John Strafford, Conservatives4AV and Conservative Party democracy
There is an excellent article in today's Guardian about the internal tensions within both the main political parties on the question of AV. His Grace's readers and communicants know very well where he stands on the proposed reform (if not, see here and here). But he does respect the principle of free speech and foundation of democracy, and David Cameron has said that the AV referendum is effectively a matter of conscience: there is a soft party line, but members are free to vote either way.
It is baffling, therefore, why stalwarts of Conservative Party democracy have been barred by CCHQ from manifesting a Yes2AV presence at the forthcoming Spring Conference. If it is a free vote, both sides need to be provided with a platform to expound their views. Or is this censorship more a case of the Party Chairman/men/woman 'having issues' with the messenger? If John Strafford - who virtually single-handedly spread Party democracy to embrace the Conservatives of Northern Ireland - is not permitted conference floor space (he isn't requesting a speaking slot) to debate a legitimate issue on which there is no consensus or whip, what hope is there for frank debate on any matter of official policy? Such a heavy-handed, top-down approach does not augur well for the newly-(re-)launched Conservative Party Forum.
What is it which makes the Conservative Party exempt from the Prime Minister'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 the Prime Minister believe the town halls are?
It gives His Grace no pleasure at all to ask these questions. 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 better judged by his actions than by his words?
Come on, CCHQ. Trust a little. Risk a little. Permit a little open, honest and frank debate in the Spring Forum. You might even find that John Strafford talks a little sense - though not on AV ;o)