Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Can a non-democratic Conservative Party restore democracy to Britain?

The following letter is in today's Daily Telegraph:

Sir - As senior representatives of the general membership of the Conservative Party since the reforms of 1998, we are dismayed by the new proposals for electing the leader of the party, currently to be voted on by the party's constitutional college, which do no more than return to the previous unsatisfactory system.

The current arrangements represent a delicate balance. Members of Parliament draw up the shortlist (so any candidate whom MPs consider they cannot work with is excluded) with the final choice being made by all party members. Significantly, if MPs can agree on a single candidate, he or she automatically becomes leader.

Supporters of the new proposals argue that, in future, MPs will have to take into account the views of the voluntary party. So they did under the pre-1998 system but there is no evidence that they ever listened.

As for cost, the last ballot of the membership actually made a profit, because members were asked to make a voluntary financial contribution when returning their ballot paper.

Senior members of the parliamentary party and, indeed, the media keep stressing the need for the party to "reach out" to find new supporters. It is hard to see how this important objective will be achieved by removing the vote from party members and returning it to under 200 individuals - MPs predominantly representing the shires and South-East of England and with virtually no representation from the north of England, Scotland, Wales, the cities, and importantly women and younger people.

If a change has to be made it should surely be based on a method of electing the leader which gives direct involvement to all parts of the party (MPs, MEPs, peers, councillors and members) in the final decision by means of an electoral college.

In the meantime the current proposals should be rejected.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Chairman, National Conservative Convention, 1998-2000), John Taylor (Chairman, 2000-2003), Brian Hanson (President, National Conservative Convention, 1999-2000), Jean Searle (President, 2001-2002), Caroline Abel-Smith (President, 2002-2003), Richard Stephenson (President, 2004-2005)