Sunday, November 4, 2012

From the Grass Roots

                  CROSS ON SATURDAY 3RD NOVEMBER 2012

Dear Members

Unfortunately I am unable to join you at your meeting today but I understand one of the items on the Agenda is how the Conservatives can win an outright majority in the 2015 General Election. Most of you here today already have a Conservative MP. with a healthy majority; some of you such as the Newbury representatives have a Conservative MP with a Liberal Democrat as a runner up and will be seeking to try and increase that majority.  My own MP sits for a Conservative marginal in South Wales with a majority of just over 4,000. He first stood in 2005. Was a well-known Member of the Welsh Assembly, lived locally and had worked hard in the constituency for over seven years. In my opinion his majority should have been between 7,000 and 8,000 against a virtually unknown Labour candidate. It was not to be.
The party needs to be honest with itself. Forget about boundary changes which may (or may not) give an extra fifteen or so MP s unless and until the party polls nationally at least 40 to 41% of the vote it is not going to win an outright majority.
Yes; the party can win in England (even though large areas of the north and the big cities have no Conservative representation) but not in the context of the United Kingdom. Scotland is lost for ever. Yet the writing there has been on the wall for over fifty years. Even when Harold Macmillan (himself a Scot) was increasing the Conservative majority to 100 in 1959 the party lost seats in Scotland. And in the General Elections since then we have been reduced to 21 MPs, then 10, then none and now one. When eminent Conservative Scottish politicians such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Dr. Liam Fox and Michael Gove (all Cabinet or ex Cabinet ministers) migrate to England because they cannot get elected in their native country, you know something is wrong.
UKIP is another headache for the party. Surveys will confirm that for every one vote taken by the party from Labour, two are taken from the Conservatives. And the message is simple – Laws should be made for the British nation in the parliament at Westminster and we should have no truck with a bloated European bureaucracy. Our party is hampered by the fact that we have to keep both the Euro Fanatics and the Euro Sceptics on side. There are lots of people in this country who will not vote for David Cameron simply because he refused to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
Another problem is the fact that the average age of our membership is now around 68 and that nationally we probably have only around 170,000 of whom only 10 to 15% are active, most being either councillors and their families or constituency officers. Matters are not helped by Central Office parachuting unwanted candidates into certain constituencies against the wishes of ordinary members. And let us take women candidates. If a woman is good enough she will be able to beat even the best male candidate. There were two redoubtable Dames in the parliaments from 1950 to 1964. Irene Ward first entered parliament in 1931 and later sat for Tynemouth. Joan Vickers beat Michael Foot twice in Plymouth Devonport. More recently Ann Widdecombe after standing in Burnley in 1979 and against David Owen in 1983 landed the safe seat of Maidstone where she was the MP from 1987 to 2010. These ladies were formidable in their own right and they did not need quotas or preferential treatment.
The moment you take away selection from the ordinary rank and file member you are inviting trouble. People will just lose interest and won’t work for the party.
The party seems to think that because of the current weakness of the Liberal Democrats it may pick up some of their parliamentary seats. I beg to differ. The Liberal Democrats will claim that the government, by reason of its being a coalition, has been forced to adopt certain Liberal Democrat policies – and they will claim the credit for that.  Also when a Liberal Democrat MP gets really stuck in he or she is often very difficult to dislodge.  In recent years I have spent a few days each year in Torquay, part of the Torbay constituency. A typical seaside town, many retired people, many small businesses, and coupled with the larger hotels many smaller B & B establishments.  The council itself is predominantly Conservative and there are a number of safe Conservative wards. For over sixty years Torquay (as it then was) was a safe Conservative seat. However since 1997 it has had a Liberal Democrat MP and the Conservative vote has fallen from 28000 to just over 19000. For the reasons already stated, it is going to be very difficult to dislodge the current Liberal Democrat MP.
Although there seems to be some sign that economy is recovering slightly there is still a long way to go and if Liam Halligan in the Sunday Telegraph is to be believed we still have a mountain to climb, with horrendous interest payable on the country’s debts.  The ordinary man in the street simply does not believe the Chancellor, George Osborne, when he says ‘We are all in this together’.  And that was before the fuss over his rail ticket – something probably blown out of all proportion but which still gave the wrong impression.  And when David Cameron expressed his full confidence in Andrew Mitchell five weeks ago, I thought to myself then: This is John Major circa 1994 – when will Mitchell resign?  
The only good news really is the weakness of the Labour Party. We are fortunate that Ed Milliband was elected by such a small majority and then only by reason of the Trade Union block vote. Also that his shadow Chancellor is Ed Balls who, as adviser to Gordon Brown when Chancellor. overtaxed, overborrowed and overspent and is partly responsible for the current economic mess. It may well be that many in 2015 will vote negatively – better the devil trying to clear up the mess, rather than the one who created it in the first place. Many Liberal Democrats, particularly those former Labour members such as Vince Cable, don’t really want to be in a coalition government with us; that much is obvious. Our problem is that people from all walks of life vote Conservative (and that was so even when class differences were far, far greater than they are today) and yet the party is still seen by many as being for the rich, better off and the privileged.  No matter what we do or however hard we try that impression is difficult to shake off.  That, more than anything will prevent us winning an outright majority in 2015, something, which should have been there for the taking in May 2010.
I hope that this open letter to you all will stimulate your discussion.

My regards to you all


  1. I agree with most of what is said above. The so-called A list has not been popular and if Mrs Mensch is an example it has not been altogether successful either. What the party has to do is to trust the local associations and work with them to select candidates. By all means encourage open primaries to get the wider public involved where associations are weak in numbers. I believe the author of the above piece may be right in saying we cannot win in 2015.

    Will the voters believe any manifesto again after all the broken pledges?

  2. A very thought provoking article.

    I keep meeting people who think the 2015 General Election is already lost for the Conservative Party. What are we going to do?