Thursday, February 7, 2019

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Conservative Party no longer belongs to its members. No wonder it faces an existential crisis.

The following article was published on  on 3rd February 2019.
John Strafford: The Conservative Party no longer belongs to its members. No wonder it faces an existential crisis.

The Conservative Party faces an unprecedented existential threat. This arises because there is a wide gap between the hierarchy of the Party, backed by parts of the Parliamentary Party, and the voluntary Party members. The hierarchy of the Party includes the Leader, Party Chairman, Deputy Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, and Treasurer, none of whom have been elected by the members. The backbenchers are reliant on the hierarchy for their promotion within the Party and in Government, and so are mainly deferential to that hierarchy.
The gap between the hierarchy and the members has been growing for the last 20 years since the introduction of the Party’s constitution, and has been brought to a head by Brexit. Roughly 60 per cent of the hierarchy and Parliamentary Party supported remaining in the E.U, whilst 70 per cent of the members of the Party want to leave the E.U. If we do not leave the E.U. on terms that are acceptable to the members of the Party, large numbers will leave it – hence the existential threat. How have we arrived at this appalling situation? We must go back to 1998 to see how this gap was created.
Once the 1998 constitution was brought in, CCHQ began to demolish all lines of communication between the members and the hierarchy. All the checks and balances which existed prior to 1998 were abolished. Pre-1998, the annual Party Conference was organised and run by the National Union (i.e: the voluntary Party). It invited the Leader and other Ministers to speak at the conference. There were motions for debate tabled at the conference and published in a handbook. Votes were taken on the motions. After CCHQ took over, 1999 was the last Conference at which we had motions for debate.
So what else happened after 1998?
The Central Council of voluntary members met twice a year and the Party Chairman and other Ministers used to attend. It consisted of several thousand members, including representatives of the Women’s Organisation, Young Conservatives and others and at which motions for debate on Party organisation were tabled. It was abolished.
The National Union Executive Committee which was regularly addressed by the Party Leader and had elected representatives by the membership was abolished.
Regional meetings for Party members which used to be held four times a year and which had officers elected by the members, motions for debate etc, were all abolished with a couple of exceptions.
Regional meetings of the Conservative Political Centre (CPC) which had officers elected by the members and which discussed policy issues were abolished, also with a couple of exceptions.
The National Committee of the CPC which had members elected by the membership of the Party and which had meetings with the Leader was abolished.
The Annual Conference of the CPC which any member could attend and which was addressed by Ministers was abolished.
The Spring Forum 2019 has been cancelled.
All the lines of communication between the Party hierarchy and the ordinary membership of the Party have been eliminated.
One of the main reasons CCHQ wanted control was so that they could control the Conservative MPs. Prior to 1998, constituency associations had effective control of their candidates in a general election. This issue came to a head in the general election of 1997 when CCHQ asked the Tatton Constituency Association to drop Neil Hamilton as their candidate. They refused, and Hamilton was defeated by Martin Bell.
Under the new Constitution, CCHQ was determined to take control ,and this came to a head just before the general election of 2005 when Howard Flight had the Conservative whip withdrawn by Michael Howard – thereby removing his right to stand as a Conservative candidate.
The Leader not only controls Conservative MPs but also, through the Party Board, aanyone who wishes to become a MP, because the Board appoints the Chairman of the Candidates Committee which determines who may be a Conservative Candidate.
In the 20 years since 1998 there have been five general elections. The Conservative Party has won one of them. In the 20 years prior to the constitution there were five general elections. The Conservative Party won four of them.
In promoting the benefits of being a member of the Conservative Party, it is always pointed out that you can elect the Leader of the Party. However, in every recent leadership election to date there have been attempts to frustrate the members’ rights.
In 1998, when William Hague introduced the new constitution, he was anointed by the membership, a year after his election by MPs, without any competitor. In 2001, Michael Portillo was the front runner and the MPs wanted the run off to be between him and Iain Duncan-Smith, so they transferred votes from Portillo to Duncan-Smith. The result was that Portillo lost by one vote to Ken Clarke. In 2003, Michael Howard was the only name put forward, so the members didn’t get a vote.
In 2005, Michael Howard tried to change the Party Constitution so that MPs would have the final say on who should be Leader. The change was defeated. In 2016, only one name came forward, so the members didn’t get a vote. Not a good record for Party democracy is it?
At a local level, many Associations have dispensed with holding adoption meetings, so members no longer have a say on whether their MP should continue.
I have mentioned the gap that exists between the Party hierarchy and the membership of the Party. That gap has been growing for the last 20 years and Brexit has brought it to a head – but the issues at stake range wider than is Brexit. Traditional Conservative principles seem to have been forgotten. Now we have regulation poured onto regulation – the State gets ever bigger. I am reminded of Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom in which he explains that at the end of the road, after regulation has been imposed on regulation, you end up with a totalitarian state, tyranny and dictatorship. I can see the end of the road.
Now, before it is too late, is the time to reform the Conservative Party. We must close the gap between the party hierarchy and the members. That can only happen with member involvement.
We can start by having an Annual General Meeting to which all Party members are invited We can elect the Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Treasurer, Chairman of Candidates and Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum and make them accountable to Party members. We can have a Party Conference at which members can table motions for debate and on which votes are taken, but most of all: we must have a Constitution, which can be amended on the basis of One Member One Vote. That is democracy. Without it, the Conservative Party will slowly drain away down the plug hole of history.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Update 2 - Party Members - Basildon Conservatives response

The following email has been sent to Jason Mcquade:

Good afternoon Jason,
 Ref my previous email regarding the suspension of yourself from the Federation , and in line with the original letter this is to advise you
That our next executive meeting will be held on Saturday 9th February at 1400 hrs at the below address and where we will be considering your future membership .
Reasons for Suspension.
 Previous communication has clearly shown you do not support Elected candidates of the conservative party.
 This item will be chaired by an independent Chairman . If you would like to attend , please could you let me know in advance of this meeting.
Please could you also make me aware in advance of the meeting if you intend to bring legal representation of any kind.

The Basildon and Thurrock Conservative Federation have fallen at the first fence.   The "GUIDELINES FOR THE SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION OF MEMBERS OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY" state the following in bold type:

It is particularly important to remember that both the letter to the individual and the notice calling the meeting must include a statement setting out full details of the charges.   The statement must be specific, it is not sufficient to simply ask a member to "explain his/her conduct".   The charges shall be the basis of the hearing and will not be added to at any time after the notice has been served.

Quite clearly Basildon have not set out in any detail the charges that have been made, so even if the meeting goes ahead and the motion is passed, there is no doubt that it will be chucked out on appeal.  Why doesn't Basildon and Thurrock drop this ludicrous charge, apologise to Jason, and get on with campaigning for the Conservative Party. 

There is one further point, if every member of the Party had their membership cancelled because they did not support some elected candidates there would be thousands eliminated from membership.   I am afraid that at this moment in time there are quite a number of Conservative MPs who have forgotten or ignored the manifesto on which they were elected, and in such circumstances their members have withdrawn their support.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Update 1 Party Members - Jackie Doyle-Price MP

Jackie Doyle-Price has responded to the blog and makes some important points.   Her email is as follows:

Your blog has been brought to my attention and an article which appears to suggest that a member of my association has been suspended after writing to me.
I can assure you that any correspondence between my constituents and myself has nothing to do with the association.  Indeed it would be quite improper for me to share any correspondence and I utterly resent the suggestion that I would behave in such a way.
It is generally a good idea to check out the facts before putting pen to paper.  There are always two sides to every story.
In so far as your article accuses me of improper behaviour I politely ask that you remove it.
Jackie Doyle-Price

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Does the Tory Party not want any members?

Party Members
            I have recently become quite disturbed about the number of Party members who have been suspended from membership.   This often appears to apply to people who were formerly members of UKIP, but not in all cases.   I know of at least one constituency where the Agent openly boasts about how he is stopping UKIP members from joining the Conservative Party.
            I highlight a particular case which has been brought to my attention.   Jason Mcquade is a member of the Basildon and Thurrock Conservative Association.   On November 17th 2018 he emailed the following letter to his member of parliament:
Hi Jackie,
with the recent developments over the Brexit deal and our current prime ministers handling of this I have no choice but to add my voice to the growing number wanting a change in PM and to see the Brexit we voted for.
The deal offered is not Brexit, it gives all the power to the EU on when and if we even leave forever closing the door to a truly global Britain.
It is a betrayal of the 17.5 million Brexit voters and a betrayal of the majority of Thurrock that simply cannot be allowed to happen.
Our prime minster shows no sign of listening, simply saying it’s her way or no way and this is not true. The mood in parliament and the country is clear this deal must go.
We have seen members of the EU over the last 48 hours gloating about their win on this and demanding more from us on tax control, fishing and defence.
Spain is again talking about taking joint sovereignty of Gibraltar which is again a betrayal of British people, yes they voted heavy for remain for clearly understandable reasons but they have shown more respect for the vote then many within the remain side have done.
On defence it says that the EU will have use of our forces but our government and commanders will have no say in such use. This is yet another betrayal of our armed services that has been harmed greatly since Blair's days.
A look at the ministerial code and law of the land suggests that May has broken both on Brexit and defence.
Jackie we have had our differences, I hope we can both agree they are in the past and we all need to work towards a better future, a future that Brexit will give us. The deal is not Brexit. We know you have the ear of May, you have recently come out in support of leave, I urge you to use this and help us stop this sell out and if she will not listen as I fear will be the case resign from cabinet on the principle you represent one of the biggest leave majorities in the UK.

Kind regards
Jason Mcquade

That day 17th November the Association Management team met and determined that Jason’s membership be suspended and on 1st December Jason was notified by email.    See the following:
Good afternoon Jason,

At a meeting of the Association management team held on the 17th November 2018 it was determined that your membership of the Conservative party be suspended pending a formal expulsion proceedings.
 You will have the opportunity to be heard at the next meeting of the executive council. I will write to you in due course.
 Any member suspended from the party may not participate in any Conservative party activity including attendance at meetings and social events .
 Yours Sincerely,
 Tony Coughlin
 Chairman of Basildon and Thurrock Conservative Federation
Under the Party “Guidelines for the Suspension and Expulsion of Members of the Conservative Party” it states as follow:
  • If it is considered that an individual has breached the constitution and there is a case for an expulsion to be considered by the Executive, an association chairman may call an emergency meeting of the management team, to discuss the immediate suspension of the individual pending a hearing at an Executive.
  • If at that meeting it is decided by a majority vote that the individual is suspended, he or she must be written to within 24 hours of that meeting advising them of the suspension.   The individual must also be advised that they will have an opportunity to be heard at either the next regular meeting of the Executive or earlier if a special Executive is to be convened to deal with the matter (whichever is earlier within the following eight weeks).
You will see from the above that contrary to the “Guidelines”, Jason was not written to within the 24 hours of his suspension.   Secondly, as of today there has been no Executive at which he has been invited to be heard.
Under the “Guidelines”
  • During the time of the suspension, the individual will not be allowed to participate in any party activity or vote.
Also they state:
  • The individual concerned will be given at least fourteen days written notice of an Executive Council meeting at which he or she shall be given an opportunity to be heard and to answer the charges laid against him or her.
  • It is particularly important to remember that both the letter to the individual and the notice calling the meeting must include a statement setting out full details of the charges.   The statement must be specific, it is not sufficient to simply ask a member to “explain his/her conduct”.   The charges shall be the basis of the hearing and will not be added to at any time after the notice has been served.
None of this has been done!
What is quite clear is that the Basildon and Thurrock Conservative Federation have so far not followed these Guidelines, which does not give any confidence that the other parts of the Guidelines will be followed.
So far this case has not followed natural justice or the Conservative Party’s own Guidelines.   I hope this is an isolated case but I fear not.   Perhaps the Chairman of Basildon and Thurrock will respond and take action now!

Monday, January 7, 2019

BCCA member replies to Dominic Grieve MP's Christmas message.

Dominic Grieve MP chose to say in his Christmas message to members: “My preference remains that we should return to the electorate to consult them as to whether or not we should leave on the terms offered or give them the option of expressing a desire to remain in the EU if that is their opinion”.

A Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association member replies as follows:

Dominic, many thanks for your Christmas message and I wish you and your family the same and best wishes for 2019.

As you say there are some great challenges ahead this year and beyond which require sound judgment from our lawmakers. I concur that this requires constructive debate including on our future beyond the EU.

However, I sense in your words an inference that it is the other half of the debate that has to be more reasonable? And yet I am afraid that the divisiveness that you seek to address will not be healed if the result of the referendum is not respected. In fact, the resulting democratic deficit will cause irreparable fissures in not just politics but society itself.

Firstly, you talk of  respecting the original referendum but returning to the electorate on the deal?
Surely, if this were the case you would be proposing a second vote between the PM’s deal and leaving without one?

If the PM’s deal is what you and many others say it is, how can the argument be between that and Remaining? There is nothing on such a ballot paper that can possibly appeal to those who wish to Leave and if this were to happen there would quite rightly be indignation and more.

As I have mentioned before, people do not like being taken for fools. The idea that the original question was abstract is a false one; people knew full well and listened hard to the warnings.
They are also aware that we have acted as supplicants in these negotiations and that the facts have not changed, simply the will of our political class to attempt to achieve a result. You yourself admitted at the BCCA AGM this year that the NI issue had been deliberately politicised.

As we approach March 29th there are two things that need to happen. We need to ramp up preparations, belatedly, for leaving without a deal. Secondly, we need to ensure the PM’s deal, which does not deliver a departure and hobbles our negotiating position, does not pass into law in its present form.

Apart from the recent political ructions in Europe, it should be noted that as the ECB announces the end of QE at the end of the year, this is happening at a time when the Eurozone, including Germany, is showing rapid signs of a slowdown (it is more exposed to cyclical slowdown than the service based UK economy). After a monetary stimulus of €1.7trillion, the ECB has very little to show for it. PMI’s are falling hard, Unemployment, particularly amongst the young remains very high, deficit spending is rising, the number of large zombie companies is at 9% and rising, bank NPLs still represent 5.1% of total loans and banks are under capitalised. The Federal Budget that is needed to stave off a Eurozone crisis is proving impossible to deliver.

If ever there were a time to walk away in order to get a sensible deal this is it. But in any case as has been shown by no deal preparations on both sides, the worst of fears will not occur. Planes will fly point-to-point (as they always would under Open Skies). There will be reciprocity in facilitating truck movements and at passport control. The Mayor of Calais has made supporting statements. Side deals are being done to ensure EU entities have vital access to the City. And so the list will grow as we approach the deadline.

Most importantly the Irish are not planning to erect any structures at the border. As anyone who has read WTO documentation, including the recently introduced TFA, will know, a hard border is not a physical border but a line on a map for fiscal purposes.....something that already exists.

In summary, I cannot support your contention that a second referendum, between the PM’s deal and Remaining, respects the democratic process. Neither of these choices delivers on the referendum result, the manifesto or the result of the general election. The facts have not changed, only the political will and leadership to do as promised and this will not go unnoticed.
Most importantly, it will not be a route to heal the divide, it will assuredly focus it more sharply.
I therefore wish to register my strong opposition to your support for a second referendum.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Proposed Changes to the Conservative Party Constitution

Proposed Changes to the Conservative Party Constitution – December 8th 2018

The following changes to the Party’s Constitution are being proposed at a meeting of the National Convention on Saturday December 8th 2018:
1)      “Candidates Committee to establish Approved Lists for Welsh and Northern Irish Assembly Members, Police & Crime Commissioners and Elected Mayors.”

The Candidates Committee is wholly appointed, unelected and unaccountable to party members. This is a further tightening of central control of the Conservative Party.   Since this central control was established after the new Constitution of the Party was `one with an overall majority.   In the same period before this centralisation there were five General Elections of which the Party won four. Q.E.D.

2)      Removal of Past Area and Regional Chairmen from National Convention.

Historical knowledge of the Convention will be lost.   Why reduce the size of the Convention?

3)      “A Volunteer to be known as “The Voluntary Political Director of the Conservative policy Forum” shall be elected by the National Conservative Convention, for a term of three years.   Their responsibilities shall include co-ordination of the policy-related activities of the Associations, Areas and Regions.”

A power grab by the Convention.   Why isn’t the Director elected by the Party membership?   Why is the election for three years?   Where is accountability if the person elected does nothing?   Who determines which candidates can stand for election?   An opportunity  to make the Party more democratic has been lost.

4)      “A Vice-Chairman to be appointed by the board on the recommendation of the chairman of the National Convention whose responsibilities shall include reporting to the board on the work of the CPF.”

More power of patronage given to the Chairman of the Convention!

5)      Schedule 3 Article 5 Nominees for officers of the National Convention to have been Convention members for the two preceding years.
Schedule 3 Article 6 Nominees for President must have been a current member of the Board at the time of nomination.

These enshrine “Gubbins Turn” into the Constitution. Why do they not trust the members of the Convention to take these matters into account when voting?

6)      Schedule 5 Article 14 Removal of the right to stand for more than one regional post as it can leave unfilled positions when using postal or online ballots.

Why is that?   So now if you stand as Regional Co-ordinator and lose you cannot also stand as Deputy Regional Co-ordinator?

7)      Schedule 6 Article 14 If an Association officer is removed by the Board, the replacement does not have to be a member of the Association or Area management Executive if the Board so decides.

More power to the Board, so they can just fly in a CCHQ apparatchik to take control!

8)      Rule 5.7 Removal of the right of Association Officers to be voting members of all committees and branches.

This reduces the powers of Association officers.   Bad move.

9)      Rule 13.3 Removal of Chairman’s casting vote to bring into line with selection rules.


10)  Schedule 1 Article 1.2 Clarify Definition of 1922 Committee

No information given as to what this definition will be?

11)  Schedule 6 Article 6 The Chairman of the Committee on Candidates (sub Committee of the Board) shall be nominated by the Chairman of the National Conservative Convention.

More patronage for the Chairman.   Why isn’t this position elected by and accountable to Party members?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Confidence Vote in Tory Party Leader - Time for Party members to have a say!

Last week I wrote to the Conservative Party Chairman.   I have not yet received a reply.
The letter is as follows:

Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis, MP                                                                     5th November 2018
Chairman, The Party Board,
Conservative Campaign Headquarters,
4 Matthew Parker Street,

 Dear Brandon

Re: Election and De-Selection of the Conservative Party Leader

With reference to my letter of 20th August 2018 relating to the election of the Conservative Party Leader there has been continued speculation in the press about Conservative Members of Parliament triggering a vote of no confidence in the Party Leader.   In addition to the point I made in the letter that all candidates who have more than 20 MPs nominating them should be put to the members in a ballot, there are two further points which need consideration and action:

(1) The first point which arises relating to the election of the Leader is that on two occasions, i.e. Michael Howard and Theresa May the voluntary Party did not get a vote on the matter as there was only one candidate.   Under the present Party constitution Schedule 2 para.7 it states:

“In the event of there being only one valid nomination at the close of nominations prior to the first ballot being held by the Parliamentary Party for the election of the new Leader, the election of the nominee may if so ordered by the Board be ratified by a ballot of the Party Members and Scottish Party Members to be held within one month of the close of nomination”.

 I propose that in the above the following be deleted: “at the close of nominations prior to the first ballot being held by the Parliamentary Party” and “may if so ordered by the Board”
And insert after nominee “will

The effect of this change would be to ensure that in the event of only one nominee being put forward as Party Leader the Party members would be invited to endorse the nomination.   This process was used when William Hague was Leader.   It ensures that the Party as a whole is supporting the new Leader and acts as a unifying force.

(2) The second point is when the Chairman of the 1922 Committee receives the requisite number of letters expressing “no confidence” in the Leader.   At the moment this triggers a vote of the Parliamentary Party on the question of “confidence” in the Party Leader.

 The last time this happened was when Iain Duncan-Smith was Leader and he lost a vote of confidence by the Parliamentary Party.   There was considerable dissatisfaction at the time, in the voluntary Party, that the MPs had got rid of the Leader whom the voluntary Party had elected.   This was done on the grounds that the Leader could no longer count on the support of his parliamentary colleagues so his position was not sustainable.   We now know from the example of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party that it is perfectly possible to act as Leader of a Party even without the majority support of your fellow MPs.

It is quite clear from the Party’s constitution that the intention is for the members of the Party to elect the Leader.   It is therefore quite bizarre that the Leader can be dismissed by a vote of just the parliamentary Party.   I therefore propose that in the event of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee receiving the requisite number of letters expressing “no confidence “ in the Leader there should be a ballot of all party members asking them for a vote of confidence in the Leader. In the event that the Leader receives less than 50% votes in the ballot there should then be a Leadership election.

Now that we have centrally organised membership it should be relatively easy and inexpensive for members to be balloted on these issues by use of the internet. 

I reiterate the point I made in my letter of 20th August 2018 that it is time for the Party to embrace democracy and allow full participation by the membership.   Only by doing this can we look forward to our membership growing. Could you please put these proposals to the Party Board for action.

Finally, I would emphasize the point I made to you at the Party Conference.   In 1998 with the new constitution all power in the Party was centralised into CCHQ.   In the 20 years prior to 1998 there were five General Elections and we won four.   In the 20 years post 1998 there have been five General Elections and we have won one.   There has to be a lesson here!

Yours sincerely  

 John E. Strafford


Copy: Sir Graham Brady (Chairman 1922 Committee)

                                                                          20th August 2018

Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis, MP
Chairman, The Party Board,
Conservative Campaign Headquarters,
4 Matthew Parker Street,

 Dear Brandon

Re: Proposed Changes to the Election of the Conservative Party Leader

There is much speculation that there will be a Leadership Election in the Conservative Party before the end of this Parliament.  One of the reasons for people to become members of the Party is that they can then participate in a Leadership election and yet in two out of the last four Leadership contests the members did not get a vote.   The Members of Parliament arranged that only one candidate was left to fight the election in 2003.   In 2016 we ended up with only one candidate and even in 2001 when the members got to vote the front runner was eliminated by one vote by the MPs.   In a modern political Party this is not acceptable.   The 1922 Committee should now change the rules so that all candidates who have more than 20 MPs nominating them will be put to the members in a ballot conducted on the Preferential Vote system of election, so that the winner will be the first candidate to get over 50% of the vote.

             This is the fair way to proceed and one advantage is that as all members participate there can be no division between the Parliamentary Party and the rest of the members as the figures as to how each part voted would not be known.

I am aware that under the Party Constitution the 1922 Committee is obliged to put two candidates forward for the members to vote on, but the Party Board has the power under Part IV section 17 of the Constitution “to do anything which in its opinion relates to the management and administration of the Party.”   It was under this clause that the entire section of the Constitution on the selection of parliamentary candidates was ignored at the General Election in 2017 so that CCHQ could impose candidates on the constituencies.                                                     

In 2016, when David Cameron resigned as Party Leader some 10,000 people joined the Party because they thought they would be able to vote in the subsequent Leadership election.   It is said that people are now joining the Party in anticipation of being able to participate in the next Leadership election.   I fear there will be mass resignations from the Party of its members if the MPs only put forward one candidate or stop a candidate who is popular with the members of the Party from b  eing included in the ballot.

It is time for the Party to embrace democracy and allow full participation by the membership.   Could you please put this proposal to the Party Board for their approval?

Yours sincerely

 John E. Strafford


Copy: Sir Graham Brady (Chairman 1922Committee)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018