Rishi Sunak was voted as British Prime Minister without a vote
As one member aptly put it: “There’s a deficit in party democracy, what they’ve said is we want your money, your time and resources but we don’t want your opinion. After 40 years, I’m out. I won’t vote and I won’t forgive.”
Knowing that Boris Johnson, or even Penny Mordaunt in his absence, would win the members’ vote led to many MPs rigging the voting process so that neither candidate was put to members for a vote – Boris had 102 and Mordaunt 98 – with media reports of threats and incentives to MPs supporting non-Sunak candidates to switch taking place all weekend before the vote.
Some of these MPs are reported even to be crowing over how successfully they blocked party members from having any say.
It is extraordinary to agree with the Daily Mirror when its front page asks: ‘Who Voted For You?’ and the Scottish Daily Record concluding this was the ‘Death of Democracy’.
It is the influence of these MPs that has robbed members of a vote on the Leader – which is hailed in membership literature as a right: saying ‘choosing candidates and vote in leadership elections – you can choose the people you want to represent you.’ This for an unwise hike in membership fees of 55% – to £39.
With the loss of a real say over MP selections, and now the Party Leader, and Party Conferences losing the ability to meet Ministers and influence policy through debates and resolutions, the ‘product offering’ of party membership is fast dying out.
Membership has fallen from 500,000 when the new 1998 Constitution was introduced to 172,000 members who voted in the 2022 Leadership election.
That figure itself had been boosted when Boris Johnson became Leader and is now falling fast.
Lord Cruddas says Tory members must take back control
The 56 percent rise in the cost of membership announced earlier this week will undoubtedly reduce membership numbers even further.
Members are overwhelmingly feeling ignored, steamrollered and held in utter contempt by party leaders – feeling that their views count for nothing; and yet MPs expect them to do most of the work at elections.
This is a natural consequence of the demolition by CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) of lines of communication between the members and the Parliamentary Party since that 1998 Party Constitution was enacted by William Hague. All the checks and balances which existed prior to 1998 were abolished.
It is little wonder now that a huge number of resignations have followed – the Telegraph suggesting at least one fifth of members left.
The member cancelling page on the Party’s website crashed. Comment groups are still alive with angry members resigning and attacking the lack of democracy.
The constitutional expert and party democracy campaigner John Strafford helped draft the 1998 Constitution, but saw the democratic elements subsequently removed. He also wrote the Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO) constitution.
A dismayed Mr Strafford explains that the situation today is that “the Chairman and Treasurer of the Party are appointed by the Leader so are unaccountable to the membership; there is no Annual General Meeting of members, so there is no formal forum for members to raise questions about the Party’s organisation, and the annual accounts are not tabled for approval at an AGM.”
“Selection of parliamentary candidates is controlled centrally, and the Party Board can take control of any constituency association which does not toe the line – and has done so. Basically, the Conservative Party is now a self-perpetuating oligarchy.”
But the solution is not for party members to create yet another new party, in an increasingly crowded field; especially when in a first-past-the-post system such parties are lucky to reach one per cent or two per cent vote share; and tend to win no seats.
Instead, loyal Conservative Party members should come together to create – or indeed recreate – a truly democratic Conservative Party.
This is best done by a return to the successful pre-1998 model of a National Union of independent democratic Conservative Associations, to whom a smaller Central Office reports, and the end of the centralising 1998 Party Constitution, which has brought in excessive centralised control and social engineering at the expense of merit and democracy.
It is time for ordinary Conservative Party members to ‘take back control’. That is why we are establishing the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO), a new membership organisation to revitalise the current Conservative Party, shape its future values and structure and, crucially, eliminate its serious democratic failings.
Over the next few months we will begin the formation of independent CDO Conservative associations across the UK and launch a new Party Constitution to propose to the Conservative Party.
David Campbell Bannerman is the Chairman of The Freedom Association
Our proposals include:
Directly electing the roles of Conservative Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Treasurer, Chairman of the Candidates Committee and Chairman of the Policy Forum.
Giving constituency associations the right to determine who their Conservative parliamentary candidate is with minimum interference by CCHQ. This includes both selecting and deselecting candidates.
Scrapping the National Convention and replacing it with a General Meeting of the Party. This will stop the Party hierarchy from rubber stamping decisions.
The Spring Conference becoming a Policy Conference, located in a more affordable place, 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.
The full October Party Conferences should be restored to their original glory, with the membership back in control, including motions for debates and votes.
The Conservative Party is the most successful political party in the world. We do not need to replace it with a new centre-right party.
We need to revitalise it and reposition it back where it belongs – representing core conservative values. This is only possible by long overdue, serious, revolutionary reform of the way the Party functions.