Archive 1999

Archive 1999
December 19th
At last the Conservative Party accounts for the year to 31st March 1999 have been published. The date of publication gets later each year. It is interesting to note that two former Treasurers who have now got their peerages and who used to give substantial donations now no longer do so. However the Party Chairman, Michael Ancram said "These accounts show a steady improvement in the Party's financial position". In 1994 the Party Chairman, Sir Norman Fowler said "In the last two years, the underlying financial position of the Conservative Party has been radically improved". So how does the position today compare with the comparable period after the General Election of 1992? We set out the position below. Judge for yourselves. Is it the merry go round?
Conservative Party Accounts
General Election Period
(7,998) deficit
2,063 surplus
2,020 surplus
(3,374) deficit
(1,900) deficit
December Question of the Month - Result
Should Overseas Residents be able to vote in UK Elections?
No 27%
Yes, If overseas less than 5 years 73%
Yes, If overseas less than 10 years 0%
Yes, If overseas less than 20 years 0%
Yes 0%
At present overseas residents are eligible to vote in UK elections for up to 20 years. Is it right that people who do not pay tax in the UK should decide how the UK is governed? Until 1989 overseas residents were only able to vote if they had been overseas for less than 5 years. The all Party Home Affairs Select Committee has recommended that we revert back to the pre 1989 position. Do you agree? It is clear from the above result that Conservative Party members agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee. Why then have the Parties fudged the issue by agreeing to 10 years?
The Conservative Party originally expressed reservations, primarily because such a law would prevent Michael Ashcroft from donating money to the Party as he has been an overseas resident for more than 5 years. Foreign donations will not be allowed under the proposed legislation on Party funding, although donations from people on the Electoral Register will be allowed. Michael Ashcroft has now announced that he will take up residence in the UK.
December 7th
What is happening in the Westminster Parliamentary candidate selection? Did Westminster ever affiliate to the Conservative Party? Nobody seems to know. If it did then it has to stick to the guidelines and procedures for the selection of parliamentary candidates, but if it did not then it can conduct itself according to it's own rules.
It would be interesting if Central Office could publish a list of those constituencies which have not affiliated.
Pressure was brought on constituencies to affiliate by telling them they could not have representation at the Party conference if they did not affiliate. We understand that in Westminster's case they in turn said to Central Office that if that was the case they would not pay any money to the Party. Collapse of Central Office.

Update. At the Annual General Meeting of the Westminster Association held in June 1999 in response to a question about affiliation the meeting was told "there are some rules that we do not agree with" We can take it from that answer that Westminster is still not affiliated to the Conservative Party.
It is said that two years ago a group of former FCS(Dissolved by Norman Tebbitt) members set up an organisation called "The Movement" to take over the Westminster Constituency Association. The intention was to keep it for Michael Portillo. He, having got Kensington and Chelsea they switched their allegiance.
Was their candidate successful?
December 1st
John E. Strafford
Chairman, Campaign for Conservative Democracy
In an article in "The Independent" (25th November) Michael Ashcroft asks "Why am I the victim of all these vicious smears?
I do not seek anything for myself beyond the return of a Conservative government." Has it not occurred to Mr. Ashcroft that many people find it incredible that a person who is the Ambassador to the United Nations for a foreign county (Belize), who has voluntarily opted to spend at least 275 days per annum outside the United Kingdom for tax reasons is donating £1million to the Conservative Party for nothing other than the return of a Conservative government. Did it never cross his mind that every previous holder of the post ended up with a peerage, that the position gives direct access to the Party Leader with the opportunity whether taken or not to influence him, that as a donor of 10% of the income of the Party he is in a position as Treasurer to veto any expenditure of the Party he does not approve - a situation the Party used to avoid by having a Chinese wall between fund raising and expenditure.

If he does believe that ordinary members of the Party find these credible and acceptable then let him put it to the test. Let him stand in an election for Party Treasurer. Michael Ashcroft says he gives the money to the Party because he supports the Tory principles of free markets and personal liberty. Does he also support the principle of democratic accountability and if so why is this principle not applied within the Tory Party?
It has been reported that Mr. Ashcroft is to return to the United Kingdom as a resident. If so, this is good news for the UK taxpayer, but also it would remove the main handicaps to him being elected as Treasurer.
In 1945 the Conservative Party suffered a massive defeat in the General Election. Party membership was only 250,000, a little less than today. It was an ageing membership - the young had gone to war. By 1951 the Party had 2.8million members and the Party Chairman, Lord Woolton, had raised £10,000,000 at today's values, mainly in small subscriptions and donations. He changed the nature of the Party by stopping candidates and MP's buying their positions by limiting to £100 per annum theamount they could donate to their Association (something we have recently forgotten). He did all this by concentrating the effort into developing mass membership. No donation or subscription was too small.
After 1951 Conservative Party membership declined. At the time of the Houghton Report on Party Funding in 1975 it was estimated at 1.5million. However the critical decline took place in the 1980's. Lord McAlpine as Party Treasurer raised every larger sums of money from fewer and fewer individuals. It was easier to do this than build up the membership. The ordinary member was ignored. By 1990 when I was a member of the Conservative Board of Finance, almost the entire Central Income of the Party was being raised from less than 200 individuals. It was clear that a recession or severe unpopularity would decimate the Party. We got both, so that by 1993 there was an accumulated deficit of £19,000,000.
Sir Norman Fowler (Party Chairman) said in 1993 "The last eighteen months have seen solid progress in correcting the Party's financial position with a series of sweeping reforms of the Conservative Party Organisation.
Tough and at times painful action has been taken to get our finances on a more stable footing. Spending has been cut to the lowest level in real terms since 1979." So were the lesson learnt?
In the year to 31st March 1998 there was a deficit of £10,000,000. The Party had negative net assets of £4,000,000. Membership is down to 300,000. This year Michael Ashcroft stated "When William Hague appointed me as Chairman of the Board of Treasurers, I committed myself to the total reorganisation of the Fund Raising and cost structures of the Conservative Party.
The new cost controls at Central Office were instigated during 1998 and expenditure has been firmly under control since September of that year (Was it not before?) The new slimmer organisations at Central Office is more efficient and effective than ever before. You have my personal assurance that every penny that comes into the Treasurer's office is well spent."
The importance attached to membership of the Party is illustrated by the fact that the total staff of the Membership Department at Central Office in October 1999 is two.
Are the Parliamentary Party concerned at this state of affairs! No, they all appear to believe that they are safe because they believe that the result of the next Election cannot be worse than the last. The decline in membership does not unduly concern them. Members of Parliament are accountable to the electorate at a General Election. Between elections the only checks on them come from their membership - the fewer the members the easier it is to satisfy them and the less likelihood they were be hauled before an Executive to account for their actions.
A democratically elected Treasurer would have to address the concerns of the membership. Members would be able to influence priorities in expenditure. The higher the membership the greater the chance that it will reflect the views of the people. The members are the link between the MP and the people.
Finally let me give a small example of the difference between an appointed Treasurer and an elected Treasurer. Since Sir Norman Fowler was Party Chairman the Accounts of the Party were available at the Party Conference and were sent to Constituency Chairmen . Last year Michael Ashcroft stopped this because the Party could not afford the £10,000 needed to print the accounts. An elected Treasurer would have said "We cannot print the Accounts because we do not have £10,000. However if any person wishes to have a copy they can buy a photocopy for £5 and in addition we are putting the Accounts on the Internet so that anybody can see them free of charge."
Incidentally in spite of the fact that we are now more efficient and effective than ever before - when I asked at the Party Conference for a copy of the Party's Accounts for the year ended 31st March 1999 I was told they were not available.
When will they be? No announcement has been made to members. Surprise, surprise.

For democracy to survive in the United Kingdom we have to ensure that those institutions that are part of the democratic process, i.e. the Political Parties, are themselves democratic. The Labour Party is treading the same path down which the Conservative Party has gone. It will find that the patronage of power which attracts the big donors will have the same financial consequences for them as it has had for the Conservative Party. Do we want our democracy controlled by the cosy little club or the control freaks?
This is why Mr. Ashcroft you should stand for election or resign. The choice is yours.

The Selection of the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
In the 1945 General Election 85 of the Conservative MPs elected were Old Etonians.   
Many bought their selection as candidates by promising substantial sums of money to their local Association.   When Lord Woolton became Chairman of the Party he was determined to make the Conservative Party more representative of the people.   He was also determined to prevent wealthy people "buying" the Conservative Party.   In the Maxwell-Fyfe reforms of 1948 a rule was brought in that limited the amount that a candidate could donate to his Association to £50.   This rule was enforced throughout the Party for over 40 Years.   Lord Woolton said in his Memoirs that "The change was revolutionary, 
and in my view did more than any other single factor to save the Conservative Party"

In the early 1990s as the financial situation of the Party deteriorated and many Associations faced financial difficulty the expense allowances of Members of Parliament were substantially increased.   MPs came under pressure to provide financial help to their constituencies out of their expense allowance.    Questions were asked at candidate selection meetings as to how much the candidate would contribute.   As Constituency Associations became more dependant on their MP financially the MPs found that they had more power over their Constituency Association.   The threat of withdrawing finance worked wonders for the MPs to get their own way.   Once again MPs were buying their selection although this time they were using taxpayers money to do so.   Conservative Central Office first of all turned a blind eye to what was happening, then unofficially encouraged it.    Now we understand that the sum that an MP can donate is limited to £5,000 per annum as a contribution to "parliamentary" costs.
In the selection of the candidate for Mayor of London a limit of £80,000 was allowed to each candidate to spend on fighting for their selection.    There are very few candidates that can afford to spend that amount of money.    Once again only the wealthy can participate.   The Conservative Party has reverted back over 50 years.   It is time the Party brought into being detailed rules for internal elections.
London has 38,000 members of the Conservative Party.   If similar rules applied to the selection process as to a candidate fighting a General Election each candidate would be allowed approx. 15p per elector plus a free mailing.    In the case of the selection of Mayoral candidate this would mean that each candidate would have been limited to £5,700 - a much more reasonable amount than the £80,000 that they could have spent.   One can only speculate as to whether the present candidate for London's Mayor would be there if there ad been such a limit.
If the Conservative Party is to be "saved" again it must not allow itself to become the plaything of the wealthy.   Where is Lord Woolton today?   We hope he is not turning in his grave. 
November 21st
The downfall of Jeffrey Archer was utterly predictable.   Many party members knew he would never get to the Mayoral election.   Below we show the major flaw in the Conservative Party selection process.   This apart, what else could or should have been done?
Under the Party's Constitution it states:
80         "No Member of Parliament, Prospective Member of Parliament, Member of the European Parliament or          Prospective Member of the European Parliament, Councillor or Candidate, Party Member, Party Officer, Party 
employee or applicant for membership shall engage in conduct bringing or likely to bring the Party into disrepute.
81         If  the conduct of any of those mentioned in Article 80 above is such that the Leader or the Board, in his or its absolute discretion, has grounds for thinking, is or may be conduct bringing or likely to bring the Party into disrepute, 
the Leader or the Board shall refer the matter to a Committee, the Ethics and Integrity Committee, appointed by the 
Board and consisting of the Chairman of the National Convention and the Chairman of the 1922 Committee and which
shall be chaired by a Queen's Counsel in private practise"
In view of the above why didn't the Ethics and Integrity Committee thoroughly check out Jeffrey Archer?   Was it 
because the Party at the top still operates like a cosy little club and members of that club rather enjoyed champagne 
and shepherds pie at Jeffrey's expense, either at the party conference or at his various homes?   The truth is that the 
Committee should have given a grilling to the candidate for Mayor of London, because it is such a high profile
position.   He should have been questioned at length.   So who should take responsibility for the debacle that ensued because of the failure of the Committee to act.   It would be unreasonable to put the blame on the Leader.    
Organisation comes under the responsibility of the Party Board and its Chairman.   Here is where the failure lies, but 
what can Party members do about it?   The Party Chairman is appointed by the leader.   He is not elected by the members.   Until this happens there is no democratic accountability within the Conservative Party.   Brace yourself for further cases like Jeffrey Archer to arise in the future.
83     The Ethics and Integrity committee shall :
83.4 meet at least twice a year to consider issues of integrity and personal conduct in general, and if it judges 
necessary, or on the request of the Leader, shall report as appropriate.
    When has it met and what has it reported?   After all:
85     "The determination of the Ethics and Integrity Committee shall be published by the Board as soon as reasonably practicable after receipt by it".

What really happened at the National Convention.
The  Conservative Party has lost none of its skills at stage management.   This was vividly illustrated at  the National Convention on 4th October in Blackpool.   The Establishment were so terrified that the motion to elect a Registered Treasurer might receive substantial support that  a concerted effort was made to contact Constituency Chairmen prior to the Convention to tell them to vote against the motion.   Even the Conference Chairman - Brian Hanson - was given his list of Chairmen to contact!
See Update below for Brian Hanson's response. 17.10.99
The meeting started in the usual way  with the Chairman's (Robin Hodgson) opening remarks and then went on to confirm the Minutes of the Last Meeting held at Reading on 14th March 1999. 
Included in the Minutes was an item moved by John Strafford "to include a requirement for there to be time to question Candidates standing for office"i.e. The Party Board.   The Minutes correctly record that this amendment to Standing Orders was approved by the meeting.
Under Matters Arising the Chairman (Robin Hodgson) stated that the officers of the Convention had considered the above amendment and had decided that it was not appropriate to bring it in at this time, so they had decided to defer it.    He then asked the meeting for their agreement and moved to next business.    Not a single voice was raised in protest at this high handed action.    The officers have no right to overturn a motion passed by the Convention.    If this is how business is to be conducted in the future what is the point of having a Convention?   Is this not the way the old Soviet Politburo used to act?    How supine is the Convention?   It needs drastic reform.    This was one more nail in the coffin of Party democracy.   At this rate Robin Hodgson may go down in history as the man who destroyed the Voluntary part of the Conservative Party; but there was more to come!
There then followed a session on Parliamentary Selection Procedures, the whole of which could have been put in a written paper.   A short period was given for questions.
After coffee there was a session on Funding of the Voluntary Party which was useful and interesting but highlighted the low priority that the Party gives to membership by the few people employed at Central Office to deal with membership (one).
The last session before the debate on the elected Treasurer was on Considering Changes to the Party's Constitution.   A long speech was made by John Taylor virtually all of which was already in writing before the members of the Convention.   There was a short time for questions.
  The proposals on the Re-selection of MPs went through.    Nobody raised the question as to why if the MP decides to have a ballot of all Party members only the MP can send out any literature giving reasons for his/her selection even though at this stage he /she has lost the support of their Executive Council.
At approx. 12:30 the Party Chairman arrived in the Hall.    He waited until immediately before the debate on the Treasurer was due to start before taking his place on the platform to the usual applause.
John Strafford then moved the following motion: "That Part IV, Clause 12.9 of the Constitution of the Conservative Party be altered as follows":
Delete the words "The Treasurer of the Party, who shall be appointed by the Leader"
Insert the words "The Registered Treasurer of the Party, who shall be elected by the National Conservative Convention"
He said
"Last week at the Labour Party Conference the delegates rejected a motion on Economic Policy proposed by the platform.
So what did the
 Chairman of the Conference do - He said to the delegates "You are confused. We'll take the vote again tomorrow morning" and the next day the woman who had opposed the resolution took the rostrum and said "I'm sorry delegates, I'm sorry if I embarrassed the Party. I didn't mean to" and they took the vote again and it was passed.
THAT is democracy in the Labour Party.
THAT is the control freak tendency.
THAT is the kind of political party that we must NEVER allow the Conservative Party to become.
AND I fear for the future when as happened this morning a motion of this Convention can be overturned by the Officers.
Two days before the Summer Recess the Labour Government published a Bill on "The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom". This Bill implements the recommendations of the Neil Committee and is supported in principle by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party.
The Bill sets out the requirement for a political party to have a Registered Treasurer.
The Registered Treasurer will be responsible for The publication of the Income and Expenditure Accounts of the Party and their presentation to an Electoral Commission.
The keeping of the Party's accounts and records.
The reporting of donations over £5,000 - this to be done on a quarterly basis and weekly during a General Election campaign.
The control of expenditure during a General Election on which there will be financial limits and severe penalties for breaching those limits.
The Bill also provides for the appointment of 12 Deputy Treasurers based on the same Regions as were used for the European Elections.
Conservative Associations will have to report all donations over £1,000 and there are requirements to aggregate amounts so that these requirements are not avoided.
There will clearly have to be a Working Party set up to determine the full ramifications of this Bill on the Party, but today we can take a decision in principle - that the Registered Treasurer of the Party will be elected and accountable to the members of this Convention.
Democratic accountability is a fine Conservative principle, but it is not the strongest argument for having a democratically elected Treasurer.
Democracy in the United Kingdom is under threat.
From the West Lothian question in the Scottish Parliament.
To enshrining sectarianism in the Northern Ireland Assembly
To the control freak tendency of the Labour Party in choosing their leader in the Welsh Assembly by the use of Trade Union block votes.
Our democracy is under threat.
From the stealth by which Regional Assemblies are being brought in To the undemocratic nature of the closed list system for the European Elections
To the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement by Tony's cronies.
Our democracy is under threat
And I haven't even mentioned yet the lack of democracy in the European Union.
Tony Blair is standing astride the biggest pile of the male equivalent of cow dung this nation has ever seen, and is pouring it all over the British people. Unless we get off our backs we will soon be so deep in the mire that all you will see are the bubbles popping through the surface.
It is the historic destiny of the Conservative Party to defend Democracy, and we must practise what we preach.
You cannot fight for democracy and yet be undemocratic in your own organisation.
The Tide of Democracy is swirling round the ankles of the King Canutes of Conservative Central Office. We either move with that tide or we will drown.
Let us be in the forefront in the fight for democracy and freedom.
If we want the people to participate in power then we must let the members participate in the organisation of the Conservative Party.
 I beg to move"
After John Strafford had spoken Robin Hodgson then made a speech of approx. 15 minutes opposing the motion.
He said the motion was all about Michael Ashcroft ( Although as you can see above John Strafford never mentions Michael Ashcroft) and that this was the issue that the press would concentrate on.   He spoke at length about the negotiations with John Strafford to withdraw the motion, and got the sympathy of the audience by saying that one of the conditions of John Strafford's withdrawal was that he would be a member of the working party to be set up to examine the Bill on Party Funding.   This was not correct.   In the first telephone conversation John Strafford had with Robin Hodgson Robin offered a place on the working party to John Strafford.   A week later when further discussions were taking place and when Robin Hodgson was under great pressure (from Whom?) he said that he could not guarantee a place on the working party. (Robin Hodgson is the senior Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and Chairman of the National Convention)

The only condition John Strafford insisted upon was that included in the remit of the working party should be "Whether the Registered Treasurer should be an elected position or not"   Robin Hodgson could not agree to this.    Negotiations broke down.   Robin did not make this clear in his speech.   He did make clear the publicity regarding Michael Ashcroft by waving at the audience a copy of "The Times"
From the floor Michael Normington then made a measured speech calling for the election of Party officers.
The motion was then put to the vote by a show of hands. (the system a Conservative Government made illegal in the Trade Unions in the 1980's on sensitive matters and which they have just changed on the re-selection of MPs). 
The motion was lost by 350 approx. votes (not counted) to 7.
After the meeting Robin Hodgson issued a press release which stated: "The meeting confirmed its support for Michael Ashcroft's great efforts in raising money for the party (As you can see above Michael Ashcroft is not mentioned in the motion so we do not know how you can arrive at this statement) and clearly felt that John Strafford's proposal was above all inappropriately timed and likely to be used by members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties for their own ends.   John Strafford has undoubted energy and passion; it is
a pity he does not turn this on our opponents.   He is an experienced volunteer and one can only conclude that his proposal was either naive or mischief making."

The Tory Reform Group have now announced that they are in favour of an elected Treasurer.   Also in favour are  The Charter Movement and The Campaign for Conservative Democracy.
John Strafford spent the rest of the week in Blackpool during which time he spoke to many people.   Only one person ( a prospective parliamentary candidate) disagreed with the motion.   All others said either "They agreed with the motion, but now was not the time". or "They didn't vote" (abstentions were not counted).   John Strafford has received a number of E mails and letters all of which express support for the motion.   If you believe in democratic accountability it is hard not to agree.
William Hague made a great speech at the conference giving more power to the people.  That same culture must be applied to the Conservative Party if we are to win the next General Election.
The Bill on party funding will be debated in parliament in November.

After The Meeting
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John Strafford being interviewed by Laura Trevelyan of the BBC.   Hold it.   Who is this interrupting the interview?
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Why, it is Robin Hodgson, Chairman of the National Convention.

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We unreservedly apologise for the error in our report and withdraw the allegation that Brian Hanson was given a list.

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