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Westlake Legal Group > Party Democracy and Membership

Brandon Lewis: I’m proud of the Conservative Party I have seen at our hustings

Brandon Lewis is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.

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33 per cent? 45 per cent? 71 per cent? What’s the true leadership election turnout?

The results of our latest survey of Party members, published yesterday, appear to have produced an interesting reaction.

This week’s survey asked for the first time how many members have already voted. Seventy-one per cent of those on our panel say they have cast their vote, which if the voting intentions are accurate would make it mathematically impossible for Jeremy Hunt to win via a late surge.

Shortly after that finding was published a range of leaked official turnout figures started to crop up. Beth Rigby of Sky News was told the figure was ‘less than half’ by three sources, including one who claimed the figure was lower than 33 per cent. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg had been tipped off sufficiently firmly to assert that ‘Fewer than half of Tory members have so far voted in the leadership contest and sent back their ballot to party HQ – the assumption that they would all make up their mind in a flash has turned out to be wrong’. Francis Elliott of The Times has also been told ‘fewer than half’.

In short, there is quite some discrepancy. At one end is our survey figure of 71 per cent. At the other end is that Rigby source claiming somewhere below 33 per cent. And the other Rigby sources, Kuenssberg’s source and Elliott’s source, who say ‘fewer than half’ are in the middle somewhere – let’s assume around 40-49 per cent.

The reasons such a discrepancy might arise are interesting in their own right, but the truth is also politically important. It alters the tone and nature of the rest of the contest, if you believe either that most selectors have voted or most are still up for grabs.

The source of the numbers is key. It seemed likely from Rigby and Kuenssberg’s reports that their figures had come from inside the Conservative Party’s structure. Electoral Reform Services are the outside company contracted to run the leadership ballot, and while the election is formally overseen by the 1922 Committee, ERS’ contract is with – and bills paid by – the Conservative Party itself. So it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that ERS would provide regular progress reports on the running of the ballot to its client – not, of course, on how people are voting (the votes for each candidate are yet to be counted), but on whether people are doing so, whether ballot papers are being successfully received by post, and so on. On initially hearing the BBC and Sky numbers yesterday, I assumed that the figures were from just such a progress report, and were therefore most likely to be leaking from somewhere inside CCHQ or somebody in turn briefed by them.

Elliott’s report in The Times today confirms this assumption to be correct, specifying the source as ‘the internal turnout assessment passed to CCHQ from the Electoral Reform Society’.

By contrast, the ConservativeHome survey is a survey of Party members on our panel – 1,319 of whom answered the turnout question.

Anecdotally, we have other sources who echo it. An experienced organiser within the Johnson campaign tells us that in their area the Get Out The Vote operation has so far turned out 75 per cent of Johnson supporters. A Cabinet minister who has been following their local members’ decision-making estimates association turnout to be 80 per cent. A senior member of the voluntary party estimates the national figure to be around 70 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, we believe our figure to be closer to the truth than reports of only a third, or a minority, of votes having been cast, and it seems that various people closely engaged with the process tend to agree.

But the discrepancy still exists, and must be accounted for. How has it arisen, and might it be possible to navigate the various numbers to get at what is really going on?

We can dismiss the baseless allegations of untruth that have become all-too common. We do not know if any of the journalists reporting the contents of an ERS briefing have seen a document, or simply been told of it, but there’s no reason to believe that they are doing anything other than accurately reflecting information from sources they trust. Let’s engage with all the numbers on the basis of good faith.

Looking at our figure first, are there factors which could lead the ConservativeHome survey figure to be too high?

Bluntly, yes: it’s a survey, not a weighted poll, and by definition a Party member reading this site and subscribed to our panel is likely to be somewhat more politically engaged than the average member. Plus, we’re sending them regular surveys about the leadership election, which could spur some to vote by the simple effect of reminding them.

We won’t be catching negative answers from people who are ill, on holiday, et cetera. And anyone getting two ballot papers – as a member of two associations – but obeying the rules and only voting once will appear as a voter in our numbers but would only appear as 50 per cent turnout (one vote cast, the other not) in the ERS/CCHQ figures.

But even after considering those selection effects, the fact remains that our survey’s findings about opinions within the Conservative grassroots tend to map pretty closely to YouGov’s polling of the membership, so the panel doesn’t seem to be so wildly disproportionate as to account for discrepancies as large as those listed above.

So might there be factors which make the reported ERS figures an underestimate of the true turnout? Again, yes there are.

First, the ERS reports to CCHQ are effectively sampling an earlier stage of the election than our survey. It’s a postal ballot, so included in our figures are people who have recently posted their vote who won’t appear on the ERS tally until their ballot papers have been delivered, separated from personal data (eg the donation slips which were sent out at the same time) and tallied up. There could be a lag of two or three days in that process, which is not inconsiderable in the course of a week’s voting time.

Then there’s the question of how often the ERS submit these reports, and what data they are compiled from. If they’re daily, do they use the tally from the previous day’s postal delivery? Or are they less than daily? Again, this is a question of when these snapshots effectively date from.

We also don’t know when the reports being cited were submitted to CCHQ – they might be from yesterday (ie Wednesday’s tally data) or earlier. Indeed, that could even account for the difference between ‘less than a third’ and ‘under half’. If Rigby’s lower end source was citing earlier numbers than those who gave a mid-range number to her, Kuenssberg and Elliott, they could both be accurate but for different points in the last week – just as our survey, conducted on Wednesday, will include voters who won’t make it into the ERS tally until today or tomorrow.

There’s another effect that I suspect is at play. We’ve all put a letter in an envelope, stamped and addressed it, then left it on the side until we next know we’ll be going past a post box. There are likely to be quite a lot of Conservative leadership election votes in exactly that limbo right now. For good reason they won’t appear on the ERS tally of votes received, but I’d guess quite a few of those voters would regard their vote as having been ‘cast’ – on the basis that they’ve put the X in the box and it’ll be sent in very soon. They aren’t in the ballot box, but they’re out of contention for the candidates to win over – take your pick of whether they should be counted as having voted or not.

In short, it seems likely that our figure might be over by a bit, but that the low-ball claims are likely under by a decent bit – or, in the case of the lowest, by a lot. They aren’t necessarily untrue; instead, in effect the point in the race they illustrate is earlier on than the snapshot provided by the survey.

Of course, in the long-run this will prove academic. But for now it matters – and it’s worth noting that currently the interests of both leadership campaigns and CCHQ itself are all aligned in emphasising that turnout is lower than expected. Hunt and Johnson must activate their supporters as much as possible and avoid either depression or complacency setting in, while the Party’s authorities want to deliver a high-turnout leadership election to display their own effectiveness and deliver the new Prime Minister the largest possible grassroots mandate. Those conditions, more than anything else, underlie this debate on where the race currently stands.

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Johnson endorses Conservative Voice’s proposal for a Party Commission to pursue democratic reform

There’s been some swift success for Don Porter of Conservative Voice, following his article on ConservativeHome yesterday. In it, he called for democratic and organisational reform of the Conservative Party, and urged both leadership candidates to commit to a Party Commission to take responsibility for such changes.

Today, Boris Johnson has endorsed the proposal, saying:

“I have strong support for the kind of requests that are being made by the followers of the excellent Conservative Voice organisation. Reform of the Party Organisation is long overdue and this will be a priority if I am elected as Leader of the Party. The idea of a Party Commission with a set deadline to come back with specific reforms has my full support. I am grateful to Conservative Voice for taking the initiative on this important issue.”

This is a development on a theme that Johnson touched on when answering ConservativeHome readers’ questions at the outset of the leadership election, when he told us that:

“Electing the Chairman is one option but more important is a commitment to broadening the democratic involvement of Party members. I love our members and, more importantly, I trust them. The days where Tory leaders expected the members to be seen and not heard are definitely over – and quite right, too.”

Of course, it’s always easier to talk positively about Party democracy when seeking to be the leader than it perhaps is to actually devolve power from the centre to members once in control – and the first quote above commits to a Commission and “the kind of requests” Porter made, so it remains to be seen what such reforms a Commission would recommend, and a new leader implement, in practice. But it is better to have the door open to reform than not. This site has plenty of ideas it would happily contribute – including several from our post mortem on the 2017 General Election campaign, and our long-standing proposal to divide CCHQ into two bodies with distinct responsibility for short-term and long-term matters.

I gather that Porter and Conservative Voice have also been in touch with Jeremy Hunt’s campaign on this topic. The Foreign Secretary certainly left the door ajar to party reform in his answer to ConservativeHome’s question about electing the Party chairman  – “We have a fantastic party chairman in Brandon Lewis but I’m keen to look at a number of options to expand the role that party members and activists play”. I’ll publish here any reaction from him to the more specific idea of a Party Commission, and the other proposals Porter put forward yesterday, as and when we receive one.

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Dinah Glover: I’m standing for Vice President of the National Convention to give Party members a voice

Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association.

As regular readers of ConHome may be aware, I have now organised three motions to be put before the meeting of the National Convention. The second one, designed to support the Prime Minister and ensure No Deal stayed on the table, was not only passed by the National Convention overwhelmingly but was also passed by a large number of Associations at their AGMs – something advocated by ConservativeHome.

The last one called for an Extraordinary General Meeting to decide if the Convention had confidence in our Conservative Prime Minister. This was something that Party members would never have envisaged happening and in ‘normal’ times would, quite rightly, be viewed as reprehensible. I would certainly hope that any such motion would never again be needed. The fact that I got so much support for the No Confidence motion and very little negativity demonstrates it was the right move.

When I started organising these motions it never occurred to me that I would run for the National Convention. It was going through the process that made me realise that there are some serious flaws in how our Party is run. Campaigning for the EGM has allowed me to work and engage with a wide group of local and regional officers from across the UK. One thing that has never ceased to strike me is what a dedicated, brave and talented group they are. But they are unhappy. We need to address this seething anger from people who have never been disloyal to the Party. We need to listen but more than that we need to ensure there is a structure that means their voices are heard. That is why I am standing.

Despite recent polling woes, Labour’s dangerous Marxist Momentum are still a powerful force that are currently out-campaigning us. At the same time the Brexit Party is taking political ground that should be ours. To address this we need to take a serious look at what we are doing in the Party and obviously as good Conservatives keep what is working, but change what is not. Failing to change is not an option. We have so many professional staff who are doing a tremendous job and work tirelessly for the Party; we need to support them and crucially utilise them better. A great example is our new Campaign Managers scheme. This is a fantastic initiative, but we need to ensure it is fully supported and works effectively with the associations on the ground.

However what really stood out to me is that there is no independent mechanism for the volunteers to register their concerns. In fact it became clear how much democracy has been reduced by the recent initiative of forming Federations from a number of Associations. In many cases they appear to have lost their additional votes on the National Convention. This demonstrates the level of importance the grassroots gives to what is in fact their governing body, the National Convention. In itself this should be a worry.

What needs to change? Well, certainly the Party needs to be more democratic, more accountable and transparent to its members and, in order to grow the membership, empower the Associations and members. The first change that needs to be made is that the Party Chairman needs to be elected for a fixed term by the Party, only then can the Party start to become accountable to its members. The members will then have buy-in to the decisions made and the Party Chairman will be cognisant of the views of the members.

In the Party structure we have central committees that are not accountable, with few knowing who serves on them, where decisions are not only made without consultation but no-one knows what decisions have been made. Each of these committees need to report to the Regional Boards, so the information can be disseminated, decisions challenged if needed, but more importantly the committees need to consult with the regions on proposed changes.

A huge area of contention is Parliamentary candidates, which does not seem to work for either the candidates or the associations. Candidates feel they are just used as foot soldiers, whilst associations feel they have their best talent taken away from them and sent around the country, as it is perceived that working hard within associations to win an extra council seat is not as well rewarded.

We need to look after our candidates and make sure that they feel valued. We also need to ensure we are selecting future politicians, not management executives. It’s good to have an opinion and not just spout the line! However, it’s essential that candidates understand the Party, so they need to have been intrinsically involved in the usual functions of an association. As I have been espousing for a long time, Parliamentary candidates should provide a third referee who is an officer of their designated ‘home’ constituency.

I believe that the associations need to be at the heart of the Party, they are our beating pulse. They need to be empowered to go out and win elections, they alone have the local knowledge. Associations have to choose their own Parliamentary candidates without this responsibility being watered down, and should be able to consider local candidates who are assessed and passed for that seat.

We need to rejuvenate our conference and make it worthwhile for members to attend and justify the expense. Those of us who remember when we were sent ballot papers with our conference passes mourn the passing of debates and member participation at conference. We need to re-activate this again, and why not be able to put a motion at a National Convention meeting, too? Or question a Cabinet minister? The recent ‘Grassroots Live’ call was extremely well received, especially with the inclusion of polling. We need more of these events.

Our Party needs to learn to talk to each other again and, as Cllr Steve Bell CBE, a former President of the National Convention said when he endorsed me, if I am elected then my voice will be your voice.

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Don Porter: Now is the time for both Hunt and Johnson to pledge more powers for Party members

Don Porter CBE is a former Chairman of the Conservative National Convention, and is a founding member of Conservative Voice.

“Are you going to Party conference this year?” “No, it’s not really for people like me, is it?”

“So, are you a Party member?” “No, I used to be, but I just don’t see the point anymore”

Conversations like this are taking place all the time, right across the country. Party members, or those who used to be or should be feel completely disconnected and disenfranchised with an organisation that should be theirs. The situation has reached breaking point. Over the last ten years, the influence of the membership in the running of our Party has been marginalised. Members are tolerated and are only expected to emerge when it is convenient for the central Party organisation, and little, if anything, is done to attract new members to the Party.

We set up Conservative Voice seven years ago to bridge the ever widening gap between the Party and the grassroots. What we offer clearly appeals. Run exclusively by part-time volunteers, Conservative Voice is free to join has amassed a follower base of 10,000 across the country and, among other things, has:

  • Provided regular opportunities for Party members and activists to engage with senior Parliamentary figures.
  • Mobilised our followers to campaign for candidates and MPs.
  • Conducted regular surveys of our followers to solicit their views and amplify them to the Party Leadership.

Our followers are clear, they are fed up with being marginalised and want to play a greater role in the running of the Party. The days of paying an annual subscription fee to simply become a postman are over. Members and prospective members want and deserve their say. Perhaps if they had, such MPs as Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston would never have been selected as candidates, and our Party would be stronger as a result.

We are clear that regardless of who becomes our next leader and Prime Minister, Party reform should be at the very top of their priority list. The case is clear, and we are pleased to outline the following points as a manifesto for change:

  • The Chairman of the Party Board should be elected by the membership. The Party Chairman is a separate role chosen by the Party Leader. The Party Board Chairman should focus on organisation, The Party Chairman, on policy.
  • A new organisation of senior volunteers should be created to bring together Regional and Area Chairmen, Women and Young Voters.
  • This body should meet regularly with the Parliamentary Party.
  • The Sunday of Party Conference should become ‘Members’ Day’, in which motions are accepted from Associations across the country and debated with the relevant Ministerial teams.
  • An annual general meeting should be held to include all parts of the Party where real decisions are taken and implemented.
  • All Board Committees should be led by an elected volunteer. In particular, there needs to be greater involvement of volunteers in the selection of the Chairman of the Candidates Committee. Also. there should be no dilution in the involvement of members in the selection of their local and national candidates. This will be an essential component in the fabric of our Party moving forward.
  • A different and far more positive style of communicating and engaging with potential supporters is required.
  • A robust Awards & Recognition Strategy should be introduced across the Party to include activists, members, professionals and Parliamentary colleagues.

Trusting the electorate to make decisions about policy issues must be matched by trusting members to have a greater say in the running of the Party.

Conservative Voice is calling on both leadership contenders to commit to a strategic plan to take these points forward with clear timescales and accountabilities. Specifically, the new Party Leader should establish a Party Commission to take this agenda forward.

An election is coming, sooner or later, and if we’re going to win, we need to seriously reboot and regrow our Party. If we don’t we could be handing the keys to Number Ten to a communist. The stakes are simply to high to fail.

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Ten questions about entryism in the Conservative Party

I’ve written several times before about claims that the Conservative Party is being infiltrated en masse by organised and hostile entryists. Every time the allegation has come up, it hasn’t borne very much scrutiny.

Nonetheless, like Chris Williamson or the DFS sale it keeps coming back. This week it has returned yet again, following the recent confidence vote in David Gauke’s constituency association and Baroness Wheatcroft’s breathless claim that the Conservative membership has “changed horrendously” and has “been taken over to a large extent by the far right”.

So it falls to me once more to look at the central facts of the matter, this time by answering the most common questions in the hope of bringing a bit of reason to a discussion which generally lacks it.

Membership has risen, hasn’t it?

Yes, it’s up from 124,000 in March 2018 to 160,000 as of late May 2019.

Surely that’s a sign of entryism in itself?

Not necessarily. For a start, the Party carried out its own recruitment drive, particularly in late Spring-Summer of 2018, targeting potential new members from its own data. That will have contributed to the increase. And the implementation (at last) of a centralised membership system around the end of 2018 meant that for the first time every Conservative member automatically receives a renewal reminder when their membership is up – something previously left haphazardly to associations, and which routinely led to members being lost in large numbers every year. Better retention alone has helped the Party to keep thousands of members on board.

Then there’s the fact that it has been obvious for quite some time that there was a leadership election coming, 14 years since the last contested race to lead the Party and the first time ever that a sitting Prime Minister has been chosen by a party’s members. Plenty of people have been attracted to join by the simple prospect of getting a say in that decision. That makes it a riskier time for entryism than normal, but it doesn’t make someone joining to get a vote on the leadership inherently an entryist.

But Arron Banks says he has 25,000 infiltrators in the Conservative Party, doesn’t he?

He does indeed say that. (He also said he would run in Clacton against Douglas Carswell, and that he was going to revolutionise British politics with a party called the Patriotic Alliance, but hey.) When I wrote about this last time he was saying that his entryist army was 30,000 strong, not 25,000. For either figure to be correct, it would mean between 70 and 85 per cent of those new 36,000 members were ordered to join by Leave.EU, and the other pull factors mentioned above – not least getting to vote on a new leader – had attracted only a small minority of them. That seems unlikely.

What’s more, there’s still no concrete evidence that these supposed proxies exist. CCHQ tracked incoming traffic from Leave.EU’s email and promotional campaign, and rejected the membership applications arising from the click-throughs. They reportedly totalled not much more than 100 applicants. Elsewhere, much-publicised campaigns against named MPs, like Damian Collins, have simply fallen flat. It’s not unreasonable to ask: where’s the proof for these grand claims about numbers and influence?

Could they have got in another way?

While Leave.EU’s online links do not seem to have generated many direct applications for membership, it’s possible their publicity could have spurred likeminded people to join the Conservative Party through another, less direct, route, which might be harder to spot and track. Indeed, I expect it’s likely that some people did so – but it’s inevitable that the higher effort involved, when compared to simply clicking through an email, would have limited their numbers severely.

Even had they done so, there are further barriers to cross. Every new membership applicant pings through on VoteSource, the party’s voter contact tool, to the relevant officer or agent in the local association. They have the right to approve or reject any new member within 14 days of their application, and they are regularly reminded by CCHQ of their responsibility to check up on who these new members are. That involves checking their past canvassing responses, and where possible doing a social media sweep. Neither dataset is perfect, or complete, but from those I’ve spoken to it seems that many associations are quite strict in rejecting people automatically if they had told canvassers they support any other party in recent years.

Some may slip through the net, either by being discreet, or applying to an association which is either too busy to look closely or less strict in its enforcement. But tens of thousands? Really?

So why are there ex-UKIPers and other proven hostiles in the ranks?

The example that often springs to mind is the former UKIP candidate who played a prominent role in the No Confidence vote against Dominic Grieve. Similarly, one of Nick Boles’s critics in Grantham and Stamford was a former UKIP councillor, and David Gauke tweeted about a self-declared Brexit Party member attending his association’s No Confidence vote. They’re important examples which deserve scrutiny.

In the latter case, if it was known that this guy was a member and was so flagrantly in breach of the rules, it’s hard to work out why he wasn’t simply reported (by Gauke or others) and promptly expelled. In Grantham, as I reported at the time, the former UKIP councillor on the Association executive had been welcome to the Party by Boles himself as a defector. In Beaconsfield, the former UKIP candidate was previously a Conservative, who had rejoined post-referendum on the basis that UKIP’s job was done.

Of those three, one – seeking to stand for a rival party – is obviously unacceptable, but the other two seem to me to be entirely in keeping with the Conservative Party’s stated aim of wooing people back to the Tories as a way of healing some of the harm done by the UKIP boom. And, indeed, with Rory Stewart’s desire to broaden the Party by reaching out to people who do not currently support it.

Simply being an ex-Kipper is not in itself evidence of hostility, still less entryism. After all, many Kippers were previously Conservatives. If we take the view that they should never be welcome – or that they would be welcome to cough up their £25 but should never participate in the democratic processes of the Party – then we guarantee the divide on the right will never be healed.

But what about all the deselections?

You might not know it from the coverage, but there still haven’t been any deselections. Yes, really. It is five years since the last two Conservative MPs (Tim Yeo and Anne McIntosh) suffered such a fate. To hear some discussion of this topic you’d imagine there was a small army of unseated MPs. But there aren’t. Some of those who have left voluntarily – Boles, Allen, Wollaston, Soubry – might in time have faced an attempt. It’s possible that they felt compelled to leave by the prospect of deselection, of course, but the fact still stands.

Ok. But what about all the deselection ballots?

This is another misleading idea: that there’s a host of deselection ballots taking place where members vote to get rid of their MPs. This isn’t the case. As this site warned anyone dreaming of deselections back in October, and as I wrote at greater length when the Boles row blew up in January, the Conservative Party rules don’t even provide rank and file members with a vote on deselection in almost any circumstances. In fact, the only time a member would get a vote on the deselection of a sitting MP would be if that MP exercised their own special right to demand a full ballot of the local membership as a measure to save themselves – something Crispin Blunt used successfully back in 2013. Anyone joining the Party with a view to forcing and then voting in a deselection ballot has wasted their money.

So what are these votes we keep hearing about?

There are two types of proceedings underway across a small number of associations.

The first is a simple No Confidence vote. These are non-binding and have no effect to deselect the MP (see Grieve and Philip Lee, for example, who are still in place despite losing them).  When passed, they are embarrassing and a warning about grassroots discontent, but they aren’t deselections.

In various cases – such as Gauke’s – they haven’t passed, which should give further pause for thought about believing claims of secret armies or the party being “taken over” by sinister forces. Elsewhere – in Sam Gyimah’s constituency, for example – the local and regional party machinery has opted to reject them as invalid to even debate.

The second form of proceedings is what you might call accelerated readoption. In the Tory system, only an association executive – the core of officers, councillors and senior activists – actually get to decide whether an MP is readopted as a candidate at the next election. That is normally done at a time of the MP’s choosing. But in some cases disgruntled execs have formally asked their MP to apply early for readoption – a pretty clear threat that they intend to crack the whip, or get rid entirely. However, this process falls into a grey area of the Party rules. Cleverly, Boles simply refused to send such an application, effectively creating a stalemate. A couple of other MPs have followed suit – though they’re really just postponing a clash, it remains the case that the idea of ruthless associations voting out their MPs all over the place is a major exaggeration.

But aren’t the meetings full of people who’ve never been seen before?

This is line has come from a few embattled MPs, keen to dish out a bit of doubt about their local critics. It’s perfectly possible that it is true, but it doesn’t amount to very convincing evidence of entryism.

Spend any amount of time inside a Tory association and you’ll witness an eternal battle to persuade members to come to events, buy tickets for things, and come out campaigning. There are plenty who pay their subs and then never come to anything. In momentous times, and with something as controversial and unusual as a no confidence ballot, for example, more of them will turn up. I’m aware of several people who have been relatively inactive members for many years but who have even been stirred by recent events to sign a motion calling for a confidence ballot. The test for a Conservative member to be allowed to attend a meeting or vote in a ballot is not whether their MP recognises them.

There will no doubt be newer members turning up to these meetings, too. Some, as I’ve noted above, may indeed have joined up wanting to support a change – of MP, or policy, or the Party’s structure. Some might even be former UKIP supporters or members. But aside from the three-month period after joining, there is no limit to a member’s participation in party democracy just because they are new.

Watchfulness is healthy, but paranoia is not. It would be absurd for the Conservative Party to spend years lamenting its falling membership, only to panic and try to forbid new members from getting involved just as the numbers start to rise.

Where is all this anger from, if not entryists?

You don’t need to be a Banks-controlled entryist to be displeased at the failures of the Government or the behaviour of some Conservative MPs. A majority of Conservative Party members in 2016 voted Leave, and like the rest of the 17.4 million who did so, they’re more than a bit brassed off at the current situation.

Is it really so impossible that genuine members might truly be angry, on their own accord and with no entryism required?

It’s also important to note that there simply isn’t a direct correlation from an MP’s views on Brexit to open revolt in their association. A topical dispute might light the touch-paper, but more often than not an MP with serious association problems is in trouble because they had already lost some degree of popularity due to longer-standing issues. As one Grantham and Stamford activist told me of Boles: “If feeling towards him was warmer generally in the association, people would say ‘oh, move on’, but instead, he doesn’t have that electoral goodwill in the bank.” In the reverse situation, there are MPs who have proved troublesome to the progress of Brexit but who have not faced an association rebellion.

Grieve and Gauke are interesting exceptions to this rule. Both had good relationships and reputations locally prior to their recent troubles. The former has managed to burn through a lot of that trust and positivity in a short time, by the sheer radicalism of his political position on Brexit and his refusal to be moderated by his association’s advice. He duly lost the confidence vote, for that reason. By contrast, the Justice Secretary certainly blotted his copybook by failing to vote with the Government at a crucial time, but he won his confidence vote because his critics’ annoyance about it simply wasn’t shared by enough of their fellow members. He had, after all, abided by his promises at election time.

In a sense, the Gauke ballot is an instructive case with something to say about this whole panic: yes, he faced a no confidence ballot. Yes, that means some of his local members are very displeased. But that isn’t the end of the story: he then won the vote comfortably. The all-powerful entryist takeover we keep being told about would hardly let that happen.

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Jason Aldiss: Hunt’s mature pragmatism is preferable to a lurch to the right under Johnson

Dr Jason Aldiss BEM is Managing Director of Eville & Jones, and Chairman of Pudsey Conservative Association

The battle for the Conservative Party leadership is becoming increasingly robust. That is to be expected and even welcomed given the importance of the job both candidates seek. But I fear that the Party, which I have loyally served as an office holder and campaigner for many years, is in mortal danger.

As chairman of Pudsey Conservative Association, I recognised the hurdles we faced in the run-up to the May local elections. West Yorkshire is not the easiest place to be a Tory, even in good times. But, supported by Stuart Andrew, our hardworking MP, and a team of hardy volunteers, we managed to buck the national trend by taking a key target ward from Labour on Leeds City Council.

The city narrowly favoured Remain in the 2016 EU referendum. I am an unashamed Remainer and voted accordingly. Back then, I believed passionately that Brexit would be a disaster for our United Kingdom. Nothing has happened since to change my view.

As managing director of the company that provides Official Veterinarians (OVs) to the Food Standards Agency in England and Wales, I am acutely aware of the perils Brexit poses to the veterinary profession, the agricultural sector and the meat industry. Ninety-eight per cent of the 550 vets I employ come from outside the UK. Recruitment and retention were already major challenges before the referendum. They have become considerably more problematic since.

I pay tribute to Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Rory Stewart for their commendably open-minded approaches to allowing non-UK workers to come here and contribute to the well-being of our economy. In contrast, some of the anti-immigration rhetoric peddled by hardline Conservative Brexiteers has been misguided and naïve. The desire of some Tory MPs to outflank Nigel Farage on the right risks moving our party to a place on the political spectrum where it should not be.

A countless number of the doorstep conversations I’ve held with voters over the past two years have featured warm words for Theresa May. She faced an impossible task and I believe history will judge her favourably. I doubt that those Conservative Parliamentarians who sought to undermine her every move will be remembered so fondly.

I continue to oppose Brexit. But if it really must happen, it can only be on the basis of the Norwegian model. The EU27 have made clear time and time again that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened. I believe them. Brexit would have happened on 29th March if the pro-Leave ideologues had taken Gove’s advice and supported the Prime Minister’s deal. Attention could then have turned to the much more important negotiations on the future relationship.

Given the current arithmetic in the House of Commons, May’s successor will surely face an even more testing time, with a General Election looming large on the horizon. Mindful of this, I wholeheartedly agree with the warnings from Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke that elections are won from the middle ground. Despite his many appalling failings, Tony Blair knew this, too.

Conservatives have a duty to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street. The man has spent a lifetime as an apologist for the enemies of a country he now wants to lead. His elevation should be a source of shame for the Labour Party. We must block his path to power. But by lurching to the right under a new leader, we risk collapsing the Government, crashing the economy – or both. It is time for calm heads and clear thinking in the national interest and best traditions of the Conservative and Unionist Party. We cannot risk going into Opposition at a time of genuine crisis.

Rather than slavishly follow outdated political dogma, the new Prime Minister must demonstrate a willingness to act maturely, think pragmatically and accept responsibility for the fate of future generations. I do not believe that a recast Brexit deal with the EU is possible by 31st October. Jeremy Hunt seems to reluctantly share this view. Neither can I envisage any scenario in which Parliament will countenance a No Deal outcome. Again, I credit Hunt for his realism on this, too.

On the other side of the leadership election, the British people have the right to expect that the victor will be frank and honest with them. There is no evidence to suggest that Boris Johnson is remotely capable of such behaviour. The campaign is providing daily encouragement that Hunt can take on the task and steer our country into calmer waters. Should he win, as I feel he must, Tory MPs and members have a shared duty to do what we do best and rally around. Otherwise I fear that the Conservative Party itself, with 185 years of history, may be running out of road.

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Javid feels the benefit of his leadership bid in the final Cabinet League Table of the May years

 

Westlake Legal Group June-2019-cabinet-league-table Javid feels the benefit of his leadership bid in the final Cabinet League Table of the May years ToryDiary Theresa May MP Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Penny Mordaunt MP Party Democracy and Membership Ministers Matthew Hancock MP Liz Truss MP Highlights Grassroots Geoffrey Cox MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Boris Johnson MP Alun Cairns MP

Given that the next leader of the Conservative Party is set to be announced on 23rd July, a few days before the point at which we will carry out our next monthly survey, this will likely be the final Cabinet League Table for this ministerial line-up.

Some of those listed above will no doubt survive to serve in the next administration, but others will find their futures in doubt – and so may be looking at these numbers with a touch of hope or trepidation.

A few key findings to note:

Theresa May’s final score. The outgoing Prime Minister has featured in every one of these surveys since ConservativeHome began asking this question of our panel in January 2007 – covering the last 12 years of her total of two decades at Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet level. She ends that run on a low, with a net rating of -61.2.

An overall improvement in ratings. As a group, the total net score of the Cabinet plus Davidson and Davies rose to +92.6 this month. That’s the first positive score since January, and the highest collective rating since October (the month before May presented her deal).

As the chart below shows, this is still a pretty meagre level of approval historically, but it is better than the truly dire numbers we saw in March, April and May. Even the Prime Minister’s numbers have improved a bit, rising 7.5 points on last month. Why the improvement?

Some of it will be a symptom of the leadership contest, as candidates and their supporters gain ground by becoming better known and promoting their opinions and abilities. But, bluntly, some of it appears to be a first sign of Tory ministers starting to escape from the toxic reputation of the Prime Minister – a bump from May’s decision to leave office.

Westlake Legal Group LEague-Table-Net-Rating-to-June-2019 Javid feels the benefit of his leadership bid in the final Cabinet League Table of the May years ToryDiary Theresa May MP Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Penny Mordaunt MP Party Democracy and Membership Ministers Matthew Hancock MP Liz Truss MP Highlights Grassroots Geoffrey Cox MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Boris Johnson MP Alun Cairns MP

Watch the leadership candidates – Hunt, Gove, Hancock, Javid and Stewart. Jeremy Hunt has certainly gained ground since last month, with his rating rising from +23.9 to +41.7. Michael Gove makes slim gains, up from +24.3 to +30.2. Matt Hancock is sizeably up, too, from +5.6 to +25.7. However, the biggest beneficiary of having been a candidate is Sajid Javid, who picks up a whopping 31.1 extra points, leaping from +22.8 in May to +53.9 in June. By contrast, despite all the publicity and his better-than-expected run in the Parliamentary rounds, Rory Stewart’s rating has barely changed, from -18 last month to -20 today. That’s a result in keeping with the wider sense that while he has ardent fans within the Party, many of his enthusiasts are currently not among the membership. Javid and Hancock appear to have reaped the most from the race.

A windfall for Boris Johnson allies? The current front-runner in the leadership contest is not, of course, in the Cabinet at present, so does not appear in this table. But it’s notable that several of the Cabinet ministers backing him appear to have made noticeable gains in their rating this month. Geoffrey Cox gains 20.2 points. Steve Barclay gains 12.5. Liz Truss gains 8.4. Alun Cairns gains 11.5. I wonder if they are benefiting somewhat by association. Penny Mordaunt is probably the most prominent Hunt supporter in the league table – having topped it last month – and receives an almost identical rating in these results, although she is leapfrogged by Cox, Javid and Truss.

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Joanne Bartley: Has our Party gone mad? No Deal Brexiteers are acting like pro-Corbyn extremists.

Joanne Bartley is an Education campaigner and a Conservative Party member from Kent.

I’ve had many conversations with Tory friends about the state of the Labour party. We wondered how anyone could stay with its Far-Left leadership and anti-semitism problems. I argued that decent Labour people should leave. Now I think that advice is wrong: they should stay and fight to save their party. I say this because I worry about the changing face of my own party.

I attended a Conservative Association event recently, and I was the only woman among a dozen retired and reckless No Deal Brexiteers. A 16 year old member and I dared to mention our support for Rory Stewart. We voiced our agreement with his message of compromise and we admired the realism in his Brexit plans. It became clear very quickly that we held the ‘wrong’ view. Our brand of moderate, pragmatic conservatitism was seen as a threat to our Party. It is natural to disagree about who should be leader, but I left the meeting feeling my Party is moving away from me.

Surely we must show respect and understanding towards members and MPs with differing views on Brexit? We must be Conservatives first, not Brexiteers. We shouldn’t forget that 30 per cent of party members voted Remain. This to me is a compelling argument for a moderate, risk-free Brexit, and an attitude of understanding to MPs who represent this view. Our hardline Brexiteer party activists risk driving away our moderate, Remain-supporting members.

I voted Leave, but I feel a great responsibility to Conservative members and supporters who happen to hold different views on Europe. Most Remain-voting Tories support leaving the EU, but not a ‘No Deal’ Brexit without a negotiated agreement. Remain-voting Conservatives have softened their position, and now accept that we must leave the EU, but why do Brexiteer Tories never bend to show sympathy for their position? The referendum victory seems to give most Brexiteers a winner-takes-it-all outlook, and the arrogance to support a style of Brexit that actually scares people.

I liked Stewart’s style, but was told he is not Conservative enough. This leaves me and many other members doubting our values. He talked mostly of community, patriotism, civic obligation, fiscal responsibility and the small things that made a big difference. I don’t see a socialist agenda in any of that.

Stewart’s campaign reminded me of why I became a Conservative in the first place. My Tory values are all about realism and good sense. I like that we’re the Party of getting things done, always careful and conscientious. I believe in government that is pragmatic, smart with money, and offers common sense policy. This fits the Tory theme of security. Our supporters want clear-headed government; we represent order and planning. We shun chaos and uncertainty, we’re always a safe pair of hands.

If we look at Brexit through this lens, then it is obvious why many of our voters will be against a No Deal policy. It’s not competent government to be so vague about the next few months, it makes no sense to ignore the Parliamentary maths, or to rush out of the EU without deals in place. This security-first sonservatism is a perfectly valid reason for MPs to seek to avoid No Deal.

I worry that Boris Johnson offers inconsistent messaging and far too little detail about what lies ahead. One day he says we leave on October 31st “come what may”, the next he says no deal is a million to one. One or other of these points has to be untrue. This is chaos – it’s the opposite of safety and moderation. He reminds me of the dad who says he’ll finish work early, but has said it before and not turned up. He has a style of doing things that creates anxiety.

Many Brexiteer Tories loathed Stewart’s Brexit plan. They didn’t notice that many Leave voters, like me, supported it because we simply believe that other plans lead to no Brexit at all. They didn’t notice that many Remain voters supported it because it detoxified the debate, and offered an unthreatening route to get this blasted thing done. Political compromise is unfashionable, but I think Stewart was onto something.

The advantage of a middle-ground approach, as he proved, is that it brings bigger wins for the Conservative brand. The more radical we are with Brexit, the narrower the number of people we appeal too. The more embarrassing our chosen leader and his unpopular, vague, messages, the harder it is to win positive social media attention. Millions of people oppose a hard Brexit, millions see critical comments about our party on Twitter and Facebook. None of this negativity can be countered by blue leaflets posted through letterboxes.

I worry that it is already too late to stop our party moving away from the moderate centre-ground. Sam Gyimha is a principled man, he stood in the leadership election to make the point that not all Tories hold the same view on Brexit. Now he faces a no confidence vote. Antoinette Sandbach has publicly criticised No Deal Brexit, and it seems another MP had asked her to leave the party. David Gauke voted three times for Brexit via the Withdrawal Agreement, yet he too faced a no confidence vote. What’s his crime? He believes that a No Deal Brexit is a bad idea. So do I. So do most people in this country. So do a great many people who voted for Brexit. Has our Party gone mad? We act like radical extremists when we chasten an MP for supporting the most commonly held position.

We need to tackle the hounding of good MPs by the radical Brexit wing of the party. I hope any new leader will take a stand and point out that conservatism is not only about the EU. If we are a single issue party we are diminished. Not to mention the fact there is a single issue party now out there.

I hope anyone reading this will consider their part in this problem, we must ensure our party welcomes all who call themselves a Conservative. The Labour Party should stand as a warning.  It has becoming a party in which moderate views are unacceptable. The next few months will be difficult, but we must remember that our voters trust us to offer safe government and common sense direction. And they expect safety and good sense with Brexit as much as with any other policy.

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