Robert Halfon is Chair of the Education Select Committee. He was the former Skills Minister and former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
Are we Maoists or are we Conservatives? That’s the question that every Tory MP should ask themselves as we prepare to vote in the upcoming 1922 Committee elections.
It was Chairman Mao Tse Tung who said:
“All political power comes from the barrel of a gun. The communist party must command all the guns, that way, no guns can ever be used to command the party.”
This belief in ultimate control of the party by its members highlights a central belief of Maoism of a state of continuous revolution: to smash up the existing order, but to go further, and dismantle every other state of order that comes after that if it does not subscribe to their overarching belief system.
Hopefully, it won’t come as a surprise to readers to know that I am a Conservative, not a Maoist. I believe in changing what is necessary in order to conserve what is best. For this reason, I am fundamentally opposed to changing the leadership rules of the 1922 Committee.
Conservatives believe in order and the rule of law. If we as a party, or Executive Committee, change the rules now because some people are unhappy with the status quo, all that will happen is that this will set a dangerous precedent in which every few months, there could be a leadership contest, because a faction of the party is unhappy with something the Government has done. That is not right.
If we turn our minds back a few years to the so-called “omni-shambles Budget”, would we have held a leadership contest then and acted to remove a Prime Minister because of a mistake made by the Treasury?
In this case the then-Chancellor, George Osborne, actively listened to the concerns of Party members and reversed the taxes levied on pasties, caravans and the proposed fuel duty rise. The Conservatives then won the 2015 election.
Those who read my columns, and know me and my politics, will understand that I am not a government patsy. I’ve rebelled against the whip a number of times on important votes. I have regularly challenged policy decisions on these pages and in the media.
Just imagine if there was a change in the 1922 Committee’s rules? We would face another no confidence vote, another leadership contest and weeks of continued rumours and manoeuvring in the party. As I outlined above, what happens if this cycle of continued change and upheaval continues at every hurdle?
The public will just look at us in horror to see a group of elected Conservative MPs arguing with themselves, rather than working hard to sort out the problems faced by the country.
I make it my business to be an active community MP in my constituency of Harlow. Whenever I meet residents on the doorstep, or around and about in the town, the vast majority of them are not asking me about the leadership or the 1922 Committee.
What they do want to know, however, is what are we doing on the current cost of living crisis, and how the Chancellor’s £37 billion fiscal package will help them.
Their second greatest concern is that they are not getting value for money for their tax payments. Residents are unable to secure GP appointments, they cannot get their passports renewed on time, they are unable to get driving licences, and don’t get the right help from the Child Maintenance Service.
You name it, most government agencies aren’t working. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “I’m from the State and I’m not here to help you.”
Here are a couple of examples. One constituent had filled in the fast-track Passport Renewal documentation on time, and paid £150 for the privilege, sent it off but could not get an appointment. After refreshing the page continually, they were finally offered a slot in Birmingham – almost 130 miles away (which they had to then visit twice).
One resident told me about their case of being refused a GP appointment, even though they desperately needed urgent scans.
Why on earth would anyone vote Conservative when they are paying over £2 per litre for petrol and diesel, or being failed so badly by the state, despite having had their taxes raised to pay for these basic services?
It is these kinds of rules that need to be changed. It is these kinds of rules that stop the state from working – not the rules of the 1922 Committee.
If we make the rules, we should stick to them, and not change them at every opportunity to appease a minority of those seeking change over their unease. Acting in this way would bring continuous revolution to our party because of the precedent it sets if we go down this path.
It may be that those advocating this will win the battle, but the party’s civil war may continue for many years hence. As Chairman Mao also wrote:
“War is the continuation of politics…nevertheless, if the obstacle is not completely swept away, the war will have to continue until the aim is fully accomplished.”
All that changing the rules will mean is that the next lot will want to change the rules again, and again, and again.
I have been honoured to have been an elected member of the 1922 Committee in 2010 to 2014, and since January 2020. I will be running on a platform to faithfully represent the views of parliamentary colleagues, but also to keep the rules as they are.
If the 1922 Committee decides to keep bringing a guillotine to our leadership, as the saying goes, the revolution will eventually devour its own children.