Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Why did it all go so wrong?

(This article is written by a Member of the Conservative party who does not and has never held an official position in a constituency. This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily represent the views of COPOV or of any of its Members)

BREXIT  - Why did it all go so wrong?

Even when the United Kingdom entered the European Economic Community as it then was in January 1973 many people still had doubts as to whether the country was doing the right thing and these doubts were not really assuaged by the subsequent Referendum in 1975 when 33% of the electorate who voted still wanted to leave. The original application by Harold Macmillan’s government in 1961 was given the go ahead by a reluctant Cabinet and only after it was quite clear that the EFTA of seven countries and of which the UK was a member could in no way compete economically with the EEC six particularly as West Germany had been rebuilt through USA financial assistance immediately after the Second World War. If we look at history it is quite clear that the United Kingdom’s development over the centuries was different from that of our European neighbours although it was not until the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century that we broke away from Rome and the dominance of papal authority and even then King Henry viii still considered himself a good Catholic.  And in the subsequent centuries our country was the dominant power in the world with our ever expanding empire based on naval supremacy and conquest.

Even today after nearly fifty years membership of the EEC/EU we still head a Commonwealth of 53 nations meeting every two years. So we have never been really committed to full European integration and if we are honest we must agree that President de Gaulle when he vetoed our first two applications in 1963 and 1968 realised that this country would never be totally enamoured of the Treaty of Rome which even in those early days was proposing full economic, monetary and political union. The refusal to embrace the euro and join the Schengen Agreement only confirmed our semi detachment.

I think it would be fair to say that ever since Black Wednesday in September 1992 the Conservative party has suffered from what I call EU schizophrenia.  The Major government forced through confirmation of the Treaty of Maastricht and the subsequent Labour governments continued the process of the movement of free labour with open borders. Mass migration from other countries in the Near East and Pakistan only added to the problems a sceptical Europe was facing and was made more difficult in 2015 by the ‘open to all strangers’ policy of Angela Merkel’s government in Germany. What happened in continental Europe during 2015 may well have tipped the scales in favour of ‘Leave’ when the June 2016 Referendum was held in the U K.

So what has gone wrong?  Firstly we have to dispel the myth that the 17.4 million who voted ‘Leave’ were elderly white people who longed for a return to Empire and the Raj and who had voted Conservative all their lives. Some, of course, certainly were but a minority for the ‘Leave’ vote according to the statistics released contained no less than 33% of Labour voters and 27% of Liberal Democrat voters. And a relatively large proportion of young and middle aged people voted ‘Leave’

Including many from ethnic minorities.  No: ‘Leave’ voters were from all conditions, colours, and creeds.

It is quite evident that ‘Leave’ did not expect to win. That fact alone meant that from the 24th June 2016 there was no proper plan for leaving the EU and it would appear that the Civil Service had made no contingency plans for such an outcome. And in the immediate aftermath as a consequence of the result David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister and the party engaged in an election process in which two of the senior Leave campaigners were at war with each other (resulting in Boris Johnson standing aside) and three ‘Leave’ candidates (Liam Fox, Michael, Gove and Andrea Leadsom) vying with each other as to who should stand against Theresa May, a Remainer. And a few uncharacteristic remarks from Mrs. Leadsom handed the crown to Theresa May much to the delight of the Pro Remain Conservative Members of Parliament who were overjoyed that it would not have to go the party membership whom they regarded in many cases as ‘swivel eyed loons’.  From the very beginning the Cabinet and government should have been preparing for a ‘no deal’ outcome. It was quite evident given the EU Commission’s propensity for asking voters to vote a second time to get the desired result that those leading the EU negotiations were going to play hardball. After all they were losing the second biggest contributor to the budget and that alone would be a big problem. At the time of the Referendum it was made quite clear that leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market, Customs Union and European Court of Justice. It would be a completely clean break and the government (according to David Cameron) would implement the decision of the British people. Parliament began the process of triggering Article 50 and voting on the necessary legislation even though a majority of those members did not really believe in what they were doing. And that has been the problem all along. And a ‘botched’ General Election together with a ‘hung’ Parliament has not made things any easier for, as has been seen by recent voting patterns, Remain Members of Parliament are still in the majority.  The ERG number about 100 less than a third of the parliamentary party. And real leadership has been lacking. There seems to be neither vision nor desire to explore what the wider world might have to offer in terms of trade etc.  We are seen to be weak and pathetic not knowing what we really want. But then that is not quite true.17.4 million voters wanted to leave the EU for many different reasons – restoration of complete sovereignty, U K laws made in a U K Parliament, courts with U K judges and so on. They wanted a clean break but Parliament is not willing to give them that. So we now have the absurd spectacle of Parliament trying to control the Executive and total chaos.  We have amendment after amendment- the Brady Amendment ,the Cooper-Boles Amendment, the Malthouse Amendment, - so many amendments and options (Norway ,Canada ,Canada ++ etc.) that a bemused general public looks on in sheer amazement at the total incompetence of our governing masters.  Ordinary voters are at a loss to understand what the Irish ‘backstop’ really means but are rightly asking:  ‘Why was this not pointed out at the time of the Referendum? Why is it such a problem? Why is there no solution?’
And why would the Prime Minister be willing to sign an agreement which would result in the country being beholden indefinitely to the EU with no exit clause?

The Referendum in June 2016 supposedly held to bring a final end to twenty five years of party wrangling over the EU has only served to exacerbate our divisions. It has placed constituency party against their elected Member of Parliament and as I write three members of the Cabinet have indicated that they would rather resign than accept a ‘no deal’ outcome. This would not set a precedent although the number of Cabinet ministers that have had to leave the Cabinet for one reason or another over the last eighteen months is probably a record. No: going back to 1975 there was of course the split in Harold Wilson’s cabinet when one third of its members were allowed to campaign against staying in the EEC.
One of the few economists supporting Brexit is Dr. Gerard Lyons who regards the Prime Minister’s so called deal as a ‘slow strangulation’ in which the EU slowly drains the United Kingdom of its life blood. Dr. Lyons, while admitting there would be initial problems in a ‘no deal’ would prefer what he calls ‘a kick in the groin’ to what is on offer. He deplores what he regards as a great opportunity being missed simply because the will is not there and those in authority would rather continue the status quo than attempt any change of direction. Dr. Lyons confirms that any common currency would also require complete political union something which a significant majority of the U K electorate do not want. He regards the euro as a failed currency simply because it cannot accommodate the needs of all the member states with their differing and diverse economies. And he is of course correct in saying that the U K government has played its hand badly. We are a leading member of NATO, have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, London is a leading financial centre, of the top 100 Universities in the world, the USA has the most but the U K has fourteen as opposed to one in France and one in Germany. English is the second most spoken language in the world and for many countries which have their own language English is taught as a second language.

Yet no leading Brexiteer politician seems to be able to communicate this to a wider audience. The Remainer fight back began on the 24th June 2016 and still continues with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats openly saying today in an interview: ‘We must get rid of this ‘no deal’ nonsense’. It is evident that in this ‘hung Parliament’ with a Remain majority there will be some sort of exit whether it is on 29th March or later but there is still no clear picture of what might happen in the next two to three years.  What is quite clear though is the ‘glad confident morning’ the Brexiteers hoped for on 24th June 2016 has turned to ashes and that their wishes will not be respected by those in authority who regard them as deplorable and have no wish for what Dr. Lyons calls a ‘Clean Brexit’.

23 February 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

Our Time has come!

The following article was published in "The Sunday Times" on 24th February 2019.   We are taking power back to the grassroots.

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  www.conservativehome.com  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.