Sunday, September 09, 2018

Choosing the Leader of the Conservative Party

I am an enthusiastic supporter of Theresa May. I hope she remains as Conservative Leader and Prime Minister for the foreseeable future. Though I do accept that “foreseeable” could have a variety of interpretations! Delivering a referendum result when many on the losing side refuse to accept the result is a near impossible task. It needs a high level resilience and bloodymindedness to lead in such circumstances, especially when the noises off are high volume. Our current Prime Minister is the best person to lead us through this challenge. Even though I might think it self defeating idiocy, I accept that there are others thinking about how to engineer a leadership contest, and thinking about how it should be organised.

I’ve also read reports suggesting that Leave supporters are being encouraged to join the Conservative Party in preparation for such a leadership vote. Supposedly they are going to “flood” the party with new members. Some MPs are concerned about this - mainly because of what happened to the Labour Party, bringing Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership. Personally, I’m keen to welcome anyone who wants to join our party - unless we know their main intention is to enter to spread poison. Let’s welcome them in. 

I just don’t see a problem. The Conservative Party has rules to make it difficult for a Trojan horse to succeed. Since the process was changed while William Hague was the leader, Party members choose between two MPs put forward by MPs themselves.  Previously just MPs had chosen the Leader. I agreed with this process then, and do so now. There is some noise about changing the rules to make it easier for certain candidates. I do not agree with this. Changes should be considered only after very careful research and for a good reason - not just to help any individual.
The Conservative Party does not have the mass membership that has been the case in the past. The official figures are said to be not that much over 100,000. It’s important that those members, without whom we would have no party at all, should  have a say in choosing the Leader. But I believe it’s also important that those who know the candidates well, having worked with them and watched them operate under pressure should also have a say. Leaving the choice of Leader to a comparatively small membership would indeed open up the risk of being swamped by a sudden influx of new recruits – the very thing that happened in the Labour Party which brought Jeremy Corbyn to the Leadership. 
There is therefore a strong case to create the right balance between representative and direct decision-making. MPs are elected to make decisions on our behalf. Party members also have an important role, one of the most important of which is to have a major say in choosing an individual who might be best placed to govern the nation, based on long and personal acquaintance with the candidates as well as knowing their views. As William Hague has said, “if you remove the gatekeepers from a political system, you have no idea what is going to come through the gate”.
But the worst of all arguments is to change the system by which we elect our leader in order to favour a particular candidate or particular outcome in the short term. This will never turn out as expected. 
The more people who take part in choosing their representatives, the better across all tiers of government. But those elected Leader will be stronger and more effective if they have strong support from those who know them best.7

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