Lord Peter Cruddas and David Campbell Bannerman are, respectively, the President and Chairman of the Conservative Democratic Organisation.
The Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) has just been launched as a campaign through Conservative Post, and we have been delighted with the response we have had from existing and former Conservative Party members across the country, many of whom have played crucial roles within the voluntary Conservative Party. They bring with them a wealth of experience.
There has also been a hugely positive response from many Conservative parliamentarians who are sympathetic to the frustration felt by many grassroots members. In short, many of us are fed up with having left-wing candidates and a left-wing agenda imposed on us from above – we are in the Conservative Party, not Labour, for a reason. But we are not backing any one policy; or one person.
As it is quite complicated, we are grateful for the opportunity here to outline some of our proposed reforms to the party CDO wishes to see in more detail.
Firstly, we think the Conservative Party Chairman and other senior officers such as the Chairman of the Policy Forum should be democratically elected. We propose this is done annually and that party members are able to hold such officers to account. Given the Party Chairman directs the campaigning efforts that we members help deliver, it is only fair that they should listen to members, and not be just a placeman or woman.
Secondly, we propose that the National Convention is replaced by a General Meeting of the party. The National Convention, which consists primarily of constituency chairmen and area and regional officers, was set up in the 1998 Constitutional reforms and is the senior body of the voluntary party. Whilst it was created to be the voice of the members, in reality, it has too easily become a rubber stamp for the party hierarchy and should be replaced by a more accountable body.
Thirdly, we suggest that Constituency Associations should have the right to determine who their Parliamentary Candidate and Member of Parliament is with minimum interference by CCHQ, and to select, and if necessary, deselect their MP. Reforming candidate selections to put associations back in charge would reduce or eliminate the current dangerously unstable gulf between members’ views and those of their MP representatives, such as the variance over Brexit, and low taxes.
Central Office should be limited to grading candidates according to their performance, talent, and ability, and a process with more emphasis on testing core beliefs and speaking ability; and doing a report. But the associations should have the ultimate decision on their MP, so they are freely selected.
All true Conservatives with ability, merit, and application should have the right to be considered as a Parliamentary or local candidate. Central Office’s role should be limited only to eliminating the bad, mad or sad – but not to socially engineer or rig selections for favoured candidates. To ensure this, the post of Head of Candidates should be directly elected annually by a vote of members, so that fair treatment and natural justice are served.
The centralising and controlling direction of Central Office would be ended; which has led to many MPs being selected who are not genuine Conservatives, do not have the necessary skills or commitment, and have insufficient loyalty to the party. This has manifested itself in the appalling behaviour of some current Conservative MPs, and previous ones who were stripped of the whip, and who are the root cause of political instability at present.
Fourthly, we propose a series of reforms to party conferences to empower members. The Spring Conference should become a Policy Conference, located in a more affordable location, where Ministers would listen to members’ ideas on policies in their subject area, selected by motions submitted through local associations, as used to be standard. This would be an important draw for potential new members; boost the fine but often overlooked work of the Conservative Policy Forum, where at least their policy ideas and concerns are heard out. Ministers would then have the opportunity to respond to the motions in the October Conference.
More importantly, the full October Party Conferences should be restored to their original glory, with the membership back in control. Originally, Ministerial speeches with related member debates would be run all day; from 10 am through to 5 pm. This year we only had two-hour slots; with no member contributions.
The Conference seems to be designed for the media and lobbyists, not members, with high-cost venues and expensive passes for lobbyists and corporate attendees. Many MPs do not even attend now; whereas in the past they would entertain their associations and thank them for their work, often with a dinner. In normal times, the Conference can raise a big profit for the Party; but at what democratic cost?
Fifthly, we need to change the way a Conservative – or any – Government operates. We want to end what is called ‘Chumocracy’: the excessive influence of friends, contacts, family, and spouses over the government. The process of selecting advisers must be far more transparent, open, and based on provable merit not on contacts. MPs should have real-world experience, not just be put on an escalator from CCHQ researchers to special advisers to candidates, with little practical know-how.
The party also needs members to control a new honours system, one based on real merit and true service to the party, up and down the country, not on cozy links. Too often in the past ordinary hard-working Conservatives have been overlooked by CCHQ or No. 10, normally for large donors, headline-grabbing nominees, or friends and close associates. We need our own honours committee to work with the elected Chairman, Chairman of the Policy Forum, and other senior representatives. We would propose our own honours committee to work with an elected honours committee Chairman.
Finally, the right of members to have a say on the party leader needs to be retained and reinforced. Of course, in a parliamentary democracy, there must be a suitable balance and mechanism reflecting MPs’ opinions on whether candidates can unite MPs behind them. By restoring local associations’ control of MP selection, views between members and MPs should generally be closer.
For the MPs’ voting stage, we suggest moving towards a preferential vote system, which should end the damaging emphasis on deal-making, patronage, and job offers currently dominating proceedings. We think there should be a threshold of 15 per cent of MPs in order to stand as a candidate. The 1922 Committee’s rules will be more closely integrated into the Party Constitution and made more transparent.
These are just some of our ideas, but our key aim is to put us, the members, back in the driving seat – to ‘take back control’. We’d encourage you to sign up for our campaign.
We are looking particularly for volunteers to be local CDO Association Chairmen, and Regional and some Area ones. It will not be a major time commitment but will be a vital role in reforming the party, working closely with local associations, and promoting more democratically driven policies. Just sign up at www.conservativedems.co.uk It’s an enjoyable role with a major launch Conference for chairmen early in the New Year with top speakers invited.
Without our members the party is nothing. It is only fair they should get a proper say.