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Westlake Legal Group > Party Members and Organisation

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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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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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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We’ll get the result of the Tory members’ ballot in a month. But many of their votes will be cast in a fortnight.

The final round of the Conservative leadership election officially ends on 22nd July, which is the close of voting by party members. The race is therefore generally viewed as having just over a month more to run.

But in reality many – or possibly even most – members will have voted long before the formal deadline.

A letter recently sent out to members by CCHQ to explain the process says: “You should receive your ballot between the 6th and 8th of July.”

Just as in any other election, postal voting means a lot of people pass their verdict as soon as they receive their papers. That effectively removes them from the audience for the rest of the campaign after that date.

So the fact this election will be fully postal has practical and strategic connotations for the final two candidates:

1) It is good news for a front-runner. The long race in 2005 – which lasted for months on end – provided David Cameron with the opportunity to overturn David Davis’s early lead. If a lot of people will in practice be voting in a fortnight’s time, that reduces the possibility for a similar upending.

2) It raises the incentive for the second-placed finalist to hit early and hit hard. If an underdog has a small window of opportunity to make a difference to the contest, and a short period of time for any messages they do put out to come across and change minds, then there’s all the more reason to be very outspoken, very bold and very punchy early on. That’s good news for journalists seeking a story, but might be troubling for Party members worried about the prospect of unattractive blue-on-blue attacks.

3) It puts the later hustings on a strange footing. According to the list we published recently, there are five official hustings – South East, Gloucestershire, East Anglia, Eastern and London – which will take place after ballots have been sent out. The London hustings is last, and takes place on the 17th of July – a full ten days after most members will have received and potentially cast their vote.

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Daniel Hannan: Better to select the Tory leader like the Dalai Lama than elect him by this preposterous method

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Here is how the Doge of Venice was elected. Thirty names were chosen at random from the eligible electorate. These were reduced by lot to nine, who would nominate 40, from whom a blind draw would choose 12, who would then nominate another 25. A new blind draw would reduce those 25 to nine, who would pick a further 45, reduced by lot to 11. Those 11 would then choose 41, none of whom could have participated in any of the earlier stages. Those 41 would then pick the Doge.

Is there a sillier way to elect a leader? Yes. The one used by the Conservative Party. Venice was not an unqualified success story – my friend Douglas Carswell is forever citing it as an example of how free societies decline into oligarchy – but at least its electoral system did what it was designed to do, preserving a republican form of government for 529 years until Bonaparte invaded in 1797. The Conservative leadership rules, by contrast, do not deliver anything – not fairness nor consistency nor democracy.

The essential flaw in our system is this: you can become leader with the support of less than a third of your MPs; but, to keep the job, you need the support of more than half. Every other political party I know of gives its leader some incumbency advantage, so as to guarantee a measure of stability. Ours is the only one that raises the bar higher for sitting leaders.

Consider the 2001 leadership election. The final parliamentary round of voting left the remaining three candidates fairly evenly matched. Ken Clarke won 59 votes, Iain Duncan Smith 54 and Michael Portillo 53. Clarke and Duncan Smith therefore went forward to the ballot of party members, which IDS won comfortably. However, in order to stay on as leader, he needed the support of half the parliamentary party – 83 MPs. Two years later, he was challenged and, despite increasing his support from 54 to 75, he was toppled.

How did we end up with such a silly method? The usual reason: a hasty decision made with an eye on immediate headlines. I remember when it happened. We had just been hammered at the 1997 election, and the idea got about – as these things do – that we needed to involve our members more.

Until that time, the members had never asked for any direct involvement in the election of the party leader. There was certainly agitation for a greater role for party activists, led by the tireless John Strafford and his Campaign for Conservative Democracy. But, back in 1997, it was focused on making CCHQ (or CCO as it was in those days) more accountable. The demand was for more control over the functions of the Party Chairman and Treasurer. Almost everyone recognised that, in a parliamentary democracy, the party leader had to be able to command a majority in the Commons.

But because the demand for greater activist participation happened to coincide with the 1997 leadership election, the two things somehow became tangled in people’s minds, and the idea took hold that the way to involve party members more was to give them something that, until then, no one had asked for – namely, a final say over the election of the leader. Because MPs were reluctant to relinquish all their powers, the current hybrid was eventually brought squalling into the world and, in the way of these things, it has been left in place because no one wants the hassle of reopening the issue.

The trouble is that you can’t change the rules during the run-up to a contest, because everyone starts gaming the system to favour their preferred candidate. Then, once the election has taken place, everyone loses interest. So we have been stuck with this nonsense for 20 years.

This time, we shouldn’t let the matter slip. I suggest that, following the current leadership election, a suitable group of grandees be brought together, representing the 1922, the Board and the Cabinet, to consider a thorough overhaul of the system. To avoid being influenced, even subconsciously, by a preference for a particular future candidate, they should declare at the outset that there will be a delay in implementation. Perhaps the new system should take effect only following one more contest held under the existing rules, or perhaps it would come into play only in 2023 or some other future date. The point is, we should ensure that the people drawing it up are disinterestedly seeking the best system.

My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that we should involve the members more in almost every aspect of the party except the election of its parliamentary leader. I’d like to see Party Conference debating and setting policy. I’d like to see MPs elected through primaries. I’d like to have a formal mechanism for members to have an input into the manifesto. I just can’t see how parliamentary sovereignty is compatible with a potential Prime Minister being nominated by an extra-parliamentary body.

Mine, though, is just one view. There may be much better ideas out there. But surely we can at least agree that the current method is not fit for purpose. We might as well choose our leader, as Tibet’s High Lamas select a new Dalai, by dreams and mystic signs. Let’s not put off the necessary reforms yet again.

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Dominic Raab: I want a fairer Britain, and a more democratic Conservative Party

Dominic Raab is MP for Esher and Walton, and a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

I believe the central mission of the Conservative Party should be fairness – a fairer deal on Brexit, a fairer deal for workers, and a fairer society so every young person can make the best of their potential, whatever their start in life.

We must keep our promises on Brexit, or we won’t be listened to on anything else. I’m the candidate who has set out the clearest plan, and I’ve shown the most steadfast resolve to make sure we leave by the end of October. I am the Brexiteer who can be relied upon to navigate the rocky road ahead, and make sure we leave without any further delays.

The country needs the finality of leaving, and we as a government need to move forward so we can talk about all the other things we have to offer. I want us to be able to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, from setting our own immigration policy to a more energetic approach to global free trade – which can boost wages, create jobs and cut prices for consumers at home.

I want the Conservatives to be the natural home of the ‘blue collar’ vote. That is why my priority is to raise the point at which people start paying National Insurance and cut the basic rate of income tax – a pay rise for those lowest-paid workers. We mustn’t fall into the predictable trap of letting Labour caricature ours as a party of privilege, or our priorities as being those that favour the wealthy. No one can say that of my plan.

I also want us to build a more meritocratic society – one that gives the aspirational underdog, from a humble background, their shot in life. From reviving Young Apprenticeships for 14- to 16-year-olds to boosting Degree Apprenticeships to give ambitious and hard-working young people more opportunity and wider choice, this should be our guiding light as Conservatives – as I set out at my recent speech to the think tank Onward.

If we’re going to build a more meritocratic society, we as politicians had better practice what we preach. I will end the patronage that has defined career progression in the Government, and appoint the best people for the job – whilst ensuring we have a well-balanced and rounded team. And I will restore collective responsibility in government, which has been missing for far too long.

At the same time, we’ve got to energise our fantastic grassroots – to help us campaign and sell our optimistic vision for the future. Our hard-working members deserve a fairer deal, too. After all they are the ones who canvass, deliver leaflets, organise fundraising events, and support us locally and nationally at election time.

Although there has been a welcome revival in membership levels recently, thanks to the hard work of Brandon Lewis and his team, we need far more members. The key is to create stronger incentives for people to get involved at the local level.

We need to make the Conservative Party a more democratic party, where members feel their views are respected and heard. That means strengthening the links between the voluntary Party and the centre. The first fundamental change I’d make is to enable the whole Party, including our members, to elect the Chairman of the Party Board – rather than it being decided by the Leader. That would give our volunteers a greater role and say in the strategic direction, right at the top of the Party.

At a local level, people join us because they want to make a difference in their communities and for their country. They see the Conservative Party as an organisation which can offer them a way to do that. Yet when they sign up, they are often frustrated to discover that there are relatively few formal mechanisms to do so in practice.

I propose that, in future, Associations should be encouraged to propose policy motions to be debated at Conference – perhaps to kick things off on the Sunday – so members are more involved in debating Party policy. The Party Board could set criteria for motions to be debated on the main stage at Conference. The relevant Cabinet minister would then respond to the motion – engaging directly with our grassroots members.

Not only is that the right thing to do democratically, it would also bring two welcome effects: it widens the talent pool contributing ideas for future policy, and it would revive the attendance levels at Conference which has become too much of a lobbyists’ playground.

We should also engage more with our local Conservative Policy Forums, by giving the best of them a slot at Conference to bring forward their ideas and have them debated and responded to by ministers.

We need to become far better at recruiting and retaining members in other ways, too. The best way to do that is by recognising what individuals do. How about creating an annual Leader’s Dinner, where the best-performing and most committed activists are rewarded with a special dinner hosted by the Leader of the Party?

Let’s extend that emphasis on awards and recognition right across the Party. We can link that to our annual Conference, by having awards at Conference for the best local campaign, the best digital campaign, the outstanding young activist (and many more).

When it comes to attracting younger members, we should extend the current £5 per year membership fee for under-23s to under-25s. Let’s combine the experience of our membership base with a new generation of energetic younger activists.

I want also to revive the Party as a campaigning machine. With that in mind, I would create a bespoke initiative to raise funds to employ more professional Party Agents in our battleground seats. We all know that a terrific local Agent can be the difference between success or failure in marginal seats.

We must also raise our game digitally. We were outgunned in the last election by rival parties, and the Brexit Party showed how far behind the curve we are in the European elections. We can and will get better at digital campaigning – if we invest more money, recruit world class talent, and make the Head of Digital a Director of the Party. Future elections will be won and lost in the digital sphere. We need to take this much more seriously if we’re to give ourselves an edge in digital campaigning at the next election.

I believe this leadership contest is a moment of change. I’m offering a change of vision and a generational change in leadership. To deliver that, we’ll also need to revitalise our campaigning capability, by giving our grassroots a greater role, recognising the inspirational work they do, and sharpening our campaigning cutting edge. That’s the way we can win the next election, and take Britain forward.

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