How to create a party in one’s own image
These six will be hand-picked for each Conservative Association by two of the most powerful people in CCHQ – John Maples MP and
It should not be for the Leader to declare, but for the people to decide 'the sort of MP' they wish to elect.
But from the thousands who have applied to join the élite Approved List, about 30 others are also ‘exactly the sort’ and are about to have their path to power assured.
Many are called, but few are chosen.
And the many have passed hours of arduous psychometric tests, attended weekend suitability assessments, completed demanding real-life exercises, taken the trouble to acquire high-profile testimonials and references, dedicated months to being mentored by an obliging MP, spent cumulative weeks mind-numbingly researching constituencies and submitting bespoke CVs, and loyally paid their on-going ‘flat tax’ annual fees - fixed irrespective of income - for the privilege of remaining 'approved’.
But some are evidently more approved than others.
And these may not be the best, the most loyal, the most experienced, the most knowledgeable, or even the most inspirational.
They are those who, for one reason or another, have caught the eye of John Maples or Shireen Ritchie; those who ‘fit the mould’ of David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
“Which of you shall we say doth love us most,” he asks of the prospective candidates, like Lear dividing his kingdom.
And like Goneril and Regan, the candidates feel obliged to fawn and flatter, to caress and cultivate, to oblige and adulate in order that they might be awarded a plum portion of the kingdom in the home counties, with shadowy forests and with champains rich'd, with plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads.
What is it which makes the Conservative Party’s candidates’ department exempt itself from David Cameron’s commitment to localism, devolution, subsidiarity and democracy? While the Leader preaches the gospel of demos, the party practises kratos.
Surely the Leader is not a centralising control-freak. Surely he is not a hypocrite. Surely he would not talk of shifting power from the state to the citizens and from Whitehall to town halls while centralising his own bureaucracy. Surely he would not preach the liberating mantra of ‘let the people decide’ while actually empowering his party’s unaccountable technocrats to thwart the popular will.
If the flourishing, literate, mature, responsible and civil local Conservative associations are not ready for democracy, what makes Mr Cameron believe the town halls are?
It gives Cranmer no pleasure to make these observations. But how can one persuade the electorate that one stands for something out of conviction if one’s instinct is to practise the contrary. Is a man not best judged by what he does in secret?
Cranmer perfectly understands the need for a new ‘gene pool’ of candidates, appealing beyond what John Bercow once referred to as the base of ‘ageing, white, male, rural and southern supporters’.
But why does Mr Cameron not trust his local associations to deliver this?
Why does he seek to impose candidates through the old boys’ network or fawning sycophancy?
As he questions each candidate to assess their suitability, he will listen intently as they eloquently quantify their love. And in his omnipotence he will accordingly divide the kingdom between them in proportion to their allegiance. Goneril is awarded the glory of a ‘safe seat’ vacated by an aged bed-blocker; Regan is apportioned a ‘key marginal’; but poor Cordelia is banished to a ‘no hope’ seat or, indeed, to no seat at all.
Her only redemption would be to declare herself a lesbian.
It is puzzling in the extreme that the Conservative Party has learnt nothing from the electorate’s reaction to the controlling and centralising tendencies of New Labour. When the people of Wales wanted Rhodri Morgan, Labour imposed Alun Michael; when the people of London wanted Ken Livingstone, Labour imposed Frank Dobson; when the people of Blaenau Gwent wanted to select their own candidate, Labour imposed an all-women shortlist. It is the Socialist way.
Yet in each and every instance, through the simple, patient application of democracy, the people ultimately got what they wanted, with significant humiliation for New Labour in the process. It is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that proud and independently-minded Conservative associations, increasingly exasperated by an autocratic centralised power antithetical to all that is being preached about localism, might eventually stick two fingers up to this ultra-Approved List, which is essentially the resurrected ‘A-List’, and begin to field their own ‘democratic’ or ‘independent’ Conservative candidates.
If this were to happen, CCHQ would be yearning for the days of mild irritation caused by UKIP.
Meritocracy is foundational to Conservatism. It beggars belief that the Conservative Party can simultaneously declare that they believe in freedom, or the devolution of powers to the lowest possible level, or that they eschew political correctness, when they are intent on running their own internal affairs precisely to the contrary. The Party that derides the social engineering implicit in New Labour’s ‘access targets’ for university admissions is now demanding those very targets for itself. If such a policy is so abhorrent in further education, how much more objectionable is it when applied to those who may one day govern us?
It is worth considering that had the Conservative Party had central control of its MPs throughout its history, it would doubtless have removed Churchill, Eden and Macmillan from its approved list. And it is highly likely that they would have become more than a little exasperated by a shrill candidate called Margaret Thatcher who complained numerous times to Central Office of her inability to get selected.
These would never have found a place in David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
What on earth is wrong with local associations having the freedom to select the candidate they wish to promote and for whom they will knock on a thousand doors? For all Tony Blair’s control freakery or presidential aspirations, even he never went as far as interfering in such a freedom or declaring that someone is ‘exactly the sort of candidate’ he wishes to see in Parliament. Clare Short was sacked from the Government, critical of party policy, contemptuous of her leader, outspoken and offensive in the media, and even allegedly breached the official secrets act. The magnitude of her transgressions make the alleged misdemeanour of Howard Flight look like a walk in the park. Yet, despite such conduct causing acute embarrassment to her leader and her party, even she was permitted to stand for the party she had served for decades.
Such independence should not only be maintained, it should be actively encouraged. And it is a cause to which the Conservative Party above all parties should commit itself. For when the King will one day need backbench support for the passage of legislation or the consensual abolition of numerous safe Conservative seats in order to diminish the number of MPs by 10 per cent, it is then that Goneril and Regan might display their true colours.
And Prime Minister Cameron will howl for his banished Cordelia.