Tuesday, March 3, 2020

COPOV Forum - Date for your diary 18 April - Gerrards Cross

The next COPOV Forum will be on 18th April at All Saints in Gerrards Cross.   An Agenda will be sent out nearer the event.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

COPOV Forum 22nd February 2020

Do come and join us at the next COPOV Forum on 22nd February 20.   Details at EVENTS   Amongst other items we will be discussing Selection of Local Government Candidates, Brexit, Freedom of Speech and Climate Change.   Should be an interesting meeting!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Selection of Parliamentary Candidates - Is Democracy dying?

Selection of Parliamentary Candidates - is Democracy dying?
John E. Strafford
With the victory of the Conservative Party in the 2019 General Election we are witnessing the greatest advance for democracy in a generation.   The commitment to withdraw from the European Union on 31st January 2020 means that at last we are taking back control of our democracy.   Once again Parliament will be in control of our legislation.   Once again, the people will be able to vote for their representative in a parliament which legislates for the people of the United Kingdom, and once again it will be judges of the United Kingdom that determine what the law means.
With the 2019 General Election we have also witnessed the greatest distortion of democracy since before the Second World War, when rich Tory parliamentary candidates purchased their seats in Parliament – a practise stopped by Lord Woolton’s reform of the Conservative Party in 1948.
Both Labour and Conservative parties deliberately delayed choosing their candidates for the General Election in order that a small group of people in their headquarters could decide who their own parliamentary candidates should be.   When the General Election was announced both Parties invoked “Emergency Procedures” to enable their HQs to take control of the process of selecting Parliamentary candidates.   The Brexit Party followed their example and did not announce their candidates until two days before nominations closed.   In addition the Brexit Party, which does not have any members, decided which constituencies should be contested.   Who took those decisions?   Party members of the two main Parties were effectively excluded from the process.   In the case of the Labour Party this was done for the Trade Unions to have a larger say in the selections in order to get more trade unionists into Parliament.   In the case of the Conservative Party it was done in order to get friends of Cabinet Ministers, special advisers, party officials and friends of the hierarchy into Parliament.   In the case of the Brexit Party it was done to enable their Leader to determine who should be a candidate.
Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association (BCCA) had been trying to get the process of selecting a candidate started for over six months before the General Election.   Our Member of Parliament, Dominic Grieve had lost two separate votes of confidence in General Meetings of the Association.   At last, on 31st October BCCA was given the go-ahead by CCHQ, but told it had to follow the “Rules for the selection of Parliamentary Candidates for a General Election in 2019” (Rules shown in bold) issued by CCHQ as an emergency overriding the Rules in the Party’s Constitution.   A similar process had been implemented when the 2017 General Election was unexpectedly called.
As our Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve was not in receipt of the Conservative Whip he could not be re-selected so the following procedure had to be followed:
“The Party Chairman and Chairman of the National Conservative Convention (neither of which have been elected or are accountable to all Party Members) will nominate a shortlist of up to 3 applicants, (giving due regard to gender balance) after consultation with the Chief Agent, Director of Candidates, the Chairmen of the Candidates Committee (all of which are unelected and unaccountable) and the Chairman and two Deputies of the Association.
An Executive Council and a Special General Meeting were called to take place on Saturday 9th November.  Names of the candidates and a standard CV were given to Party members one hour before the meetings started.   The meetings “will be run consecutively to save time.   The meeting will begin with the Executive Council, but members who are not members of the Executive are permitted to be present as observers.
At the meeting of the Executive Council, members will simply be asked to agree that the shortlist shall be put to members for selection.   The General meeting will then follow immediately, and the shortlist of candidates will be interviewed.
Voting is to be by exhaustive ballot until one candidate has more than 50% of the votes from those qualified members present and voting.
Occasionally, the Executive Council or the SGM are not satisfied with the choice of applicants put forward from the previous round.   In these rare cases the proper procedure is to move that the matter be referred back.   This must be done before the ballot is taken, but after the applicants have been heard.   After the motion for reference back has been formally proposed and seconded it should be put to the vote by secret ballot without debate.   If the reference back is defeated the proceedings must continue and proceed immediately to the ballot between the candidates.   If passed the selection process will be halted and for this General Election the Chairman of the Conservative Party will nominate the candidate.
The Chairman of the Beaconsfield Association was a candidate and was one of the three names.   Who decided that?   How were the other two names chosen?
The BCCA officers were notified of the three names on Tuesday 5th November with strict instructions not to disclose them.   Nevertheless the following day supporters of the BCCA Chairman were campaigning fohim.   On Thursday 7th November the female candidate pulled out and to ensure gender balance was replaced by another female candidate, so effectively two candidates had four days notice of the meeting and one candidate had two days notice.
The vast majority of members attending the selection meeting did not know who the candidates were until they arrived at the meeting so were unable to find out any information about them apart from the brief biographical details submitted to the selection meeting.
The Agent for Beaconsfield had assured me that he could run a full and fair selection process within one week as he did in 1997 in similar circumstances, so why was the Association forced to adopt this wholly undemocratic process?   There was time for Beaconsfield to have a full, fair democratic process for the selection of their candidate.   Nominations for the General Election closed on 14th November.
Beaconsfield is one of the largest Conservative Association in the country with approximately 1,500 members.   The last time it had to select a new parliamentary candidate in 1997 it had over 200 applications.
There is one further point which does not affect Beaconsfield but may have affected other Associations where there is a sitting Conservative MP.   If the sitting Member of Parliament has already been readopted by the Executive Council, no further action is required and so long as the MP still wishes to stand again the candidate is selected unless the whip has been removed.   Every Constituency Association should hold an Adoption meeting to which all members are invited.   This was the position prior to 2006 and should be re-instated to ensure democracy is openly seen to be working and all members of an Association take part in selecting their candidate.
After the debacle of the selection of candidates for the 2017 General Election it is unforgivable that we were put in the same position for the 2019 General Election.   The Party Board and the Committee on Candidates have failed in their duty.   It is time for the Party Chairman and the Chairman of the Candidates Committee to be elected by and accountable to the members of the Party at an Annual General Meeting to which all party members are invited.
Once again, the ordinary Party members have been treated with the utmost contempt by CCHQ, but the contempt goes further; effectively a small group of people are determining who the parliamentary candidates should be.   From these candidates we will get our Members of Parliament.   From our Members of Parliament, we will get our Government Ministers, so these decisions affect democracy.
The situation is now so serious that there should be a public inquiry seeking to clarify whether the undemocratic nature of our main political parties’ is distorting parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom!

Postscript:   The candidate eventually chosen by the Beaconsfield Association was Joy Morrissey who is proving to be excellent, and I am sure if the full democratic process had been followed would have topped the list of candidates in any case.   Notwithstanding this exception the principle of having a democratic process for the selection of candidates still stands.

Monday, January 20, 2020

How Sir Graham Brady protected May

Interesting article in the Critic magazine raises the question "Who notified the Sunday Telegraph? - "Mea Culpa".   I told a member of the 1922 Committee that the rules could be changed and sent a copy to them, at the same time copying in the Sunday Telegraph.   They then took  it up with Lords Hamilton and Spicer.   The rest is history.   Ironically the Rules were sent to me after my request to Gavin Barwell for a copy in 2005,  at the time of the Leadership contest involving David Cameron.
After the Telegraph article I was inundated by MPs and journalists for a copy of the Rules.   I did not realize they were so restricted!