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"
"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 Emails 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.