Thursday, 23 December 2010

Do as I say and not as I do? Decentralisation and the Conservative party.

As I intimated below the modern Conservative party spends a great deal of time emphasising its commitment to decentralisation.

It’s ironic then that a great many members are becoming disillusioned with the Tory apparatus precisely because it is so centralised.  One prominent campaigner, John Strafford, has highlighted how the party lost members hand over fist since local associations were deprived off power, in a document called 'Where is the party going?'.

It’s a startling figure, but it is claimed that there are 105,000 fewer paid up Conservatives since David Cameron became leader.  Strafford ascribes the exodus to the lack of input afforded to members and the marginalisation of the ’volunteer party’.

It’s a thesis that will chime rather resonantly with many Northern Ireland Tories.  Although Tim Lewis argues in yesterday’s News Letter that rumours of its demise are grossly exaggerated, the local party has effectively been wound up by a dictat of central office.

That’s a rather poor display of faith in the judgement of people on the ground.  Indeed, if the rumours are true, Andrew Feldman capitulated in the face of a threat to withdraw Jim Nicholson from the Conservative group in the European Parliament.

As I understand it, Irwin Armstrong remains as chairman of the party in Northern Ireland, until the exact nature of the arrangement with the UUP is resolved.

For the record, here are Strafford’s proposals to reinvigorate democracy within the Tory party.

  The Conservative Party constitution should be capable of being altered by the members of the Party on the basis of one member, one vote, if 66%+ vote in favour of change.
There should be an Annual General Meeting of the Party to which all members are invited.
The Chairman of the Party should be responsible for the Party Organisation.
The Chairman and Treasurer of the Party should be elected by the members of the Party.
The Chairman of the Party should present an Annual Report on the Party organisation at the Annual General Meeting of the Party for adoption by the members.
The Treasurer of the Party should present the Annual Accounts of the Party to the Annual General Meeting for adoption by the members.
The Chairman of the Committee on Candidates should be elected by the members of the Party and should present a report on candidate selection at the Annual General Meeting of the Party.
The Chairman of the Council of the Conservative Policy Forum should be elected by the members of the Party and should present a report on the workings of the Forum at the Annual General Meeting of the Party.
Regional meetings of the Party, to which all members of the Party in the Region are invited, should be resurrected and meetings should be held at least twice a year.
Regional Chairmen should be elected by all members in their Region.
As part of the formal structure of the Party the Areas should be scrapped, although some Regions may wish to keep their Areas and can do so.
Motions for debate on policy should be allowed at the Party Conference.
Clause 17 of the current Party Constitution should be abolished.

The infamous clause 17 of the constitution states: “The Board shall have power to do anything which in its opinion relates to the management and administration of the Party


Anonymous said...

Certainly Lewis's article is just fantasy stuff.

Access to the Prime Minister? Why's he not being allowed to run candidates then?!

Truth is they're no nearer the Prime Minister than I am (and I'm not a member of any party).

Seymour Major said...

Remember "comical Ali" during the second gulf war?

Unfortunately, Tim Lewis sounds a bit like him. If the membership of the Conservative Party is 700, that means that it has increased by 75% since Irwin Armstrong became Chairman. I find that very hard to believe.

Worse than that, he implies that all is still, calm and bright in the relationship between the Central Conservatives and the NI Regional Party. The reality is that the Central Party has abused the regional party to such an extent that it is hard to see how a schism amongst NI Conservatives can be avoided.

Many inside the Northern Ireland party have, like me, argued for an independent party for Northern Ireland albeit without necessarily being in agreement with me about the proposed party's identity vis a vis the union.

One of the strongest arguments for an independent Conservative Party is conflict of interest. Ever since the Conservatives endorsed the joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, there has been one incident after another proving that point.

You might think it is the duty of a party official to keep people in the party together. However, this is an extraordinary situation. It is the political equivalent of an employer announcing redundancies and being under a duty to allow outgoing employees an opportunity to look for suitable alternative employment.

I have no doubt that Tim Lewis's article will have touched a few heartstrings. However, he is doing the Northern Ireland membership no service. Members need to have time and space to think about the future in the light of recent events.

What they need most of all is cool heads amongst our local officialdom and an informed internal debate which will help them decide what is best and right for them.

Dilettante said...

I hope the NI Conservatives maintain their fight for recognition and a role in the national party. Seymour and I have had our debate about a separate party on his website, and I continue to fervently hope it doesn't happen.

Jeff Peel said...

Unfortunately Tim has been duped before - he went along with the shambolic UCUNF debacle.

The local Conservative organisation lies in tattered ruins but to an extent it has itself to blame - as well as CCHQ. It should never have allowed itself to be shafted on the alter of the UUP (to mix my metaphors).