Lord Tebbit urges Conservatives to mutiny against CCHQ
And he usually knows what he’s talking about.
But the above quotation comes at the end of a post which is essentially a criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is a curious addendum; almost an afterthought; tangential if not irrelevant to the subject matter of the post. It could almost be missed (indeed, it has been by all but His Grace). It is cannily sneaked in right at the end, so the Conservative-supporting, bishop-bashing blogs will freely link, tweet and re-tweet Lord Tebbit’s essential thesis that the bearded lefty Dr Rowan Williams is a whole mitre short of a bishopric. And yet when the Archbishop refers to the Conservative Party implementing policy without democratic legitimacy, Lord Tebbit exposes an inconvenient truth: the Party has long ceased being democratic, and under David Cameron it is manifesting decidedly anti-democratic tendencies.
And perhaps this is evident nowhere more than in the stranglehold exerted by Conservative Campaign Headquarters over candidate selection. The ‘Approved List’ used to consist of intelligent, discerning, loyal and true Tories with real experience in the world who wanted to bring their expertise into Parliament. So important were these qualities that if an aspiring candidate had dared to stand against the Party, they could not become ‘approved’ for at least the succeeding period of government – up to five years of ‘cooling off’, during which suitability could be assessed. When a seat became vacant, a local association would be sent the CVs of as many who had applied – sometimes hundreds – and it was for the local association to whittle them down to a long-list, then produce a short-list, and then to vote on a winner. The process was very open, democratic and fair.
Over the past decade, the emphasis has been more on gender than intelligence; more on ethnicity than loyalty; more on sexuality than a grasp of philosophy; and more on an appreciation of diversity than political discernment. And if, yesterday, you were dedicated to the Socialist cause (or to that of the LibDems) and stood against the Conservative Party, you can today be positively fast-tracked straight into an accommodating local association, and elected a Tory MP tomorrow - no penance due. To ensure the ‘right sort’ of candidate succeeds, at the last General Election CCHQ embarked on a process of limiting candidate selection in its ‘plum seats’ to just six good men and true, three of which must be women. It was not unheard of for the three men to be black, Asian or gay. There was even candidate selection by religion.
As His Grace wrote at the time, candidates are:
...hand-picked for each Conservative Association by two of the most powerful people in CCHQ – John Maples MP andIt should not be for the Leader to declare, but for the people to decide 'the sort of MP' they wish to elect.
BaronessShireen Ritchie, who hold the future of the party and the make-up of the next government in their hands: it is theirs to mould, in accordance with their own professional preferences and political proclivities. Out will go the ‘Right-wing troublemakers’, and in will come ‘a new breed of youthful and inexperienced “Chloë-bots”,’ as the telegenic, smooth-talking, compliant candidates are known, named after the 27-year-old Chloë Smith, who was recently elected MP for Norwich North. David Cameron said she is ‘exactly the sort of MP I want to see in the House of Commons for the Conservative Party’.
It is telling that in 2009 His Grace pointedly crossed out ‘Baroness’, yet just a year later she had indeed become Baroness Ritchie of Brompton, just as Patricia Morris before her went on to become Baroness Morris of Bolton. Both of their Wikipedia entries refer to their ‘efforts of diversity’, including ‘women2win’ and the formation of ‘Priority List’ (A-List) candidates.
This is a curious centralisation, which effectively exempts the internal workings of the Conservative Party from David Cameron’s commitment to localism, devolution, subsidiarity and democracy. While the Party Leader is preaching the gospel of demos, the party practises kratos. Before the election, he promised to shift power:
From the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.Yet while he preaches parliament, communities, Britain, people and democracy, we still get government, Whitehall, Brussels, judges and bureaucracy. Okay, the Conservative Party didn’t win the election. But there is absolutely nothing preventing the Prime Minister from practising what he preaches within the party he leads. Why talk of shifting power from the state to the citizens and from Whitehall to town halls while centralising your own bureaucracy?
If the intelligent, discerning, loyal and responsible local Conservative associations are not ready for democracy, what makes Mr Cameron believe the town halls are? 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 his own home?
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 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. And when Harriet Harman wanted her husband elected to Parliament, the all-women shortlists were conveniently set aside and, lo and behold, Jack Dromey was elected. It is the Socialist way.
Conservative philosophy is quite different. We believe that the State should enable, not control. And in order to fulfil the Conservative aspiration to shrink the State, policies must be introduced to encourage individual responsibility and strengthen the ‘little platoons’. If David Cameron cannot achieve this even amongst his own faithful, it is highly questionable that he is committed at all to ‘decentralisation, transparency and accountability’.
It is worth considering that had the Conservative Party exercised central control over 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.
His Grace mused two years ago:
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.But he never expected such a distinguished Conservative as Lord Tebbit to foment the rebellion.
This tantalising intervention comes at a time of acute embarrassment for the Candidates’ Department, having just dismissed (‘right-wing’, ‘eurosceptic’) Annunziata Rees-Mogg (along with reportedly 200 other formerly-approved candidates).
Louise Mensch (née Bagshaw) MP called the decision 'hugely unfair'. She accused CCHQ of ‘pushing forward young female candidates such as Ms Rees-Mogg as part of a PR drive to present a fresh image for the party, only to then drop them abruptly after Election day’.
Jacob Rees Mogg MP has gone further. He called the decision ‘contemptible’, adding: ‘The attitude of Central Office is shameful... I think my sister has been treated disgracefully by an unjust procedure that brings the party into disrepute. Traditionally the Candidates’ department was well run by an experienced MP and senior members of the voluntary party. It is now run by arrogant, discourteous apparatchiks.’
Mr Rees-Mogg also condemned the ‘poor manners’ of
Indeed it is not. But Party Co-Chairman Andrew Feldman has responded defiantly, insisting that the Candidates’ Department is ‘determined not to be influenced by the friends of candidates' and that he intends to 'take the small "p" politics out of candidate selection'.
His Grace doesn’t have a clue what Mr Feldman means by taking the small ‘p’ politics out of candidate selection (it is oxymoronic and humanly impossible). But when you consider the number of Shadow Cabinet senior aides and chiefs of staff who went on to be selected for ‘plum seats’, the assertion that the influence of ‘friends’ has been eradicated is laughable.
But back to Lord Tebbit’s solution. It is unfortunate that he does not explain what he means by ‘take over’. If he means ‘assume control’ (OED), he is fomenting a fruitless discord and appears to be alarmingly ignorant of the Conservative Party Constitution which has changed somewhat since he was chairman.
Under the Hague reforms in the wake of the Neil Hamilton affair, the Conservative Party became an unincorporated association. Prior to that it had no official legal status: it was essentially the private office of the Leader, and local associations were autonomous. As far as candidate selection was concerned, they could simply ignore Conservative Central Office (as it was then) by having the candidate run as an independent Conservative. Although there was an ‘Approved List’, CCO had no way of enforcing their preference for an ‘approved’ candidate. In 1997, CCO threatened to remove Neil Hamilton from the list but were told by his Association that he would run anyway without their support. CCO was impotent to do anything about it.
After that general election, the Constitution was codified and previously autonomous associations dutifully signed up to it (some with a little ‘persuasion’). As a result, associations surrendered their sovereignty and became subject to an omnipotent and unaccountable bureaucracy. CCHQ (as it became) acquired the power to appropriate constituency property and cash. If a local constituency association ever again refused to comply with a central directive, they could be put it into ‘support status’ (ie sacked en masse and administered centrally). CCHQ has not only threatened a number of ‘troublesome’ associations with this humiliating treatment, they have done it.
Lord Tebbit appears not to know that an oligarchical CCHQ is now omnipotent over both candidate selection and the internal workings of all local associations: they can appoint and dismiss as they see fit, in accordance with the will of the Party Board. And that Board is empowered by an ‘enabling clause’ which permits it to do whatever is necessary ‘in the interests of the Party’.
If, therefore, local members were to attempt a democratic ‘take over’ of their CCHQ-compliant association, or if they were to ‘decline to support’ the CCHQ-approved candidate, as Lord Tebbit advocates, they could be individually disciplined and expelled from the Party, or the whole association put into ‘support status’. A local association cannot be ‘taken over’ by democratically-minded Conservatives: if an attempt were to be made, it would be ‘taken over’ by the Board. And this could be threatened (and implemented) over a fairly minor dispute or for (undefined) ‘poor performance’. The assessment of the seriousness of a misdeamanour is wholely subjective and carried out by CCHQ (ie the Board). There are no checks and balances; just a series of rigged appeals.
So, Lord Tebbit, would you care to elucidate, as a few of your your own commenters have requested? Are you suggesting that the loyal Conservatives of Somerton and Frome re-adopt Annunziata Rees-Mogg in defiance of CCHQ? Are you proposing that they volunteer for certain ‘support status’? Are you suggesting that they reject the next ‘clone dummy’ candidate CCHQ decides to impose? Having been party chairman, how do you think Baroness Warsi might react to your suggestion? Could you please elucidate either in the thread below or upon your own august blog? Or (if you prefer), you may email His Grace in confidence directly (address top right of his blog). Bless you.