WHEN I joined the Conservatives, it stated clearly on my membership card: ‘Membership of the Conservative Party gives you the right to vote in all party elections . . . and to take part in the development of policy.’ Under David Cameron’s leadership, the selection process for the 2009 Euro elections was changed without the consent of members and the aforementioned wording on membership cards disappeared completely.
For years, the rights of party members have been watered down by stealth. Associations nominally select candidates to fight general elections, but they may choose only from candidates who have been approved by Central Office. Stalin would have loved having such control over his party machine. Perish the thought that constituency associations might have a better idea as to who would be a suitable representative.
Any party members who think that they are participating in a meaningful leadership contest are deluding themselves. Horse-trading by MPs will ensure that the two candidates who make it through to the final vote will almost certainly not be the same two who would be there if party members had been allowed to select from the full list of eight MPs who reached the threshold for nominations.
Using the single transferable voting system (or a variation of it), party members would have a far wider choice of candidates. I am old enough to remember when the Conservative Party believed that increased consumer choice was a good thing.
You could also include a box for members to nominate someone not on the ballot paper – for example a party leader who has been forcibly removed from his or her position. Critics of this suggestion will cite the example of Jeremy Corbyn, who lost the confidence of his MPs but was subsequently returned as party leader in the ensuing election by Labour Party members, leading them to catastrophic defeat in 2019. This was ultimately good news for Boris Johnson, but could the same thing happen to the Conservatives if he were allowed to stand again? Unlikely, because Conservative Party members are generally sensible, moderate and pragmatic. Johnson’s propensity to be economical with the actualité has severely damaged the office of the Prime Minister, the reputation of the government and the standing of the UK in world affairs. These things matter to Conservatives; less so to militant socialists.
Of all the current candidates to have been nominated, Kemi Badenoch is probably the closest to a real Tory (as defined by me). But, according to her critics, she is too inexperienced for the top job, and failed to make the final three. Tony Blair had never held any government position when he became Labour leader but went on to win three general elections. He was 43 when he became Prime Minister. Kemi is 42.
Whilst it goes without saying that the rules for the current election of a new leader cannot be changed at this late stage, it is clear that the party will continue to tear itself apart over such matters until power is returned from Central Office to its members.