David Cameron gave a message to Conservative Members of Parliament on Wednesday 3rd February on how to vote in the EU referendum - “Members should not take a view because of what their constituency association might say or because they are worried about a boundary review.” Yet these are the constituency associations which work their guts out at election time to ensure that Conservative MPs are elected.
Once again Cameron has shown contempt for the Party membership. He just does not understand the difference between Leadership and Dictatorship. We have been here before. Remember the “A” list of candidates, gay marriage to name but two issues where the views of members were ignored.
The Conservative Party has a tribal instinct. It likes a strong Leader but the Leader must listen to the members before taking a major decision. If he does that the members will continue to follow the Leader even when they have disagreed with him. At least they have had their say. A Dictator doesn’t listen but just says ”This is my decision, take it or leave it. I am not interested in what party members think”.
The decision as to whether this country remains in the European Union or leaves is the most important decision we face today, and yet within the Conservative Party there has been no debate. No motion was tabled at the Party Conference at which members could express their views – in fact there are no longer any forums within the Conservative Party at which ordinary members can express their views to the Leadership.
Is it any wonder that Party membership is at an all time low. The Conservative Party is the only major party which has not increased its membership since the General Election. Membership is about 135,000 of which about 10% are active members (mainly Councillors and their families). Compare this with the Scottish National Party which has a membership of 110,000 and only fights 59 seats in the Westminster parliament. To fight a ground campaign at a General Election on a National basis the Conservative Party would need 1,000,000 members.
One final point, in the EU referendum, whichever way the electorate vote there will be a substantial minority perhaps as many as 10 million who will be bitterly disappointed and who may have voted against their Party for the first time. They will be deciding which political party to support in the future. After the Scottish referendum the Scottish National Party attracted huge support in spite of losing the referendum. Which party will the disappointed turn to after the European referendum – one of the major parties or one of the new parties?. What is for sure is that we are moving towards a major shake-up in British politics and it will be those parties which are democratic which are likely to be the beneficiaries. It will be those parties where the Leader listens to their members that will win. By telling Conservative MPs to ignore their Constituency Associations Cameron is telling them to act as Dictators. Perhaps when selection of candidates comes up after the Boundary Commission Review, party members might just remember that.
It is reported that 70% of Conservative Party members are in favour of leaving the European Union. If the vote in the referendum goes against them they will form a huge pond in which other political parties will fish. The kaleidoscope of party membership will be shaken. How will it fall?
What is certain is that if a political party loses it’s membership it will in due course cease to exist. Interesting times!