelson Mandela, the the 1916 Easter rising by the IRA - who will arrest Bertie Aherne next time he visits Downing Street? The lawyers will have a field day. Unfortunately it will be used against people that the government does not like.
On top of all this we had Tony Bliar calling Guantanamo Bay an "anomaly". Does this man not realise that Guantanamo Bay is a pussy boil seeping all over the face of humanity? The World wants it closed down and Tony Bliar calls it an "anomaly". Doesn't it make you sick?
So now we know, the Party Conference this year will start on Sunday 1st October. What happened to all those promises about attracting young people and people at work? How many of them will turn up in Bournemouth on a Sunday knowing that the following day they have got to go to work? I sometimes wonder if our Lords and masters live in the real world.
Congratulations to David
Many congratulations to David Cameron for raising constitutional issues this week by setting up the Democracy Commission with Ken Clarke. The Commission will look at the Royal Prerogative, a modest start at looking at our Constitution, but nevertheless a very important issue to be resolved if we want to create a 21st century democracy.
The row over candidates continues. A number are getting together to challenge what is being done with the candidates list. What would be a disaster would be a legal challenge, but the candidates collectively could be a powerful voice within the Party. They just need to organise themselves.
Conservative Policy Forum
This week the Conservative Policy Forum under Oliver Letwin published its proposals for how it is to be organised in the future. Congratulations first of all for listening to the members and also for listening to COPOV. A number of our proposals were taken up. We welcome the scrapping of the fee for membership of the Forum and the move to making it interactive. We think it is excellent to link the briefs to the six challenges identified by David Cameron. Could we add a seventh i.e. Ken Clarke's Democracy Task force.
We welcome regional forums and one day conferences. This is all excellent news and should mean more participation by ordinary members in the development of policy. We will closely watch to see how things develop.
What is not clear from Oliver Letwin's letter is who is in charge of the Policy Forum. Who is Chairman? Will the Policy Forum comply with the Party's Constitution or is that Constitution to be ignored or changed? What is missing out of the Forum is democratic accountability. What is Oliver Letwin going to do about that?
Traditionally there has been a dinner at the Spring Forum, but those that have now received their application forms will know that there is no mention of dinner. I wonder why? Could it be that on the Friday evening we are all going to be asked to go canvassing in Manchester? For those that do not know Manchester the "gay" district is not far from the Forum venue, in this politically correct age for those who may or may not be interested.
The Missing Voters
At the Bow Group this week Lord Tebbitt made some interesting points. His main one was about the 18 million voters that failed to vote in the last election. There is considerable danger in ignoring these non voters. Sooner or later a politician will begin to address their issues.
Since 1992 the Conservative Party has lost 5 million people that used to vote for it. Since 1997 the Labour Party has lost 4 million people that used to vote for it. All three main parties are scrabbling around targeting the 10% of seats which are marginal and within those seats the 10% of voters that are floating i.e approx. 350,000 voters, which under our distorted electoral system are the only ones that count. There is a huge prize waiting for the party which researches why the 18 million did not vote. The Conservative party should put some effort into this.
It is into a large political vacuum that the seeds of fascism are allowed to grow. The main parties seem to be forgetting this.
I D Cards
Under the proposed I D card legislation will the citizens of Ireland resident in the United Kingdom be required to carry them? Or is this another anomaly to add to the one whereby they can vote in elections to the United Kingdom Parliament although they have no allegiance to the United Kingdom.
The same weekend as the Spring Forum, Manchester United are playing at home. As is usual they have block booked some of the hotels, so if you want to be sure that you have a hotel for the Spring Forum book it now. Of course it would be a help if the Application forms were available. Could it be a crafty manoeuvre to make sure that not many are at the National Convention so that some of the controversial rule changes can be pushed through?
In spite of David Cameron saying that there is a "Freeze on Selection" we hear that candidates are still being fast tracked. Congratulations to Penny Mordaunt in Portsmouth North and Deirdre Allen in Birmingham Edgbaston. Is it just a coincidence that both are women? Are any men being fast tracked? We would like to know. Has all this got anything to do with the replacement of Simon Mort as Chairman of the Candidates Committee? We hear he clashed with Bernard Jenkins MP - the Vice Chairman.
How to make friends
We hear that David Cameron has rather upset Angela Merkel of Germany and Sarkozy of France. Can William Hague pour oil on troubled waters when he is in Belgium this week?
We see from the Sunday papers that Lord Ashcroft is not demanding the repayment of his £2.5 million loan which is due on the 31st January. To the contrary he has added another £1 million to it. Without his help the Party would be in deep trouble. I wonder if his ambition is to be Party Chairman. As I have said to him on many occasions stand for election and I would nominate him! It was pointed out to me this week that the most powerful people on the Party Board are now Francis Maude, Lord Ashcroft, Jonathan Marland and Raymond Monbiot. Interesting.
The BBC has suddenly found a new source of income which could have a massive impact. Businesses are being targeted as to whether they have broadband on their computers or mobile telephones. If so, they can tune in to the BBC and a Licence is required. Has this been taken into account in determining the price of the new license? I think we should be told. Have you got a license?
"Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad"
Central Office have announced changes to the membership subscriptions applicable from 1st January 2007. Subscriptions for the under 23s and the over 65s are to be reduced to a minimum of £8.00 from the current £15.00. The normal subscription is to be increased to £16.00 and there after to be increased each year by the rise in inflation. The affiliation for each member to be paid by constituencies is being increased from £2.50 to £5.50.
Have they consulted the members? No! Are they barmy? Yes! I didn't think the Gods were trying to destroy the Party, but Central Office must be going mad. Work it out.
At present there are 250,000 members paying the minimum subscription of £15.00 bringing in a total income of £3,750,000. Of this £2.50 per member goes to Central Office i.e. £625,000 leaving the Constituencies with £3,125,000.
The average age of a Party member is over 65. Therefore it is safe to assume that 50% of them are eligible to take advantage of the new minimum subscription of £8.00. If they do the Constituencies income becomes 125,000 x £16.00 = £2,000,000 plus 125,000 x £8.00 = £1,000,000. Added together this amounts to £3,000,000, but they now have to pay 250,000 x £5.50 affiliation fees to Central Office i.e. £1,375,000, so their net income drops from £3,125,000 to £1,625,000. Their income has almost halved.
In addition to this folly many Associations have spent a great deal of time and effort to get their members to pay by Standing Order. Are they going to have to write to them every year asking for an increase. We know what will happen if they do - many cancellations.
This is the way to destroy the Constituency Associations. Central Office have forgotten that the 21st Century proposals were not passed by the National Convention but it is acting as though they were; a bit like the European Union and the Constitution. We are told that 200 Constituency Associations are being merged into 58 with the agreement of the Constituencies (have they consulted their members?) The dictatorship goes on. Maybe the Gods are right. Incidentally I hear that the two thirds majority rule for changes to the Party Constitution is under review. I wonder why!
In addition to this madness the Loan Scheme from Constituency Associations is about to be changed so that any Constituency Loan has to be for a minimum of 5 years. If a Constituency can lend money to Central Office for five years it ought to hand it over completely, except that when it does there is no accountability as to how it will be spent. Watch for a mass withdrawal of funds from Central Office when the Constituencies find out what is happening. Who dreamt this one up?
Sooner or later someone will realise that in a voluntary organisation you do far better carrying people with you rather than dictating from above but then democracy has never been Central Office's strong point!
Simon Mort was telling us how busy he was going to be, going around the country telling people about how the candidates list will work. He was appointed Chairman of the Candidates Committee at the end of October 2005. Well, surprise, surprise, he will now be spending more time with his family because he has been replaced by former Chairman of Kensington and Chelsea Shireen Ritchie (Madonna's mother in law). We hear that Virginia Bottomley has also joined the Committee. It increasingly looks like a female take-over. What is happening to that transparency we were promised by David Cameron? It is time we were told just what is going on. All the more reason why the Chairman of the Candidates Committee should be elected by and accountable to the National Convention.
Do you want to go to the Spring Forum? The agents have not been given any information so try the Party website. It says that application forms can be obtained on the site and will be available from mid December. Has somebody forgotten to put them on? If they are on where are they? At this rate there will be nobody there.
On January 1st under Tory Finance I showed how the Party needed £24,000,000 in the last quarter of 2005 in order to end up with no overdraft. It has been pointed out that I have forgotten the "Short" money i.e. State Funding, which will amount to approx. £5,000,000. So thats alright then, Only £19,000,000 to go.
Congratulations to Mrs. Lucy Lee on being appointed the new National CPF co-ordinator. We look forward to learning the future of the CPF. One word of advice though Lucy, when you send out emails use the blind copy button. Interesting though it is to get the entire database of the CPF I would not want it every time.
Freedom is fragile and can quickly be destroyed. In any free society the tyranny of the majority must be prevented. That means that the majority should respect minorities. We have seen under this Labour Government how they have attempted to destroy freedom. They banned fox-hunting in spite of a large minority being in favour. They are now looking to ban smokers from pubs and restaurants on the grounds that secondary smoking is harmful to employees, even if the employees don't mind. What next? Will cars be banned because of the pollution they create, or because of the numbers of people killed on the roads each year? Will the obese be refused treatment by the NHS because in many cases their condition is brought on by themselves? Will alcohol be banned in case some people become alcoholics? Will dangerous sports be forbidden?
This "fascist" government will try to stop us doing everything. Is our Guantanamo Bay just around the corner? It is time for the British people to wake up to what is happening to them and it is time for the Conservative Party to speak with a loud voice in defence of freedom. It has taken centuries to get our freedom. Once lost it will take a long time to get it back.
Tory Finance again
Last week we quoted Lord Ashcroft's book "Dirty politics Dirty times" when he talked about Hove Association having £250,000 in the bank at the time of the General Election. One of our correspondents writes:
Regarding your piece about Tory Finance and Hove saving money for a "rainy day":
I know that neighbouring Brighton Kemptown (2500 Labour majority) have
£250,000+ in their bank account and are spending several thousand a year on
an office they use about twice a month. Yet, they are unwilling to even hire
an agent which would help them get the seat back, let alone fund a high
What is it about these constituency Associations? Why do they not spend their money fighting to win elections or pass it over to Central Office? Some years ago (1990) when the Chairman of COPOV was the treasurer for Wessex Area (which consisted of some 80 constituencies) I managed to get hold of all their Balance Sheets. To my amazement there was no less than £18,000,000 in net assets in the constituencies including liquid assets of £5,000,000. There were two main reasons for the constituencies holding on to their cash. The first one was the "rainy day" excuse, the second one was that they regarded Central Office as incapable of spending the money wisely and treated it as a black hole.
I asked the Constituencies to release some of their cash in exchange for which I would campaign for the Party to publish its Balance Sheet and Accounts (it did so in 1993) and also I would campaign for an elected Treasurer accountable to the members. Their response was magnificent: they paid over £250,000 to Central Office (the highest amount ever paid by an Area either before or since) and increased their loans to the Party. (Incidentally the interest free loan scheme was started by the Beaconsfield Association in 1980 when I was treasurer).
What we have not got is the elected Treasurer and Central Office still seem to be capable of chucking money down the drain. When Lord Ashcroft decided to give £2,000,000 to the Party for marginal seats just before the last Election he gave it to them directly. In his book he says rather diplomatically "It was during my time as party Treasurer that I noticed how the resources of the party were not always used in the most constructive way." If a former party Treasurer thinks that it is no wonder the constituencies hesitate to hand over their money.
In the last accounts of the Party the Constituency Associations had £4,316,000 in loans to the Party. Much of this could be turned into gifts.
It is time for there to be an elected Party Treasurer accountable to the membership and for the Constituencies to hand over some of their money. The two go together. How many other Constituencies are sitting on excess cash or investments? Let us know and we will name them.
P.S. The present Treasurer spends his time fund raising for the Party. This role should be re-defined for what it is, which is The Fund Raising Officer. We are not arguing that this position be elected.
Now we know. Since the General Election the Conservative Party has got 40,000 new members. Normally after a General Election membership falls, but not this time. Why? Because we had a Leadership election in which the members could participate. Ironically many of the new members were ineligible because of the three month rule. Nevertheless if you want to increase membership make the Party more democratic. That's how to build the Party - from the bottom up rather than dictates down. Have you heard that David?
In his fascinating book "Dirty politics Dirty times" Michael Ashcroft makes the comment that "on or before 31 January 2006 the Conservative Party is due to repay me loans totalling £2.5 million." How is the Party doing financially? In an email to the National Convention sent on 20th December the Chairman of the Convention - Raymond Monbiot says "We are on track for no overdraft."
At 31st December 2004 the Party had £483,000 in the bank. Excluding campaign expenditure the running costs of the Party were just under £20,000,000. The costs of the General Election were £17,852,240. Taking all these together with the repayment to Michael Ashcroft means that the Party had to raise approximately £40,000,000 to end up with no overdraft by 31st January 2006.
According to the Electoral Commission donations declared by the Conservative Party were:
1st quarter 8,050,707
2nd quarter 6,071,637
3rd quarter 2,361,483
TOTAL £ 16,483,827
This leaves us just £24,000,000 to raise in the last quarter. If this has been achieved then it will indeed be a record. I wonder!
One other point raised by Lord Ashcroft in his book is about the money Constituency Associations hold. I quote "Indeed, one extremely talented candidate, Nicholas Boles, who was fighting Hove, had a constituency association with £250,000 in its coffers but he was told he could not have the money for his campaign because it was being kept for a rainy day." He goes on "the seat was won by Labour, whose candidate polled just 420 votes more than Nicholas in the May 2005 general election.
It is no good Constituency Associations going on about Constituency autonomy if they behave like Hove. I thought the days of Associations holding on to large sums was over. There is no justification for it. We are a political party and our job is to win elections. In my experience Associations which sit on large lumps of money perform badly. No Constituency should hang on to more than £15,000. When I was treasurer of Wessex Area the Area agreed a motion stating this. It is time this was revisited.
Did you Know?
The Texas legislature meets every other year. Now that is what I call getting off the people's backs. Maybe we should try it. Over to you David.
member had a vote, he was my choice. Well they say there is more joy in Heaven for one
sinner who repenteth etc., and I openly admit I have changed my mind. Provided he is on the
ballot paper (and at the time of writing this seems increasingly likely) David Cameron will be
representatives at Blackpool and the media, each of his prospective successors was given a
chance to set out his vision for the future and how our party, with its long and proud history
stretching back over three centuries, could adapt in a world that is for ever changing.
Margaret Thatcher and John Major, have the most experience. But both are men of the 80’s
and 90’s. Ken Clarke may have the most appeal among non Conservative voters but that
might well be a handicap. There will always be support from those who will never vote for you,
and during his time as Health and Education Secretary, he did not endear himself to many
professionals in these sectors – people whose votes we need to secure in the future – and I
take seriously the comment made that future Prime Minister Brown would always be
throwing up Ken Clarke’s enthusiasm for the Euro and further European integration. Ken
Clarke is what R.A. Butler was to us in the 60’s and Denis Healey to Labour in the 80’s – the
best potential Prime Minister the country never had.
Conservatism. Dr Liam Fox, I understand, gave a careful and measured speech to the
conference and this was well received. But he is on the right. As a Celt, I am not prejudiced
against the Scots, but I do wonder why even Conservatives who have Scottish accents can, it
seems, no longer be elected for Scottish seats. (Sir Malcolm Rifkind is, of course, another
article. And, although I did not myself hear his speech (nor, for that matter, those of the other
candidates), by all accounts he ‘fluffed’ it and his speech was not well received. Although he
supposedly had the support of 66 MPs at least ten of them were '‘flaky'’and were backing
him only because he looked the likely winner. And how would he fare across the despatch box
against either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown? From what I have read many MPs and many
party members would only reluctantly support him now and it would be because they liked his
opponent even less.
what he lacks in experience. He has charisma and can reach out to all sections of society. He
has a handicapped son, uses the Health Service and knows all about its successes and
deficiencies (essential for a Conservative). He will be able to use the media (particularly
television) to his advantage and will, I confidently predict, easily communicate with first time
voters who are "Blair’s children". His education and background have, of course, given him
many advantages but I believe he is the man to, not only substantially increase our vote in
2009/2010, but also gain us many more Members of Parliament.
hope the grass roots choice is the same as our Parliamentarians. What we cannot afford is
another crisis in two years time similar to the one that overtook Iain Duncan Smith in 2003.
And we must plan for the long term. We do have an ageing membership and if you are
prepared to accept the findings of focus groups, well behind in certain key ‘voter groups’.
This should only spur us on to greater endeavour. We still have lots of young people
supporting us – they are our future and our country’s future. But we should never rubbish the
achievements of past Conservative Governments or let others say we are "nasty", "out of
touch", or "looking only after ourselves" without challenging such assumptions. We should be
proud to say we vote Conservative and we should be able to say why we do so.
wrought by the then Labour Government, notably its nationalisation programme, and its
setting up of the Welfare State and National Health Service. We did so, assisted by the
Conservative Research Department headed by R.A. Butler, and this led to 13 years of
Conservative Government, under four Prime Ministers, three of whom were educated at Eton
(a good omen for David Cameron). Was it not a Conservative manifesto or pamphlet that was
headed "Change is our Ally" Our new leader faces a very difficult task. We are flat-lining in
the polls at 30-33%, have only four MPs outside England and in many parts of the urban
north our organisation is virtually non existent. I sincerely hope that after this leadership
election everyone will pull together and that we can get back into the habit of winning and as
the Americans say "Win big", for we are all sick of being ridiculed in the press as no hopers
and also rans. Our first test will be in the local elections next May, particularly in London
. Can we win in places such as Harrow, Merton, Kingston and Sutton where we have lost
Parliamentary seats either to Labour or to the Liberal Democrats? Can we make inroads in
what is now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world?
itself. It has had plenty of luck particularly with the economy (and incidentally I believe
Michael Howard was right when he said it is difficult to depose governments in times of
prosperity) which may now be running out. Our economy may well be out of balance partly
because we are spending more than we have earned. The Pensions industry is in crisis and
difficult decision are being postponed – the non revaluation of properties in England for
Council tax purposes being the most obvious example. Nearly half the population is living on
benefits of one sort or another and we have the most complex and difficult system of
taxation/tax credits anywhere – so difficult that even the best qualified accountants cannot
subjects an ‘A’ grade is awarded at a percentage level which 40 years ago would have
merited ‘fail’ or ‘unclassified’. What were once pretty villages in many parts of rural England
are now extensions of the bigger conurbations and cities. Many councils, if they do not build
houses themselves, are being forced to employ private developers to do so – often against the
wishes of local inhabitants.
Major’s Government, coupled with the ‘sleaze’ factor, left many of our former supporters not
only disillusioned but angry. (And I note that Labour is trying to make much of the fact that
David Cameron was a special adviser to Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday.) We have
had four leaders in that time, two Chancellors and six Shadow Chancellors. The last two
General Elections have seen us ‘shore up’ our core vote and little else. In 2005 we gained 33
seats and have 51 new Members of Parliament. Young people, such as the environmentalist
Zac Goldsmith, are showing an interest in us. We must improve our organisation at the grass
roots. In spite of new technology in this computer age we need more agents. Every seat
currently having a Conservative MP and every marginal requiring a ‘swing’ of 6% or less,
should have an agent who has the’nous’ or his (or her) Constituency. Hopeless seats in former
mining or industrial areas can then be grouped in fours or fives with one agent between them.
At one time (not that long ago) our organisation was Rolls Royce. Now in many parts of the
country, it is either an old ‘banger’ or completely ‘clapped out’.
might lie in store for the present Government. Our difficulties have been compounded by the
fact that, under Tony Blair, Labour has ceased to be a Socialist Party in the sense that
nationalising huge chunks of industry is now as dead as a dodo. There is, of course, still the
bureaucratic meddling, interference, target setting, ‘nanny’ state, Government knows best
attitude, which appeals to many. Some (including Conservatives) will claim there is no appetite
for a smaller state.
extreme right wing party’ It is very easy to say we must change or we must modernise. But is
very difficult to put this into practice – even more so when ‘Conservative’ means ‘resistance
our past and the shadow of Margaret Thatcher which has hung over us for the last 15 years.
In 1975, in electing Margaret Thatcher, our own party abandoned the prevailing consensus of
the previous 30 years. We are at last banishing the "Is he one of us?" mentality, which has
blighted us for so long. David Cameron with his "There is a we, as well as a me" philosophy
is setting the tone. We should back him and given him two Parliaments to get us back into
Government. We have to plan for the long term, because the short term fixes of the last eight
years have got us nowhere. You only need to look at how many of our former so called ‘safe’
seats are now in the hands of either Labour or the Liberal Democrats. We have nothing to
lose and everything to gain by missing a generation.
TURKEYS SHOOT FOX
Henry Curteis They call him the new Blair. I see little substance to this comparison. To be a Blair in the Conservative Party, a charming young new leader would have to appear more as a Labour MP, and talk of policies that sound sweet to Labour voters' ears. Cameron is the opposite. He comes from a privileged background. He appears a Tory toff. He speaks like one, and so far has declared almost no policies to appeal to anyone making this aspect hard to judge, although the few policies that have slipped out so far sound right-wing, as Alice Miles noticed. That could of course be deliberate. Where Cameron might have much in common with Blair is an ability to hoodwink. Blair fooled Roy Jenkins and Paddy Ashdown who were both quite convinced he was going to bring in Proportional Representation, and they duly pulled their punches. Cameron has persuaded moderniser Theresa May he is 'her' man, and he has also persuaded Bernard Jenkin a eurosceptic, and Douglas Carswell of Direct Democracy that their programme is his programme. Michael Howard is sponsoring him, and even Ken Clarke the arch Europhile saw fit to back his candidacy. He cannot possibly favour them all. When you have declared no policies and have no history like Cameron, it is easy to persuade gullible MP's that you will be right behind whatever their pet project is.They say that victory has 1000 fathers, but defeat is an orphan. Perhaps just the chance to be on the winning team was enough to draw them in, once the media started the Push Cameron campaign at the Party Conference. The media campaign kept Cameron's face to the fore, totally ignored Liam Fox and dumped David Davis, and lasted just over two weeks. It was uniform across all media, and was clearly orchestrated. It reminded me of the media campaign that ended the leadership of IDS. Who or what is behind these short bursts of media energy that chorale Conservative MP's into dumping or choosing their leaders? All you can say is that the MP's have fallen for it each time. By eliminating Liam Fox, Cameron has been installed in an unassailable position by MP's. Far from being obliged to carry out any promises he has made, he can now begin to ignore them Blair-style. The turkeys have after all voted for Christmas.
Fox to Save Turkeys
Henry Curteis They say that turkeys don't vote for Christmas. Conservative MP's and members who vote for Cameron could well be falling into a 'turkey' trap. With great comedians you can never remember any of the jokes. So it is with great speeches. You remember feeling uplifted by the sentiments, but unless you actually write down the words, you can rarely recall what was actually said. Cameron's speech was no exception - good enough to win the accolades, but nothing much in the way of content that was memorable. Given that there is little substance in the policy arena on offer, just a youthful energetic charm machine, it seems bizarre that Cameron is getting wing to wing support in the Rupert Murdoch media empire, and also with the BBC. The media recognise exactly the man they want - someone so dependent on their good image that they - the media - will be in a position to exert maximum leverage upon them. A mutual interdependence is being established, which will of course be exploited ruthlessly should it pay off. In Cameron the media see not strength that they must respect but weakness of the kind they can eat for dinner. The views of MP's would soon become secondary, those of the membership irrelevant - even the views of the public. As with Blair, good media support is all that is needed in the mediocracy game. A Cameron regime would become a media regime. No wonder Murdoch is so excited. MP's would be mad to back Cameron, except for Boris Johnson of course, whose media career needs an urgent uplift. Fox must provide the escape route for the Conservative Party from this toxic media embrace. Henry Curteis
His roots and upbringing (single mother, council estate) mean that he understands the problems of being disadvantaged.He does not carry the baggage from previous Conservative administrations.He is the only member of the Shadow Cabinet to have forced the resignation of two Home Office Ministers – Beverley Hughes and, more importantly, David Blunkett.He comes over well on television and is a fighter.He believes that there is a moral case for lower taxation and that money on the public services could be more effectively spent.He can take on the Liberal Democrats – witness the increase of over 3,000 votes and the doubling of his majority in 2005.He is someone you could easily enjoy having a pint with. In the past too many of our members have seemed remote, aloof, and distant from the people they are supposed to represent.