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Westlake Legal Group > Party Democracy and Membership

Michelle Ballantyne: Why I’m standing to lead the Scottish Conservatives

Michelle Ballantyne is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the South of Scotland

I am standing to be the next leader of the Scottish Conservatives because I want to finish what Ruth Davidson started.

As our most successful post-devolution leader, Ruth took us from being the third party in the Scottish Parliament to being the official opposition. Now I want to lead us into Government.

For the last 10 years the SNP have played constitutional games rather than get down to the serious business of governing.

Ordinary people don’t care about flags or marches. They care about their community, about having good schools and compassionate healthcare.

The SNP’s obsession with independence has meant that those essential public services that people depend and rely upon are broken:

Children are leaving school without being able to read, write or count with Scotland recording its worst ever results in the PISA international comparison of education systems.

The length that young people are waiting for mental health treatment is the worst on record.

Capped university places are squeezing out young and talented Scots.

The NHS faces a staffing crisis, with 4,000 nursing vacancies and 500 vacant consulting posts which is placing an intolerable burden on NHS staff.

We are in the grips of a drugs deaths crisis, with Scotland having more drug-related deaths than any other EU country and even higher than the US.

With crime so high our streets aren’t as safe as they used to be.

Our local councils are starved of the funding they need to provide basic services

Our train network is unreliable with commuters facing delays, cancellations and uncomfortable journeys whilst paying through the nose for it.

The SNP have vandalised Scotland’s public services 0 and they are getting away with it. As John McLaren, economist at Scottish Trends website, pointed out:

“There is a lack of being held to account over policy decisions, in other words too little scrutiny and proper evaluation of the actions of the Scottish government.”

In 2016 we said that would hold the SNP Government to account and be a more effective and robust opposition. But the SNP’s constitutional obsession has become our own constitutional obsession.

As a group in the Scottish Parliament we have had our successes. But is there more that we can do to hold the SNP to account? Yes! Before we can think of being in Government, we need to up our game as an opposition.

With a Health Service in crisis, not to mention the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital fiasco, Jeane Freeman, the Nationalists’ Health Secretary, should be out of a job for her incompetence. Yet still she remains.


Scottish Conservatives should be holding Humza Yousaf’s feet to the fire on rising crime, unsafe streets, and a deteriorating police service. The crisis of confidence in policing should be his full time focus, yet we find him spending his time marching for independence on the streets of Glasgow while police officers are using buckets to collect rainwater leaking through the roofs of their stations.

Whilst the Scottish Conservatives should be dissecting the SNP’s economic case for independence, I cannot help but feel that Kevin Hague, in his spare time, has done more on Twitter to successfully take on the arguments of the nationalist movement than any of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament. And now the Scottish Conservatives are offering to pass a nationalist budget.

This is not how an effective opposition behaves. We must do more to hold this woeful Government to account. We need to be less timid and more confident in ourselves. If elected leader I will redouble our efforts in leading our fight back against the SNP.

If the Scottish Conservatives are to stand any serious chance of ending the SNP decade of failure and forming the next Scottish Government then we must start addressing the concerns of working people across the country: good schools; compassionate healthcare; safe streets; reliable transport; and lower taxes.

These are the every day priorities of working people and they are my priorities too. Under my leadership the Scottish Conservatives will stand up for the people and communities most let down by the SNP and Labour.

As the latter continues its slide into political irrelevance, working people need and deserve a credible alternative to the Nationalists. This is why the party I lead will reach out to voters in every community, in every part of Scotland, including those people that Scottish Labour took for granted – and have continued to lose to the SNP.

In the last general election we went backwards. Our vote share fell and we lost half of our seats. It was devastating to see us lose such hard-working and talented colleagues. The progress we have made as a party was nearly all undone.

Telling ourselves “it’s not as bad a result as was predicted” is not good enough. Serious lessons need to be learned. There is no room for complacency, change is needed. I offer that change.

So, to the membership of the Scottish Conservatives who are now empowered to make the choice of next Party leader, I say:

Come with me for a fairer Scotland. A Scotland that delivers aspirational education, a fairer justice system, compassionate healthcare, lower taxes, safer streets, reliable transport, and a society where you benefit from the hard work you put in to it and which looks after you in return.

Come and join me for a united Scotland and a better future.

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John Penrose: Grassroots Tories, the Conservative Policy Forum needs you

John Penrose is MP for Weston-super-Mare.

The next five years could redefine Britain for a generation at least. Brexit will create an inflection point for our country; a moment of change at least as big and important as the one faced by the post-war Attlee Government that founded the NHS and the modern welfare state.

So where will our next set of big, era-defining ideas come from? What will our generation leave to our children and grandchildren, to match the NHS and the welfare state?

The Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), the Party’s internal think-tank (which I chair), stands ready to play its part in finding them. We regularly ask Conservative members what they think about key policy areas, tapping into the collective wisdom and experience of the Tory crowd on everything from health, education, and policing to foreign policy and defence.

The most recent example was our general election ‘Members Manifesto’, proposing everything from maintaining NHS care based on clinical need rather than ability to pay to a review of UK tax havens. Almost half of its ideas appeared in some form in the official Manifesto itself a few weeks later, a hit rate that other think tanks would love to match.

It also proved the modern Conservative Party’s centre of gravity isn’t the billionaires and hedge fund managers that Labour likes to pretend. Instead it turns out that, collectively, Party members are a reliable, sensible, balanced, and decent group of people – rather like most Brits, really. Ask them a sensible question, and you’ll get a sensible answer.

And, of course, persuading people to participate is miles easier if you know your ideas will genuinely reach cabinet ministers and Downing Street policy wonks. Ours definitely do, and no other think tank can make the same claim as credibly as us.

But the challenge of finding, refining, and testing era-defining ideas is enormous. So the CPF has to raise its game, and we’ve set ourselves three huge challenges to make sure we’re ready for the task ahead.

The first is membership. Most think-tanks don’t really want or need lots of members, but it’s absolutely central to the way the CPF works.

It means we’re already the biggest think tank in the country but, now the Conservative family has just discovered a load of long-lost cousins in northern towns that haven’t voted Tory in years, we’ve got to get even bigger. They’ve all got to be signed up and included too, so all those new voices are authentically heard in our policy debates from now on.

Secondly, we may be able to help raise the Conservative Party’s general membership at the same time. There are more than a few seats which have just elected brand-new Tory MPs for the first time in decades (or ever, in some cases), but where the local Party membership is microscopically small. They urgently need more members to support their campaigns and back them up.

As most people get involved in politics because a particular idea or a cause lights them up, the chance to get your ideas included in Government policy ought to be one of our biggest membership recruitment drivers too.

Third, we’ve got to rediscover the thrill and theatre of debating ideas and policies. Ideas are the raw material of politics. They’re what gives people the passion, energy, and zeal to do great things and support important causes.

But, strangely, the Conservative Party has never been particularly comfortable about exploring this at a grassroots level. We’re brilliant at coffee mornings, thank you very much, and pretty good at stuffing envelopes and delivering leaflets too. But we’re a bit nervous, for some reason, about discussing policies.

We shouldn’t be, and the CPF can be the way we fill that gap. We’re the organisation which can play host to friendly, respectful debate, and feed the flames of passion for ideas. Online or onstage, in pubs or clubs, in the north and the south, on every topic, we have to hold debates which encourage Conservatives to be comfortable duelling with ideas and rival policy proposals.

Last year’s Party Conference was a great example. For the first time in years, there was a genuine policy debate on the main Conference stage. CPF members pitched rival ideas, and then the audience voted; think of ‘Strictly Come Politics’, or perhaps ‘Political X Factor’ if you prefer. But, crucially, it was fun – and it showed what we’ve been missing all these years.

Once Labour chooses its new leader, the battle of ideas will truly be joined. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but nor could the rewards.

I hope as many people as possible will get involved in the CPF. It’s a great way to see which policy ideas can survive and flourish, and which ones might just be that elusive, era-defining flash of brilliance that could become our generation’s legacy to our grandchildren. No person or political party has a monopoly on wisdom, so your country needs not just you, but your ideas as well.

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How well is the Conservative campaign machine running this time round?

As the polls tighten, the election looks more and more like an exercise in differential turnouts. Eyes therefore turn to the operation – or malfunction – of the competing party machines, something this site has looked at in great detail over the years.

After the fiasco of 2017, the Conservative campaign machine can expect particularly close scrutiny. There are some signs of lessons learned since that grim experience; I hear positive reports of many of the campaign managers, for example, who were recruited and kept in place between elections as this site recommended. It’s certainly the case, too, that the Tory digital campaign has been more pro-active than before (see www.labourmanifesto.co.uk for a reminder). Various of the more analogue tactics, such as sending a letter from Ian Austin, the former Labour MP, to targeted groups of potential Labour-Tory switchers in key seats, are also an encouraging improvement on what went before.

Unfortunately, it isn’t good news on every front. While some candidates were selected before the election began, too many Tory-held and target seats were still vacant late in the day. Despite general agreement, in public at least, that lessons had been learned from the demoralising and clumsy over-centralisation of candidate selection in 2017, the same parts of CCHQ made several of the same errors again this year – suggesting more fundamental reform is required to resolve the issue. And I can reveal that apparent problems with the central ordering and printing of literature meant that for some target seats election addresses failed to arrive before postal votes went out, denting the opportunity to capitalise on early poll leads among a large subset of voters.

Reform and improvement of the party’s campaign machine is likely a never-ending task, but having made a start we intend to press for more. It will be a few more days before we know the outcome of the election. It will likely be a while after that before we can assess in detail what kind of difference, positive or negative, the operation of the campaign made to that result. Whatever happens, we must be able to assess with clarity what functioned well and what did not.

The work to answer that question starts early, and it starts here. ConservativeHome’s readership includes people at every level of the Party, in every part of the country, taking part in all sorts of campaign activities: please share your insights and experiences of the campaign’s operation with us by clicking here. All sources’ anonymity will be protected, as ever.

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Exclusive: Walker resigns from the Party Board, amid rising tensions over centralised candidate selection

I can exclusively report that Sir Charles Walker – Vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee – has resigned from the Conservative Party Board. He had served as a member of the Board, elected as a representative of Conservative MPs, since 2010.

In resigning from the Board, Walker has also left the Candidates’ Committee, the sub-group charged with overseeing the maintenance of the candidates’ list and the process of selecting Conservative Parliamentary Candidates.

Given his long and loyal service, and his prominence after his successful joint stewardship of the recent leadership election, it’s a surprise to see him leave the post so abruptly. Many close to the situation are tight-lipped about what has happened, but I understand there have been rising tensions in the Candidates’ Committee about the controversial approach to selections which CCHQ is pursuing – and which ConservativeHome has covered in depth over the last week.

Those tensions apparently broke out into a vocal dispute among the Candidates’ Committee in recent days. It doesn’t seem a huge leap to draw a possible link between the controversy, the internal disagreement about it, and now the sudden departure of a prominent MP who was a member of that very committee.

If that assumption is correct, Walker would not be alone in his concerns; I reported yesterday that in addition to mounting fury among the candidates list, some associations are starting to push back against increased central control.

The prospect of an election brings with it a new challenge on this front. How will the remaining candidate selections, including some in plum seats, be conducted in a short period of time? CCHQ’s answer in 2017 was dysfunctional, demoralising and damaging. Will the candidates department avoid a repeat of those mistakes?

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The Hertford and Stortford candidate selection: a shortlist, a controversy and a cautionary tale

Tonight, Conservative association members in Hertford and Stortford (Conservative majority 19,035) will assemble to select their new candidate following Mark Prisk’s decision to retire.

ConservativeHome can reveal the names of the four finalists hoping to secure the nomination:

Nick de Bois. Having served as MP for Enfield North from 2010 to 2015, which he also contested in 2017, de Bois later became Chief of Staff to Dominic Raab during his time as Brexit Secretary. He lives in Hertford and Stortford constituency, is a broadcaster and show host on TalkRadio, and wrote a book, ‘Confessions of a Recovering MP’, which was published last year. Prior to becoming an MP, he ran a communications firm.

Dr Rachel Joyce. Having spent her career in the NHS, both as a frontline doctor and at director level, Dr Joyce is now Medical Director of East and North Hertfordshire NHS CCG, which covers the constituency. She stood in Harrow West in 2010, and was Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire before (unfairly, in ConservativeHome’s view) being forced to resign.

Julie Marson. A grammar school girl, who spent her career in finance, Marson contested Dagenham and Rainham in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections. Born in Barking, she is a former Thanet councillor and has served as a magistrate. During the EU referendum campaign she sat on the board of Women for Britain. She was a finalist in Grantham and Stamford in July.

Cllr Reena Ranger. The founder and chair of Women Empowered, a social initiative engaging and encouraging women to make the most of their skills (for which she received an OBE this summer), Ranger is a Three Rivers District Councillor. She works in the family firm founded by her father, the Conservative donor and peer Rami Ranger. She contested Birmingham Hall Green in 2017.

There may be trouble ahead

Unfortunately, the selection process is currently beset by controversy. The candidates’ list – the collected hundreds of aspiring MPs who are eligible to apply for seats – are furious because the seat was not advertised to them, and they therefore had no opportunity to apply for it.

Instead, it seems CCHQ’s candidates department drew up a longlist of its own accord, based on unknown criteria, from which the above shortlist has been chosen on the basis of a sift of CVs, not the standard interview process. Understandably, quite a lot of people are displeased.

Troublingly, this appears to be part of a pattern. Readers will recall that I raised concerns last week about the selection in Rushcliffe on similar grounds:

Eyebrows were raised when the selection proceeded straight from applications to a shortlist, without the normal interview round. Doing things that way effectively dilutes the opportunity for the local executive to have a say, and could correspondingly increase the influence of CCHQ’s candidates operation. The decision has caused some frustration locally, and stirred up fears of a repeat of 2017’s messy centralisation of selections.

Sources at the centre of the party deny a deliberate policy and instead suggest this process was the choice of the association’s leadership. Either way, it’s something to watch lest it become a trend that repeats the mistakes of the last election.

One selection being centralised may be misfortune (if I’m being charitable) but two is more concerning. And yet if there is a centralisation underway, how does that square with the assurances that these are local choices to adopt a form of by-election rules? Is that true? Why would any association make such a choice?

No policy

I gather that there is no top-down party or Downing Street policy to do this, and I’ve confirmed that the Party Board – which has the power to vary selection rules essentially as it wishes – has not approved a new set of rules (which was required in 2017, for example, to rush through mass centralisation).

What’s happened in Hertford and Stortford is rather more subtle. The association – like Rushcliffe and many others – requested the right to select swiftly, not least because memories of 2017 have left a fear of CCHQ simply deciding the selection for them under emergency powers in a snap election. Rising expectations of an election have intensified that concern.

The candidates’ department replied that swift selection under the normal rules would be difficult. There are a large number of selections underway, all of which require CCHQ involvement, Party staff in attendance to observe that the rules are followed, and so on. But, they agreed, it wouldn’t be good to leave it too late.

So how about a compromise – to help out, you understand – in which the local association agrees to waive some of its rights by voluntarily submitting to an accelerated selection under a form of by-election-style rules, which are normally rarely-used.

There is, inevitably, a quid pro quo. The association gets to suggest some names for consideration, but CCHQ decides the longlist. In Hertford’s case, the longlisted candidates were informed on Monday and asked to submit CVs. The association’s officers then attended a joint sifting meeting with the Party’s candidates department, which took place in London yesterday.

How three becomes four

Compare that to the normal process and this already seems like a large loss of association sovereignty. Ordinarily local officers choose a longlist from CVs, interview those candidates, then choose the shortlist – perhaps with some input from CCHQ, but only that. Here, the officers had no say on the longlist, no opportunity to interview, they did the sift with CCHQ, and they were not even shown the longlistees’ CVs until they entered the sifting room.

Nonetheless, they knew the deal they had struck, and in fairness CCHQ presented them with a longlist which evidently did feature several strong candidates, as can be seen from the bios above.

They duly settled on the normal shortlist of three. But readers will note that the shortlist above is of four candidates. I’m told that as the meeting was drawing to a close, with various candidates already sifted in or out of the shortlist and one CV left to consider, the CCHQ officials announced that as a favour to the association they were going to create a fourth spot on the shortlist. There’s no formal criteria for doing this, just as there’s no official test by which they selected the longlist. In practice, the association’s representatives were left feeling effectively bounced into the addition of that particular final candidate onto the shortlist by the timing and manner of the announcement of an extra space.

A cautionary tale

There’s no suggestion that any candidate ever sought or was promised such backing, but nonetheless the management of the process appears to have benefited some and disadvantaged others, while diminishing local members’ say in who might become their candidate. Not only does that restrict Party democracy – a restriction which we saw in 2017 risks damaging consequences – but it is unfair to candidates who rightly expect to compete equally on merit, and deserve to be free of any rumours of bias or unfairness. Given the distrust left from the last election, the powers that be ought to be working to reassure candidates and associations about their commitment to fairness, not giving cause for new concerns.

In that sense, this is not just a local issue but a cautionary tale for other associations about the risk of sharp practice. I gather other seats have been offered a similar bargain – the swift selection you seek, at the cost of some loss of control to the candidates department. The rationale for accepting such a deal is that by going early they avoid the risk of a greater loss of control in a snap election. But in Hertford and Stortford it seems that the price in terms of the amount of lost control was higher than it initially seemed.

This might indeed be ‘local choice’ officially, but if you turn the offer down, what’s the guarantee that your selection won’t be delayed to the point of a snap election anyway? The decision on when – or if – to open your seat for applications sits with…the candidates department. That sounds rather more like Hobson’s Choice.

Is the Party Board, or the Party leadership, aware that this is happening, and of the damage it is liable to do?

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ConHome snap survey: 90 per cent of Tory members want MPs to vote for the new Brexit deal

Westlake Legal Group New-Deal-snap-survey ConHome snap survey: 90 per cent of Tory members want MPs to vote for the new Brexit deal Withdrawal Agreement ToryDiary Party Democracy and Membership Highlights Grassroots ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brexit

You don’t really get closer to unanimous than this in our surveys of Conservative Party members. In a snap survey of 1,181 members conducted on Friday 18th October, a huge 89.67 per cent of respondents said that MPs should vote for the Government’s proposed new Brexit deal.

For context, our surveys found that around 60 per cent of the panel voted leave. They had a wide range of preferences on possible forms of Brexit, with Canada Plus Plus Plus out in front followed by No Deal, but no option starting with an outright majority . In November 2018, 72 per cent were opposed to May’s draft deal. After Parliament’s shenanigans, however, 60 per cent were willing – however begrudgingly – to swallow the May deal by the end of March 2019. The leadership election (on which the panel was quite accurate) left them split as recently as last month on the question of whether the Withdrawal Agreement minus the backstop would be acceptable or not (43 per cent said yes, 49 per cent said no).

So you can see quite how remarkable it is that nine in ten say they want Boris Johnson’s proposed deal to pass. Hopefully MPs are listening.

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The Eddisbury Association votes to deselect Sandbach

As Mark Wallace wrote on this site last week, local associations will get a say in the readoption of any of the 21 former Conservative MPs from whom the Whip has been withdrawn – or indeed any others who experience the same fate.

This explains why Antoinette Sandbach faced a vote of no confidence from her local Association in Eddisbury yesterday evening: she is one of the 21.

She lost the vote – but there appears to have been more in play than Brexit alone.  As Mark has previously explained, the fate of each of the 21 is bound up with their local relationship with members.

Where the MP is popular with him, he or she tends to survive challenges.  So it proved in the case of our columnist David Gauke, who survived a deselection attempt in his South-West Hertfordshire constituency.

Sandbach was not in so happy a position. As Mark pointed out on Twitter yesterday evening, the Association asked her to reapply for adoption in March.  She refused: the relationship has been a troubled one since before the 2017 election.

Her complaints of entryism in Eddisbury must be seen in that light.  Maybe there has been and maybe there hasn’t – but the marriage between her and the Association seems to have broken down in any event.

She says that she was given only six minutes to speak, and that she “will continue to vote for what is in the best interests of all my constituents as my duties as an MP require”.

That doesn’t sound to us like a guaranteed vote for any deal that Boris Johnson now agrees – since even were the whip restored to her were she to do so her time as a Conservative MP in Eddisbury seems to be drawing to an end.

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Revealed: The potential route back for some of the 21 Conservative MPs who lost the Whip

A host of bogus theories and fantasies have floated around the official position of the 21 MPs who lost the Whip last month. There were claims that prior readoption by their associations protected them (it doesn’t), and there was even excited talk that some would take the Conservative Party to court to overturn the decision or insist on their right to be a Conservative candidate (they haven’t, for the good reason that they would lose).

Not all of the 21 are even interested in regaining a future as Conservative MPs.

Some are off the reservation entirely, and seek careers elsewhere. Sam Gyimah has joined the Liberal Democrats. Rory Stewart has resigned his Tory membership and intends to stand for Mayor of London as an independent.

Some – including Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames, Justine Greening and Oliver Letwin – don’t intend to stand for Parliament again. Letwin’s seat was the first of the 21 to select a successor candidate.

A number of the others, however, would like some sort of route back. Quite how that might technically happen has been a bit of a mystery so far; until now.

I can reveal that there is a formal process buried in the thicket of agreements and addenda which have attached themselves over the years to the Conservative Party’s rules.

After Michael Howard ruthlessly stripped Howard Flight of the Whip in 2005, thereby deselecting him and denying him the right to stand as a Tory in that year’s General Election, the 1922 Committee  – rather alarmed by that summary execution – demanded some kind of protection against abuse of such power by the leadership.

They had to wait for a new leader to be elected, so it was in 2006 that David Cameron, Patrick McLoughlin (then Chief Whip) and Sir Michael Spicer (then Chairman of the ’22) put their names to an agreement creating an appeal process for MPs who lose the Whip.

It works like this: within six months of an anticipated General Election, any de-whipped former Conservative MP may request to appeal their status. A panel of three people is then convened, composed of an MP nominated by the Chairman of the ’22, a representative of the voluntary party nominated by the President of the National Convention, and a third person mutually agreed between the ’22, the Convention and the Chief Whip.

The MP then pleads their case – and if successful can regain not the Whip but their membership of the Candidates’ List, ie the right to apply to stand again as a Conservative candidate and re-enter the fold following the ensuing election.

There are a few things to note. First, even for any MP who navigated the panel successfully this arrangement still rightly leaves the final verdict to readopt or not in the hands of their association

Second, there are no specified criteria for judging the MP’s fate. And as the process has so far never been used, there is no case law. In essence it will inevitably be a political decision for the panel, and likely the powers that be. “The MP’s conduct since losing the Whip is likely to feature”, as one person close to the process put it to me.

Third, the particular carrot – regaining the right to stand again, rather than automatic full reinstatement immediately – might lend itself to applying conditions for good behaviour between now and the elusive election. It isn’t hard to imagine a panel effectively binding a supplicant MP over to keep the peace/support Brexit as a requirement for later release from their exile.

I’m told it is expected that at least one of the 21 will seek to exercise this right to appeal, and possibly several will do so. We don’t know yet on what basis their case will be made: continued Hammond-like, defiance on the issue which cost them the Whip in the first place, or an attempt at reconciliation. By the same token, we don’t know yet what attitude the panel will take to them, or what conditions it might apply if it was willing to consider a return. Ultimately, you can bet that it will be a purely political call: does the leadership want them back?

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Wanted in Beaconsfield: a Conservative candidate

Of the 21 former Conservative MPs from whom the whip has been removed, only one has confirmed to date that he will stand in his constituency at the next election: Dominic Grieve.  The former Attorney General paid lip service to perhaps standing again as an official Tory candidate, but that door is closed.  The local Association has voted that it has no confidence in him, and wouldn’t re-select him as its candidate were he to apply.  It is far from clear that he would want to stand as a Conservative, in any event.  The local Liberal Democrats have agreed to stand down to enable him more room for manoeuvre as an anti-Brexit independent candidate for the seat.

Beaconsfield has thus become a test case for what the Party centrally and Associations will now do when it comes to finding a Tory candidate.

As Mark Wallace wrote recently on this site, “Conservative-held seats with big majorities normally only come up rarely, particularly given that the great majority of the Parliamentary Party were first elected within the last decade and would ordinarily be expected to serve out many more years to come. So the competition for these selections will be intense”.

He added that “what isn’t yet completely clear is what the process will be. In a normal selection, the association executive selects a shortlist of three following interviews with a longlist of applicants, chosen with CCHQ’s “advice” (the strength of that advice varies based on the robustness and attitude of the association), then members pick the winning candidate at a selection meeting.”

“However, there are two possible factors which might undermine that. The first is the ever-present fact that the central machine of the party likes to get its way where possible – and influencing selections in Tory-held seats is as close as you get to directly moulding the Parliamentary Party. The second is that if an election is truly imminent, there will be time pressures on the process.”

“This latter factor will be key, I understand. If there’s time, they’ll select in the normal way. But if a snap election is secured soon, the Party Board is more likely to opt for some variation of by-election rules, where as seen in 2017 CCHQ and the candidates’ committee may decide shortlists themselves, then allow the associations to choose from them.”

Beaconsfield has been a very safe Conservative seat indeed since its creation during the 1970s, and will presumably return a Tory MP again when the election comes.  But Brexit is bound to muddy the waters.

The constituency itself went Remain in the EU referendum by the narrowest of margins – 51 per cent to 49 per cent. (The local authority, South Bucks, was narrowly leave.)  It would clearly make sense to select a Parliamentary candidate as soon as possible, for two main reasons.  First, to ensure that Grieve doesn’t have a monopoly on local Parliamentary campaigning and, second, because the Association should have as much choice as possible.  And it will have more if it draws up its own shortlist than if the candidates’ committee does so.  This site understands that the Association is keen to get a move on.

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Nick Hargrave: As a Tory moderate, I’ve been tempted to give up on Johnson’s Conservatives. But here’s why I’m sticking with them.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

For all the talk of a new age of populism, many senior Conservatives seem to have fallen for that very Westminster myth of a binary culture war. That the British people fall into two neat camps of Leave and Remain. That both sides foam at the mouth with passionate intensity for these causes. That the country is fraying through this division. That we’re angry and we all hate each other. And that no political party in this country can ever win power again unless it squarely picks a side and tells the other to get stuffed.

Now, of course there is a values divide in our country today on the issue of identity. But if you really think that this trumps everything else in the daily lives of the British people then, frankly, you need to get out a bit more. There is a reason why Holly Willoughby, Gareth Bale and Ed Sheeran have much bigger social media followings than Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson. Only a few years ago, we used to say that the average voter spent just a few minutes each week thinking about politics. Now we argue that it is all-consuming.

Go to any focus group right now, or better still talk to an ordinary voter, and you will find that bemusement trumps bellicosity almost every time. Westminster has gone mad, but most people in the country just want this nightmare to be over – and for politicians to get back to tangible, relatable, deliverable, aspirational, outcomes-based policies that help them and their families live a better life.

We won an election on this platform in 2015 a mere 13 months before that supposed turning point referendum. It is crackers that Conservative MPs are spending more time now talking about free ports and SPS checks on agri-foods – than they are about making childcare cheaper for the parents of zero to two-year olds.

If you are a Tory – an anti-No Deal MP, a Cameron-era member or a wavering Lib-Dem switcher – who yearns for a return to this moderate normality then there are more reasons to be optimistic about the future of the party than you might think. The party leadership has done a good job of trying to alienate you since the summer with their words and deeds. But for people still weighing up whether to stay or go elsewhere, I still believe there is a clear case for sticking with the Conservative Party in the years ahead.

First of all, contrary to appearances, the Prime Minster is actually on your side of the argument. He backed Leave in 2016 because he wanted to position himself with the party membership for the future – rather than because of a neuralgic obsession about our customs relationship with the EU. He ran a leadership campaign aimed squarely at the party’s Brexit-centric voting shareholders because he knew that was the only route to Number 10. But as well as being a political opportunist, Boris Johnson has always had an intuitive grasp of the public mood. As said recently, once we leave the European Union he wants to focus with “an absolute laser like precision on the domestic agenda”.

These are not the words of a man who is looking to spend the next decade grappling with dramatic divergence or Government by Operation Yellowhammer. He knows there aren’t very many votes in it. He patently wants to get a withdrawal deal done, go to the country with a sensible retail domestic platform, win a decent majority  – and then use that mandate to put trade talks in the second tier, minimally divergent in the short-term box they belong.

All the while he will focus on schools, hospitals, housing and crime as domestic priorities instead. For those who say this is impossible given the pressure from his backbenchers – Canada good, Norway bad – I would only say that it is amazing what a healthy majority can do for your powers as Prime Minister. And who knows what the EU itself will look like in five years’ time.

Second, the prospect of leaving the European Union with a deal by October 31 – or shortly after with a brief technical extension- is under-priced at the moment.  It is the least politically difficult for Johnson of all of his options now.

The UK and the EU27 are also less far apart on the substance than suits either side to say. There is a way through on the much obsessed backstop that puts lipstick on the original proposal of limited future divergence in the Irish Sea. So much of the reason that this was a non-starter for Theresa May was that she knew she would never fight another election and her future was bound with the favour of the DUP. That is not true for Boris Johnson in quite the same way. That is before you get to the logical argument that Northern Ireland’s history since its construction in 1921 has been based on evolving and imaginative constitutional flex – that recognises the profoundly unique circumstances of the past.

Third, with a bit of strategic direction in the 2020s, it is perfectly possible to make the Conservative Party’s membership more reflective of the country at large. This in turn has an impact on what front rank politicians in the party end up saying and doing. Boris Johnson beat Jeremy Hunt by a margin of 45,497 votes in the last leadership election. The numbers involved are not enormous. If you want the next candidate of moderation to overturn that deficit then that is the equivalent of recruiting 70 odd supporters per constituency in England, Scotland and Wales in the intervening period. At £2.09 a month by direct debit, with minimal obligations for boots on the ground activism, that is a pretty sellable insurance policy for the future of your country.

Finally – and simply – the perfect should never be the enemy of the just about bearable in a first-past-the-post electoral system. This is not a time to take any chances. If you don’t think Jeremy Corbyn running the fifth largest economy in the world is a good idea then your vote at the next election should be exercised wisely.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that I agree with everything the Conservative leadership have said and done in recent weeks. It would also be dishonest to claim that the thought of voting Liberal Democrat did not flicker momentarily as we’ve veered towards knuckle-head, pound-shop Orbanism – rather than the finest traditions of Conservatism. But for all that noise, I am not sure the task of recapturing those traditions is as out of grasp as commonly supposed. That’s why I’ll be voting Conservative at the next general election and retaining my membership; I’d thoroughly recommend you do too.

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