Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Its time to bring democracy to the Tory Party.

The following article  by Robert Halfon MP was posted on the conservativehome web site today 27th September 2017

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

I remember growing up as a younger Tory member, going to various events, and hearing someone called John Strafford going on about democratising the Conservative Party. I used to think: “who is this crazy guy, this political obsessive, rabbiting on about obscure party mechanics, which few are interested in?’”
In recent times, I began to realise that, far from being a lunatic, John was quite sane…and it was perhaps us who closed our ears to what he was saying who were the crazy ones. For many years, he rightly predicted that a lack of democracy would lead to a loss of membership. He was right.
You don’t have to agree with every one of his prescriptions – and I don’t. I still think that a Prime Minister should be able to choose his or her own Party Chairman, for example. However, a little bit of common sense will tell you that in an age of ever-increasing consumer choice, if people join organisations, they want to be involved and have an active part in shaping that organisation.
Unfortunately for the Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn understands this in terms of the Labour Party. The 600,000 plus members that Labour now has are not all from the far left, (although those make a significant contingent), but also include people who are both attracted by a romantic view of socialism, and also know that, when they join their party, they can vote on party motions, vote for their representatives and have serious votes on policy. To those on the centre-left who argue that this just gives those on the hard-left a platform to take-over the party, that is somewhat defeatist. Are there really not a few hundred thousand, moderate social democrats – who could be persuaded to be involved and influence their party, with the right leadership and motivations?
In a similar way, a truly democratic, membership-based Conservative Party would be an important step in galvanising current members, and persuading existing members to join.
In practice, this would mean the whole of the Party Board, including the Chair of the National Convention elected by the membership, not the current system in which they are chosen by just a few senior people from each association. The same would apply to the directly-affiliated organisations such as the Conservative Policy Forum. The Board could produce an annual report, just as companies do to their shareholders, which would be adopted or rejected annually by all the members through a vote.
Conference too, should be radically democratised. Our party must move away from just the Politburo-style announcements (“tractor production in the Soviet Union has gone up by 50 per cent this year”). I remember going to conference during the time of Margaret Thatcher, when motions for conference would be selected by associations and debated. The Government of the day was still able to get their core messages across – and win elections.
Why not do the same now, with members voting online as to which ones are chosen for debate at both the Spring and Winter Conferences? In terms of selecting parliamentary candidates, this could continue to be done by primaries (although this can offer an unfair advantage to a well connected local candidate) – or an electoral college consisting of the local association members (60 per cent), the public (20 per cent) and CCHQ representation (20 per cent).
Of course, the first objection to democratisation is to point at Corbyn’s Labour and express concerns about ‘infiltration’, or about ‘undesirables’ elected to positions etc. As explained above, not only does this show a misunderstanding of what the 600,000 Labour members are all about, but even so, can be dealt with.
The answer is simple: paying a full membership fee of £25 would give a member full participatory rights, whilst less expensive fees could be charged for non-voting membership. There would of course be concession rates for certain groups on lower incomes, as there are at the moment. As a final check and balance, if it was felt that despite the financial safety net, infiltration, malpractice, reputational damage et al had occurred, the Prime Minister, Party Chairman, or the Board could have a final veto.
Democratisation of the Tory party is not the only solution to increasing our membership base. A proper national membership offering, rocket-boosting candidate bursaries, expenses for lower income members to get involved at senior level, a radical and simplified message and symbol (yes – the ladder of opportunity) that all Conservatives can unite behind, are just a few other things that could be done. But what is the point if, when Conservatives do finally get people to join, the latter realise they have no real say in making their new party one that really works for everyone?  They won’t remain members for long.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Conservative Party Democracy: what lessons from the General Election?

Join us at a fringe meeting at 9am on Monday 2nd October at The Great Hall, Town Hall, Albert Square, Manchester, M60 2LA.
David Campbell-Bannerman, MEP (Former Chairman, Conservatives for Britain)
John Strafford Chairman (COPOV)
Don Porter ( Former Chairman National Convention and Chairman of Conservative Voice)

There will be a vote at the meeting for a Party Chairman

Question & Answer session after the speeches

Come along and have your say!

Time for the Conservative Party to embrace democracy or face oblivion.


1. STRONGER  ASSOCIATIONS, AND ONLY VOLUNTARY FEDERATIONS: That Associations and their members are the rock bed of the Conservative Party – they are the volunteers who devote huge time, resources and devotion to the party, through fair weather and foul, delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and supporting fundraising events.
Associations should be supported, strengthened, listened to and expanded; not be undermined, overruled, ignored or destroyed by an over centralised or autocratic party structure, or any forced immersion into more remote ‘federations’ or ‘super associations’ just to make up for falling membership, but only on a voluntary basis. We need to put individual members back at the centre of the party, and provide better reasons for members to join the party, which will make it easier to recruit and retain member, of all age groups - but particularly younger members.
The Party Constitution should be amended to put associations back at the centre of the party (before the 1998 Hague Constitution, the Conservative Party did not exist – it was associations). As the academic Bale notes, ‘the reforms also granted unprecedented rights to the centre to intervene in the affairs of associations deemed to be failing to meet specified ‘minimum criteria’ on membership, fund-raising and campaigning’.
The confusion over the roles of regional and area party officers and representatives should be resolved by scrapping regional party structures, which were a by-product of the 12 MEP (Member of the European Parliament) regions, which will cease to be relevant post Brexit in 2019. Instead Area organisations should be strengthened but not through Central Office place men, but by representatives of associations and by professional agents shared with or provided by associations in a bottom up rather than a top down approach.
On the youth side, the party has been beset by problems with its youth organisations over many years: notable was Party Chairman Lord Tebbit having to close down the FCS – the Federation of Conservative Students - in 1986 for an alleged ‘riot’ and article condemning Macmillan for war crimes, and the recent closure of the national executive of Conservative Future (CF) - which was founded in 1998 at the time of Hague’s constitutional reforms and which controversially blended the Young Conservatives, Conservative Collegiate Forum (which replaced FCS) and the National Association of Conservative Graduates together - after CF’s tragic suicide and bullying allegations.
It is suggested that young people be a vital part of strengthening local associations instead, with a return to the ‘Young Conservatives’ label and a rich social as well as political programme, but within local associations, with an age limit of 30 not the proposed 26 for CF, with officer positions at association or even branch level, an opportunity to be elected for a Board position(s), and also the establishment of a national ‘Conservative graduates and professionals’ organisation for networking and candidate recruitment with some party budget support.
2. AN ELECTED PARTY LEADER: The central right of party members under the 1998 Hague Constitution directly to elect the Leader of the Party must be restored and revamped. This in itself would help reenergise the Party, and give members a rationale for membership. A vote should always be held to appoint a new Leader.
The Leader of the Party should retain the responsibility for political campaigns, as this involves political decision making, though this should still be channeled via Conservative Campaign Headquarters in consultation with the elected Party Chairman as the voice of the members on campaigning. 
3. AN ELECTED PARTY CHAIRMAN: That the Party Chairman or Chairperson must be a representative of Conservative members and activists to the Prime Minister and Government, not be merely a representative or mouthpiece of the Prime Minister and Government to the party and its members. They should be elected on an annual basis by the whole membership, and should be accountable to members and not politicians.
They should be the voice of the membership and its views, not that of the Government, and they should have a decisive voice on whether a General Election is held or not. The elected Party Chairman would sit in Cabinet, but not be a Parliamentarian, preside over the Party Conference and be a key element in the Party’s Campaigns, for the General Election, local and other elections such as Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. The elected Chairman post would take the place of the Chairman of the National Convention, whilst covering many of those important representative functions. They and their (elected) deputies would chair the Spring and October Party Conferences.
4. AN APPOINTED CHIEF EXECUTIVE (CEO): The Party’s political, and its executive and administrative functions should be split up, with the political functions overseen by the elected Party Chairman and the non-political by an appointed CEO. The CEO should be appointed on a professional basis with a CV to back it up, and not be just a party activist or volunteer. But they should be approved by a vote of the whole Board. The CEO should oversee functions such as funding, accounts, membership records and support for Campaigns and be selected on the basis of managerial and administrative ability, and conduct a thorough review of the functions and personnel of CCHQ. They would report to the Party Leader on a day to day basis, and to the entire membership on these functions at every Spring Conference, but not be elected as they are primarily a professional functionary
5. DIRECT ELECTIONS FOR DEPUTY/CO-CHAIRMEN OF THE PARTY AND BOARD MEMBERS: At present, too many individuals are appointed as Deputy or Vice Chairmen on the basis of personal contacts and favours, and later offered honours for their work. This is undemocratic, unaccountable, and is mysterious and untrustworthy to the membership, as well as those on the outside looking in.
Existing position holders should lose their titles, and all such appointments or re-appointments in future be made subject to a direct vote of the membership, possibly using e-voting, with the results being announced at Spring Conference. The Party Board should have 3 or 4 members delegated to the Board and be elected by the membership, with one being reserved for a youth representative. The representatives for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should normally be the Chairman of the national party but be subject also to election by the national membership.
6. REFORM OF PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE SELECTION AND A DIRECTLY ELECTED HEAD OF CANDIDATES ELECTED ANNUALLY: That the methods of candidate selection to date overseen by the central party have been wholly unacceptable: undemocratic, unaccountable, dictatorial, London centric and contemptuous of the associations.
Conservative Home’s analysis of candidate selection in 2017 by Mark Wallace concluded: “I have heard deep unhappiness from people whom I have never heard complain once in years of hard work and unfulfilled ambitions.  Put simply, a lot of candidates are angry – particularly, but not exclusively, those who were passed over. Time and again, I’ve heard the same argument: the process “makes a mockery of meritocracy”, it “has left me and many other Conservative activists doubting the very foundations of the organisation we have supported for decades”, “I feel sick and betrayed”, “what really kills is the kids [selected] who haven’t fought seats before…unproven ones”, CCHQ has exhibited “a lack of meritocracy and they have favourites”, and so on.”
Recently we have seen the Party centrally imposing candidates on local associations with no real discussion or consultation accompanied by threats to impose candidates unwanted by local associations and the threat of ‘special measures’ if these instructions are not followed.
This takes away a fundamental right for members of local associations to determine themselves which candidates they select – one of the most important rights members have and one that has a great bearing how much support a successful candidate obtains if activists are left angry or demoralised.
This will end. Under the new rules, a strict criteria for invoking ‘special measures’ will ensure that legally CCHQ is unable to abuse its use.
On timing as well, because of CCHQ’s centralist control, many associations have also wanted to select early but have been unable to do so. Greater member control will mean this can be done according to the local association’s desired timetable.
The Party Candidates Committee and its supporting Department must be closed in its entirety, and officials such as Amanda Slater, Party Deputy Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Candidates Committee and Head of Candidates, Gareth Fox, be dismissed with immediate effect, with any honours such as MBEs or Baroness/Dame positions vetoed by the Party. Questions need to be asked at the alleged role of the Party Treasurer in Candidate Selection.
A new Candidates Department should be established separately and independently from CCHQ, importantly in a different office location such as Manchester, and be under the control of associations and the elected Chairman and elected Head of Candidates.
The new Head of Candidates should not be an obscure, unknown individual or be a Deputy/Vice Chairman of the Party and be elected annually. They should be elected on the basis of management ability, political judgement and professional experience, and conduct selections in a straightforward and transparent manner. The aim of Candidate Selection must no longer be to fill quotas or to promote personally favoured candidates or to keep the list to a small elite, but be simply to ensure that candidates are talented, well qualified and have no serious issues such as criminal records, unacceptable conduct or financial bankruptcy.
Parliamentary Assessment Boards (PABs) must be conducted professionally and transparently to clearly agreed and understood criteria, published publicly well in advance, and recognise merit by a simple scoring system. For example, points being awarded for fighting ‘no hope’ seats well, local council work, charity or voluntary work, media performance, speech performance. Instead of Pass and Fail for PABs, grades should be issued as Pass, Fail with chance to reapply following courses and further work in weaker areas, and Fail owing to serious criteria (such as the uncovering of unacceptable past conduct or personality issues separate to or in confirmation of other professional vetting processes).
Those failing PABs should have a right of appeal, be clearly shown how they can improve and be offered suitable remedial training in weaker areas, and the right to apply for one further PAB. Local Candidates for selection for their local seats only may be allowed with quick PABs held just for that purpose - but not over the telephone or Skype, but face to face in a proper manner.
It should also be the case that local associations should have more powers and a clearer mechanism to remove MPs who are not performing at all satisfactorily, or whose relationship with the association has seriously broken down (this does not refer to inevitable minor or character or policy differences but to major recurrent problems or seriously unacceptable behaviour to detriment of party or association).
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should draw from this central register of names but continue to operate their own independent lists mindful of national sensitivity and their appeal to national voters, but have a commonality of UK quality and very similar procedures to the UK, overseen by the nationally elected Party Chairman and Head of Candidates.
Local Associations should also be able to select their choice of local candidates for Parliamentary selection (With CCHQ vetting) and to go onto the selection shortlist for just that seat, rather than a central list of imposed candidates only for short listing. That would give local Associations a say and give local candidates a chance, as the PAB process and central list is inaccessible to some.
As regarding selecting local rather than Parliamentary candidates – for local council elections (district, borough, unitary), mayoral, Police & Crime Commissioner, assembly elections, there must be a wider involvement of whole associations, who should have the right to stand and to all vote on candidates, instead of a more insular and limited approach of association officers choosing local candidates. This again will help revitalise local associations and their branches.
7. MEMBERS TO BE ALLOWED TO INPUT MORE INTO POLICY MANIFESTO THROUGH A REVAMPED AND EXPANDED SPRING PARTY CONFERENCE,WITH AN ELECTED HEAD OF PARTY POLICY ELECTED ANNUALLY TO COLLATE AND REPRESENT MEMBERS’ VIEWS: The October Party Conference has become too remote from the members and activists, and too expensive for them to attend, leading in turn to very poor attendance by MPs, but is a proven money spinner for the party and a professional presentation platform, whilst Conservative Policy Forums are not as supported as well in the past
It is therefore proposed the Spring Conference, which has become a ‘grudge’ mandatory event with faltering attendance, be reinvigorated and expanded in importance and function to mirror ‘old style’ Party Conferences
Conservative activists should be encouraged to have proper debates, as used to happen at October Party Conferences, and be encouraged to put forward policy manifesto proposals here, including through motions agreed at association level and also through Conservative Policy Centre initiatives.
A proposed Head of Party Policy should be elected annually with the job of collating and representing the policy opinions of members but NOT to write election manifestos, but to be a key part of that manifesto team to help avoid the disastrous manifesto mistakes in the recent General Election, backed by the Party Chairman.
Unusually, Ministers would be here to listen and respond to members’ views, including impromptu speeches from the floor, and not be there to promote their own policies. Ministers would then take from the Spring Conference to propose their own policy platforms at the October Party Conference, which will remain primarily to sell party policies to the media, interest and business groups, similar to now.
The Spring Conference should be cheaper in terms of pass prices and accommodation for attendees, returning to venues such as Bournemouth and Harrogate, to encourage as much participation as possible by members of all ages and incomes.
8. PROFESSIONAL SERVICES SUPPORT: The associations must be offered professional support to market their events, meetings and activities, and to improve the membership ‘product offering’ – members need to see a point to paying their membership fees, and being able to choose the MP, help influence policies, attend party conferences at a reasonable cost, have a fair chance of candidate selection, and be involved in interesting political and social events for example, much of which has been lost.
The onus must be on building up associations through promoting and incentivising extra membership, more appealing events and more successful fundraising. Whilst most of this Declaration’s initiatives promote decentralisation of functions, it is suggested that membership be centralised along the lines of the National Trust for example, with efficient central records and administration of members, but with far better interaction with local associations.
9. WORKING FOR ALL UK PARTY CONSTITUTIONS TO BE DEMOCRATISED: It is unacceptable that all UK political party constitutions are so weak and limited as to be on a par legally with a golf club. This allows too much control at the centre and leads to frequent unjust treatment of members. We pledge to work with other parties on legislation for party constitutional changes and requirements to help democratise all parties and head off infiltration and takeovers from within such as by Momentum or by Militant in Labour.
10. IMPROVE THE MAKING AND DISSEMINATION OF PARTY RULES: Local associations are too often made subject to rules passed down from the centre from the Party Board without any true consultation, often leading to misunderstandings of what the rules are. Instead a framework of rules should be handed to each Association and each executive should be allowed to decide whether the rules are appropriate for them. This would help to make each Association or grouping autonomous, giving a real sense of ownership and belonging.


New composition of the Board: A Party Board for the 21st Century
The Board is the ultimate decision-making body of the Conservative Party. It is responsible for all operational matters including; fundraising, membership and candidates. It is made up of representatives from each section of the Party - the voluntary, political and professional.
It is proposed to amend the composition of the Party Board to provide a more streamlined and efficient method of decision-making. The Board will consist of:

Leader of the Conservative Party
Chairman of the Conservative Party (and Chairman of the Party Board) (elected)
Chief Executive of the Conservative Party (appointed)
Treasurer of the Conservative Party
Chairman of the Conservative Councillors’ Association
Chairman of the Scottish & Unionist Conservative Party
Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Party
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party
Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament (until Brexit in 2019)                                                      
Chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers
Chairman of the 1922 Committee
Secretary to the Board
Head of Candidates (elected)
3 or 4 delegates representing the membership (elected) – one of which should be a youth representative
Co-opted members in attendance – 3-4 MPs
All other current positions will be closed.

New composition of the Candidates Committee
Recommended for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Elected Head of Candidates – Chairman of Candidates Committee
•           The Head of Candidates and Candidates Committee Chairman shall be the ultimate authority on the Candidates Committee; working closely with the Party Chairman (below), who should have overall responsibility for candidates. Their role will not be to grandstand or monitor candidates themselves, but will be to attract high quality candidates for associations based on merit not on social engineering of personal favouritism, to manage the administration and communications process efficiently, to oversee independent vetting agencies who vet candidates for criminal records, fraud, bankruptcy or other unsuitability, oversee fair and balanced Parliamentary Assessment Boards (PABs), and support associations fairly and without prejudice respecting the independence of their selections;
•           Only serving or past Chairmen of a parliamentary constituency Association are entitled to stand for this position;
•           Each candidate for the position of Chairman of the Candidates Committee must have a minimum of three years’ experience as an Association Chairman before they are eligible to stand;
•           Each candidate should also be able to demonstrate suitable professional skills in administration, human resources or management functions.
•           The Head of Candidates shall be responsible for establishing and disseminating fair, transparent and clear rules on candidate selection and criteria. The intention will be to find a rich variety of well qualified candidates with many different skills and experience and range of backgrounds, but built always on merit not on quotas or any form of discrimination;;

•           The Head of Candidates/Chairman will be elected by secret ballot at a meeting of all members at the Spring Conference, based on their plan for attracting, vetting and training candidates, and on hustings;
•           The election for this position will take place every two years, at the Spring  Conference, and must coincide with the drawing up of the new style Approved Candidates List;
•           The successful candidate must serve the full two year term, but in the event that he/she is unable to serve a full term, a by-election will take place, and the same process will be followed;
•           No person can serve for more than three terms;

Party Chairman
•           The Party Chairman will be directly elected by the entire registered membership every two years at the Spring Conference based on their manifestos sent at least a month in advance, and on hustings. Though attending Cabinet, they will represent the party membership to the Government and not the Government or Prime Minister to party members, and must be consulted on whether to hold a General Election or not;
•           He/she sits on the Candidate Committee to convey the views and criteria required by the Party members, particularly those of association Chairmen, officers and activists and not that of the Government of HM Opposition;
•           Whether in Government or Opposition, the Party must be supported by the best available talent who can act as Government or Shadow Ministers, and it is the Chairman’s responsibility to work with the Head of Candidates to find it.

Chairman of the 1922 Committee
•           He/she will represent the Party in the House of Commons in the selection of candidates;
•           Candidates successfully elected to the House will be expected to work with their new colleagues in the Parliamentary Party, so it is right that backbenchers are represented in the search for the right candidate.

Chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers
•           He/she will represent the Party in the House of Lords in the selection of candidates;
•           His/her previous experience in politics will help the Committee identify the standard required of candidates to maintain a high calibre of Lords, MPs and candidates across the country.

Head of Candidates Support staff
•           The Head of Candidates/Chairman will be supported by two full time paid staff who are not members of the Committee, but employed to execute its wishes. They are answerable to him/her. As an important statement of independence from the central office, these staff will work from their own separate office outside of London, doubling up at an area office such as Manchester or Birmingham.
•           Ideally, they will be employed owing to a professional career in the recruitment sector to improve the vetting and development of candidates selected to join the list.