Should Iain Dale be expelled from the Conservative Party?
Cranmer would first like to say that he likes and admires Mr Dale a very great deal; he wishes him no ill and means him no offence by what follows. It is simply that His Grace is a little puzzled by the somewhat variable and inconsistent application of the Conservative Party’s rules and regulations, and observes an apparent hypocrisy in Mr Dale's political morality which is worthy of scrutiny.
The professorial, politically-astute, philanthropic and mild-mannered Stuart Wheeler was ejected from the Conservative Party for donating a paltry £100,000 to UKIP (which just about covers four MPs’ second homes for one year). He did not defect; he simply expressed a little modest (to him) support for UKIP because he considers the UK's relations with the EU to be of paramount importance. And no doubt thousands of Conservatives shall be doing exactly the same on June 4th as they 'lend' their votes on a point of political principle.
Yet Iain Dale was among the first (if not the first) to call for the expulsion of Mr Wheeler despite his having previously donated £5 million to Conservative coffers, and despite his continuing to urge the electorate to vote Conservative at the next general election. Few would doubt that Mr Wheeler has done more cumulative good than harm to the Conservative cause. But he had to go, Mr Dale insisted, because he was a ‘menace’ and ‘needed a regular fix of publicity’ and ‘delights popping up on the Today programme’ to spread ‘his unique brand of political mischief’ (transgressions of which Mr Dale has doubtless not infrequently been accused by some of his own detractors).
Mr Dale explained: ‘You can't have people like (Stuart Wheeler) recommending people to vote for another party on 4 June, and then proceed to welcome him back on the 5th. If I now wrote a blogpost urging Tories to vote UKIP, do you have any doubt that I would be expelled? And I'd deserve to be.’
But an advertisement is worth a thousand blog posts: the effects and impact of the visual media are far greater than the written. It is, after all, how Mr Dale is able to earn money from his blog.
The Conservative Party membership card quotes from the Party’s constitution: "Membership of the Conservative Party is not compatible with membership of, or association with, any other registered political party."
If Stuart Wheeler's actions constitute ‘association with’ another registered political party, and thus a breach of the conditions of Party membership, then so must Mr Dale’s promotion of other registered political parties upon his blog.
Consider the screen-print above. Mr Dale is clearly using his blog - his private property in exactly the same fashion as Mr Wheeler's £100,000 - to urge his readers, which are legion, to vote for another party - a party which has the potential to do damage to the Conservative Party, and from which Cranmer has exhorted his readers and communicants to resile. Further, Cranmer has also recently seen advertisements for ‘Jury Team’ upon Mr Dale’s influential blog, and also recalls some months ago seeing advertisements which sold the wares or promoted the personalities of New Labour.
But Cranmer has no problem with the selling of books or the promoting of political biography: the issue here is one of political campaigning. Iain Dale's Diary reaches more ‘unique visitors’ in a single month than Stuart Wheeler has met in his entire lifetime. In terms of campaigning influence and the potential to affect an electoral outcome, it is a political colossus. Mr Wheeler was an obscure back-room operator whose donation to UKIP will have a negligible (if any) effect on people’s voting intentions.
Shedule 7, article 3.5 of the Conservative Party’s constitution states: ‘The Officers of the Association may move before the Executive Council the suspension or termination of membership of the Association of any member whose declared opinions or conduct shall, in their judgement, be inconsistent with the objects or financial well-being of the Association or be likely to bring the Party into disrepute. Similarly, the Officers may move the refusal of membership of the Association for the same reasons. Following such a motion, the Executive Council may by a majority vote suspend, terminate or refuse membership for the same reason.’
Mr Dale can probably not censor or control these political advertisements, for they are either part-and-parcel of his contract with GoogleAds or are fed uncontrollably by the ubiquitous MessageSpace. But Mr Wheeler's donation to UKIP was on a point of political principle; Mr Dale has sold the political soul of his blog to (inter alia) Libertas simply to profit by a couple of hundred (?) pounds. He thereby promotes the Conservative Party’s political opponents for personal financial gain and is consequently manifestly (if indirectly) ‘in association with’ those whose objectives are ‘inconsistent with the objects or financial well-being’ of the Conservative Party.
Consider what fate might befall an ordinary Conservative Party member who erected a ‘Vote LibDem’ sign in his front garden, or sported a ‘Vote Labour’ sticker on his car, or a ‘Vote UKIP’ pin in his lapel. As Mr Dale suggests would be the case were he to write a blog post urging people to vote UKIP, such treachery would be 'inconsistent with the objects' of the Party and would not be tolerated. CCHQ or a local Association would have grounds for expulsion.
The Libertas advertisement is not merely urging people to vote Libertas (which would be bad enough); Mr Dale is permitting his private property to be used to urge his readers to join a rival political party, which is a rather more long-term commitment. Declan Ganley is manifestly in this for the long haul.
Iain Dale has effectively erected a flashing neon ‘Vote Libertas’ sign very prominently in his front garden, through which a quarter of a million voters pass every month. This may be interspersed with villas in Andalucia, and it may not matter so much during the course of an apolitical year, but we are in the middle of a very important campaign and elections to the European Parliament are a mere month away. These elections have the potential to reduce Labour to a humiliating fourth poll position, thereby euthanising New Labour or terminating Gordon Brown's premiership altogether. The Conservative Party needs every vote it can get.
Would Mr Dale be content to urge his readers to 'Vote Labour' on the run-up to a general election? Would he accept advertisements which said 'Gordon Brown for Prime Minister'? This, surely, would be anathema to him (and, indeed, anathematise him from the Conservative Party). Yet if it be, why are these Libertas advertisements acceptable now?
Donating £100,000 to UKIP is quite possibly worth a good deal less (politically) to that party than an advertisement on Iain Dale’s Diary is worth to Libertas. It is inconceivable that Stephan Shakespeare would agree to such advertisements on ConservativeHome.
Perhaps CCHQ or the local Executive in Tunbridge Wells might look into Mr Dale’s ‘association’ with this group.
Or perhaps Cranmer might humbly request that Mr Dale might explain why the sauce which cooked Stuart Wheeler’s goose is not good enough for the gander?
Cranmer has received a missive from the renowned Guido Fawkes, who points out that Mr Dale has in the past carried advertisements for Ken Livingstone's mayoral campaign (while Mr Dale naturally supported Boris) and also for the Liberal Democrats. Mr Fawkes suggested that His Grace was unable to distinguish between an advertisement and an endorsement.
This is not so. The erection of a sign in one's front garden is a de facto endorsement. Would Mr Dale be content to host an advertisement from the democratic and legally-constituted BNP? Presumably not. But if not, why not? If this advertisement for Libertas is a straightforward exchange of goods, surely the BNP's money is as good as that of Libertas? Cranmer's objection is simply that he happens to believe that politics is (frequently quite literally) a matter of life and death in the temporal realm. A Conservative blog should therefore no more carry an advertisement for one's political opponents any more than one would expect The Catholic Herald, being concerned with issues of salvation in the spiritual realm, to carry an advertisement from 'bigoted Protestant extremists' whose erroneous soteriology leads unsuspecting souls to eternal damnation.