CCHQ Should Not Automatically Protect Tory MPs From Deselection

Conservatives Tories start candidate selection process early - mandatory reselection - deselection of rebels

A seat in the House of Commons is not a job for life. And just as the Parliamentary Labour Party should not be encumbered with MPs increasingly at odds with their local constituency parties, so Tory MPs should not be immune from deselection if they repeatedly ignore the priorities and concerns of grassroots Conservative Party members

Try as I might, I simply cannot get myself worked up about the government’s “shock” defeat over the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. While the legislative drama seems to have Hard Brexiteers up in arms and Remainers parading their newfound (and one suspects rather less than genuine) love and respect for Parliamentary sovereignty, I don’t see that these machinations will have any real bearing on the eventual outcome.

So Parliament gets to have a “meaningful” vote on the terms of the UK-EU agreement? Fine, so be it – though I have always held that the people, not Parliament, should be sovereign, and that no government should be able to divest itself of fundamentally important powers or seek to repatriate such powers without an explicit and specific mandate from the people. Of course, if we had a written constitution then such things would likely be enshrined automatically rather than be up for furious debate as new issues and obstacles are encountered along the road. But then if we had a written constitution we likely would never have ceded so much sovereignty to the European Union in the first place and would not now be in this position, making it all a rather moot point.

Of far more interest to me is the fact that talk of deselection of MPs has bubbled up again. We saw this last year as Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters sought to cement their control of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and for democratic reasons I supported the idea of mandatory reselection in principle. And now there are new calls to deselect sitting MPs, this time from Conservative politicians and activists angry at what they see as the Tory rebels’ deliberate undermining of the prime minister and the country’s negotiating position with the EU:

On this occasion I do not share the Tory Brexiteer outrage, but their case is every bit as compelling as was that of the Corbynite leftists who wanted to rid their party of centrist MPs who do not reflect the values and priorities of their local associations. While I personally find it hard to work myself into a spittle-flecked fury at the antics of Dominic Grieve or Heidi Allen, if it is the case that these MPs represent Leave-voting constituencies and a majority of local party activists find their voting record objectionable then I see no reason why they should be protected and continually re-imposed on an unwilling local party organisation.

Of course, CCHQ and the Tory Party machinery vehemently disagrees. Reflexively opposed to any notion that grassroots activists or local constituency associations should have any input as to the direction, policies or running of the party, CCHQ sees individual conservatives as little more than indentured servants campaign material distributors at election time, to be put to work when necessary and then roundly ignored the rest of the cycle.

Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s intellectual bloodbank-in-exile, makes it perfectly clear that the present Conservative leadership remains determined to run the party (if not the entire country) as their personal private fiefdom, and that local constituency associations should shut up and do as they are told, whether they like the candidate or MP chosen for them or not. Timothy unapologetically and shamelessly spelled out as much on Twitter today:

This is an open admission that Theresa May, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, saw fit to interfere in local constituency business and keep an unwanted MP foisted on an unwilling local party.

But what the hell business should it be of the prime minister who gets to stand as a Conservative candidate in a local constituency? This is everything that is wrong with the current Tory party – overcentralised and overbearing, with CCHQ pig-headedly declaring that it knows best while confidently marching us all to ruin. Given the litany of gaffes, unforced errors, scandals and bad judgements which have emanated from Theresa May’s cabinet, I would sooner entrust a panel of ten individuals randomly selected from the phone book to choose good Tory candidates than I would have Theresa May make the judgement call.

Of course, there is a counter-argument to all this, as a reader pointed out on Twitter:

We certainly don’t want a situation where conscientious, independent-minded MPs are peremptorily driven from office or from their political party because they fail to toe the hardest of hard lines demanded by their activists. We have recently witnessed just such a phenomenon lead the Republican Party to ruin (at best Pyrrhic victory) in America, where a succession of primary challenges and forced retirements saw an influx of ideologically uncompromising Tea Party politicians into Congress, hard-liners who thwarted any attempt at sane governance in the second term of Barack Obama, rendered the Republican congressional caucus unmanageable and ineffective and set the stage for Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP.

In actual fact we need both of these opposing forces – greater responsiveness to grassroots opinion and a cool, dispassionate process to adjudicate in the event of rogue or underperforming MPs – to be in balance. We need a far greater measure of accountability of MPs to their local party associations, and a more meritocratic system of selection (preferably primaries) which draws more people into the political process and prevents the mediocre-but-well-connected from leveraging their connection to CCHQ to be shortlisted or ultimately foisted on a constituency.

But we also need to build safeguards into the system so that the bar for triggering deselection is high but achievable – the recourseshould only become available at the time of a general election or by-election, so that MPs are judged on the body of their work and their voting record throughout a Parliament and not on the basis of any one single contentious vote.

Ultimately, the resurgent argument about deselection of MPs reminds us that Brexit is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for meaningful democratic renewal in Britain. Brexit was never going to be a cure-all no matter what some cynical Brexiteers may have implied, and we must all now recognise this fact. Achieving Brexit only to return power to the hands of the same MPs who negligently frittered it away in the first place, and who think so little of the people who campaign to put them in office that they seek to be made immune from their judgement, will not solve anything.

To this extent, the worries of Hard Brexiteers that the EFTA/EEA route may be used as cover by some Remainers in order to thwart Brexit entirely are quite valid. When there are so few penalties or recourses available to voters when politicians betray their own supporters, the trust required to sustain a well-functioning democracy is inevitably corroded.

But the real tragedy is that when we should be discussing how to respond to the period of disruption and discontinuity facing Britain, developing bold new mutually-reinforcing policies to tackle 21st century challenges, instead the Conservative Party is bickering about process and thwarting any attempts to clear out the intellectual deadwood and bring in some new ideas and personalities. Constitutional and electoral reform is important and eventually necessary, but there are pressing issues facing Britain which cannot be put on the back burner while we argue about the rules of play. Unfortunately, we seem less interested in these big debates and more interested in arguing about process stories.

When the Conservative Party fails to stand for anything – and Lord knows that under the rootless leadership of Theresa May, the Tories stand for little more than surviving the day at hand – it has plenty of time to devote to juvenile, internecine spats like the one playing out over the EU Withdrawal Bill rebels.

This is highly entertaining for the political media and a gift for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, but very bad indeed for everyone else.

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Winter Is Coming For Conservatives Unless We Wake Up To The Socialist Threat

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The hard Left is on the march, and all the anti-Corbyn negative ads in the world will not save an ideologically bankrupt Conservative Party which cannot clearly articulate an appealing and realistic vision for Britain

Look at this email, which pinged into the inboxes of Momentum members and supporters today.

The socialists are on manoeuvres. They haven’t wasted their summer sipping limoncello on the Amalfi Coast or plotting Oxford Union-style leadership coups with their Cabinet chums. No, having drawn blood from the Conservative Party and reduced the British prime minister to a laughing stock in the June general election, Momentum and other hard-left elements of the Labour Party sense that their long-awaited victory is nearly at hand. And they are training for the battle to come.

I wrote the other day about how the Conservative Party is fiddling while the country burns and Momentum creeps up behind them. This isn’t a laughing matter. Momentum are organising, deploying the latest in voter outreach strategies imported from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in America, and – shock, horror – daring to have conversations with traditionally Tory voters rather than engaging in fruitless navel-gazing introspection as the Conservative Party is currently doing.

Much was written during the election campaign about how much slicker and better financed the Tory online campaign was than its Labour counterpart. The Conservatives spent over £1 million on negative ads on Facebook alone. But it was not an effective campaign. It was soulless, clinical and relentlessly negative. All of which might have been forgivable if it had been properly targeted. But it wasn’t. Instead, CCHQ-produced messages designed to energise the existing Tory base were thrown relentlessly in the faces of swing voters, who did not respond to shrill warnings about Corbyn’s impending socialist takeover.

As with literally everything else about the Conservative Party, the online and voter outreach campaigns were hideously overcentralised and clearly managed by some of the same gormless nepotism beneficiaries who infested Theresa May’s pre-election Cabinet.

And still this might have been survivable if the Labour Party was as terminally dysfunctional as nearly every Westminster-based journalist was confidently reporting prior to the release of the exit poll. But it wasn’t, and still isn’t. Centrist doubters sat on much of their criticism for the duration of the campaign, and following the stronger-than-expected result came crawling meekly back to the leader they once openly undermined.

A vindicated Jeremy Corbyn is bolstered in his position. And the socialist hard-left of the Labour Party has benefited from this injection of confidence, immediately pivoting toward the next general election, where they believe they can dislodge this tired and pointless Tory government and turn the clock back to 1979.

I wrote the other day about how Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard, are holding group training sessions to teach their activists the latest in voter engagement techniques, with even doddery old folk less familiar with the latest technology being inducted into the organisation’s Slack group so that they can communicate in real-time on their smartphones. And now, today’s Momentum bulletin shows that the organisation also intends to revolutionise its social media campaign activities, potentially turning each of their members into a YouTuber capable of creating viral internet videos in support of the Labour Party.

Bear in mind: while the Tories vastly outspent Labour in the online campaign war, their dismal content failed to articulate any positive vision of conservatism and probably alienated half the people who viewed it. Meanwhile, Momentum’s videos were viewed 50 million times, and by a third of all the Facebook users in Britain. That level of penetration and engagement, on a shoestring budget, is incredible.

But you can’t just put it down to a superior grasp of online campaigning by the hard Left. People watched Momentum videos and kept coming back for more because they liked what they were seeing and hearing, or were at least open to the message. They did not respond warmly to the Conservatives, who engaged nearly exclusively in fearmongering and robotic negative messaging about their opponents, but many of them did respond to the side who took enough pride in their political values and had sufficient confidence and faith in those values to make a bold public case for More Socialism. And still Momentum is not satisfied. Still they seek to improve their messaging and hone their campaigning ability.

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Fellow conservatives, you need to wake up and hear this message while there is still time:

The hard, Corbynite Left are gunning for us. Hard.

Unlike conservatives, they have worked out exactly what their values are.

They are not ashamed of those values, and do not apologise for them.

They are hard at work translating those values into policy.

They are proud to proclaim those values and policies in messaging which appeals to the electorate, while we sound defensive and almost ashamed of our own policies and record.

They are convinced that they are on the right side of history, while we seem to have lost faith in the principles of free market capitalism and individual liberty.

They make an unashamedly moral case for their worldview while we seem content to sit at the back and pick holes in their sums, looking like soulless technocratic bean-counters.

They have a thriving youth movement. Ours was disbanded because of a bullying scandal, and because it was basically a giant Ponzi scheme with risible promises of future candidacies dangled in front of naive young activists.

Their activists dominate university campuses, their leftist dogma reigning supreme in the lecture hall and students’ union alike, while conservatives are an endangered minority who often face ostracisation or even official censure for speaking out.

They have a national party with strong and growing constituency branches, while we have a decaying national party with withering constituency branches, ruled from Westminster by proven mediocrities.

They have a party leader who can pack a 3000-seat theatre with excited and motivated activists, while we have a party leader who was too cowardly to even debate during the election campaign, and who is so robotic that she short-circuits if she goes out in the rain without an umbrella.

But here’s the good news – this is a fight that we can win.

Regressive leftist policies of redistribution and nationalisation have brought poverty and misery in their wake everywhere that they have been tried, while the free market that we support has lifted more people out of poverty, subsistence and despair than any other economic system devised by man. There is a reason that the Left has gone very quiet about Venezuela, once their favourite case study of socialism in action.

The traditional Left/Right political divide is being augmented (if not replaced) by the Anywheres vs Somewheres dichotomy (or “open vs closed”, to use the more patronising terms). The Labour Party is marching away from its working class base of Somewheres because their self-serving parliamentary caucus is in thrall to the self-entitled demands of other Anywheres like themselves. This gives us conservatives a huge opportunity to steal their votes – after all, we stand for country, community and patriotism, the very values that the metro-left openly despises.

But we will only win this fight if we get our heads out of the sand, stop manoeuvring for status or creating stupid memes on Facebook and learn instead to boldly and unapologetically articulate conservative principles in the public sphere, without apology. Not the craven, Labour-copying principles of Theresa May’s authoritarian government. Not the paternalistic statism of Nick Timothy and the Joseph Chamberlain afficionados. Rather, we need to re-embrace the timeless principles of individual liberty, patriotism, respect for institutions, strong national defence and flourishing civic society over paternalist statism, which always come through for us when we actually have the confidence to articulate them.

And we don’t have much time. In this unpredictable age, with no majority and a number of difficult things to push through Parliament, Theresa May’s government could conceivably be toppled at any moment. Momentum and the hard Left is ready for the fight. We are not.

To use a topical Game of Thrones analogy, when the White Walkers are massing and threatening to breach the wall, it’s no good squabbling over which lacklustre, uncharismatic Cabinet minister should next occupy the Iron Throne. Now is the time to find some ideological dragonglass and fashion it into a viable electoral weapon before we are swept away by the Army of the Socialist Undead and Britain succumbs to another long winter of discontent.

Momentum have given us fair warning. They are not being secretive about their strategy and tactics. So we conservatives will have only ourselves to blame if we find ourselves undone by them.

 

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The SpAdocracy And Theresa May’s Flawed Manifesto Plans For Social Care

The Thick Of It

Social care funding and other important policy questions are too important to be decided solely by a couple of Bright Young Things and Special Advisers ensconced in Downing Street

The problem with Theresa May’s disastrous, miscalculated decision to shoehorn dramatic changes to the funding of social care into the Conservative (In Name Only) manifesto – and then perform a humiliating U-turn live on TV – is that it was cooked up by a couple of her closest, most trusted advisers and then foisted on the Conservative Party and the country with zero wider consultation.

The Guardian lifts the veil on the dysfunctional Court of Theresa May:

The manifesto for Mayism was stitched together on an upper floor of Conservative campaign headquarters over the past few weeks by a tight-knit team of the prime minister’s most trusted advisers.

While May has been out on the road giving stump speeches nearly every day, her policy team has been holed up in Matthew Parker Street in Westminster composing a document intended to redefine Conservatism, drawing a line under the elitism of the Cameron era and the individualism of Thatcher.

The document is pitched as representing May’s firmly held world view, but it also has the fingerprints of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her two co-chiefs of staff, all over it.

The pair, who reigned supreme over May’s Home Office, have been the subject of complaints from MPs that they act like deputy prime ministers instead of Downing Street aides. Now the election campaign has started, they run the show at CCHQ with a tight grip.

Who needs cabinet ministers, think tanks, non-profit organisations, lobbyists, the general public or anybody else in the political ecosystem when you have two loyal SpAds ready and willing to deconstruct and rebuild core functions of the state quietly, in the shadows?

More:

MPs have complained privately over the past 10 months about the centralised nature of Downing Street, with May, Timothy and Hill sucking policy decisions away from Whitehall departments and other ministers. It comes as no surprise to them that May’s campaign focuses on her personal leadership qualities to the exclusion of other senior figures in the party, with the case for that focus bolstered by the prime minister’s strong poll ratings.

Cabinet ministers say they are not being sidelined, although the reality looks somewhat different. Of 15 campaign events for the press held by the Tories so far, all but one have been fronted by May herself, speaking of “strong and stable leadership” and the need for a mandate to carry through Brexit at every opportunity.

A few – including Boris Johnson, Michael Fallon, Amber Rudd and David Davis – have been used for some media interviews, but they are mainly kept away at constituency visits. By Wednesday, senior cabinet ministers such as Philip Hammond, Johnson and Rudd had seen the manifesto and approved its contents.

But its composition was very much a matter for May’s inner circle.

It is quite frightening to realise just how quickly harebrained, incomplete and otherwise controversial policies can find themselves shoehorned into a party manifesto (and then swiftly become law) if they are adopted and pushed by a well-connected member of the SpAd-ocracy.

In fact, prior to calling the general election the Conservatives had planned to hold at least a basic level of consultation on reforming social care, but some bright spark apparently decided that it would be far simpler to ram the changes through by including half-baked ideas as firm manifesto pledges, as the Telegraph reports:

Politicians who will deliver the Conservatives’ new care policy if they win re-election were left in the dark about their manifesto commitments, it can be revealed.

Senior Government sources have told The Sunday Telegraph they were left “completely surprised” by the wide-ranging package of reforms announced this week.

A series of social care policies were due to be put out to consultation this summer, including some of those adopted by the party in its manifesto.

However the changes would have been followed by months of consideration with less political risk if they were dropped or altered after industry feedback.

As I type, Theresa May is scrambling to defend her social care policy and her broader judgment in a television interview with Andrew Neil (the closest that the prime minister will condescend to participating in a debate) and frankly failing miserably, all of which could have been avoided if her core team behaved less arrogantly and if British political parties sought to formulate and enact legislation in a more open, inclusive way.

When President Barack Obama sought to overhaul the American healthcare system early in his first term, he didn’t slap a fully worked-out, prescriptive solution for single-payer healthcare on the table and demand that everybody get behind the main principles “or else”. While American conservatives rightly point out that the extensive consultation exercise was partly cosmetic and not nearly as welcoming of right wing input as it was portrayed, the fact remains that when American political leaders wanted to change something which impacted millions of people and a significant share of the US economy, there was a consultation (or at least the pretence of a consultation) before the first draft was issued. Sure, congressmen were expected to vote on the final bill having had only a few hours to read it, if they could even be bothered, but this was after every aspect of healthcare reform had been discussed in excruciating detail in committees, public town halls and in smoke-filled rooms with the special interests who (rightly or wrongly) have the power to make or break reforms.

This style of policymaking seems to be anathema to the British system. When David Cameron won re-election in 2015 based in no small part on the promise to hold an EU referendum, he cooked up his own list of demands for the European Union and marched off  to Brussels to negotiate them (and we all know how well that worked out). Cameron and his team presumed to know – without engaging in any special consultation, public or otherwise – exactly what changes the British people wanted to see in our relationship with the EU, without once bothering to actually ask our opinion. The only thing more laughable than David Cameron deciding on our behalf what issues to raise with Brussels was the fact that they still sent him away empty-handed and humiliated. This arrogant, presumptuous approach to government was, and nearly always will be, a recipe for failure.

Few people would disagree that the way we fund social care needs to be tweaked at the very least, if not wholesale reformed. But doing so is an enormously complex process, involving the intersecting demands and interests of numerous groups and political principles. There are the interests of homeowners, taxpayers, council and private care providers, current and future care recipients, all of which will be in competition with one another and must be balanced to maintain a functional system.

But whatever one’s view on the ideal model solution, the manifesto pledge as it stands – together with recent panicked talk of a potential “cap” on care payments, made after four days of relentlessly negative headlines – seems politically naive at best. It is a blunt policy solution, a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the kind of half-baked idea that would have been kept firmly away from the media had there been any serious ministerial input to the drafting of the Tory manifesto.

Now, there is nothing wrong in principle with having a core team of advisers and ideological kindred spirits aiding a new prime minister as she seeks to put her stamp on the party and the country. Margaret Thatcher did just that when she came to power in 1979, bearing the ideas of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. As Leader of the Opposition she had read the famous “Stepping Stones” report which diagnosed Britain’s ailments and proposed radical solutions to lift Britain out of near-terminal economic decline.

But the emergency circumstances in which Thatcher pushed through her reforms were far different to today’s more benign environment. When the country faces existential threat, as we did in the late 1970s, some justification can be made for strong and decisive leadership which doesn’t wait around seeking to hand-hold and achieve consensus before acting. And while some people with a flair for the dramatic might claim that Brexit represents a similar crisis, Brexit and the rise of populism is far more a crisis of political legitimacy than economic survival – and political legitimacy is undermined, not improved, by ramming through ill-considered reforms to the social care system.

Ultimately, the cause of good policymaking is never well served when a couple of “Bright Young Thing” Special Advisers – often with wide but shallow portfolios, and no democratic mandate of their own – decide to rewrite government policy and plan to reshape our national institutions on the back of a napkin. I’m sure that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa May’s collective brain trust, are extraordinarily bright and capable people – on paper, at least. But the accumulation of evidence increasingly suggests that they lack street smarts, let alone a decent political radar, which is rather strange given their respective biographies. Ted Sorensen they are not.

Hopefully Theresa May will learn from this debacle. She intends to lead the country – never mind the Conservative Party – in a direction that many people have reservations about, some of them quite justified. To succeed in office, she will need to draw on the best that the entire conservative movement has to offer, including those wings of the party that she continues to vilify (cough, libertarians).

And for somebody like Theresa May, a self-confessed pragmatist with no overarching vision for government of her own, that means widening the circle and taking some more advice before tearing up the social contract, crashing out of the single market without a transitional arrangement or implementing Ed Miliband’s 2015 Labour manifesto by the back door.

 

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