Local members fight ‘power grab’ by
Grassroots Conservatives demand May scraps plans to remove right to select parliamentary candidates
THERESA MAY is facing a grassroots revolt over a planned overhaul of the Conservative Party’s rules, which senior activists claim will “seize power” from Tory associations and lead to increased “dictation from the centre”.
Under proposed changes to the party’s constitution, local members will lose an enshrined right to select their own prospective MPs, with power vested in a central committee instead.
In a letter to the Prime Minister this weekend, senior activists warn that the “cavalier” reforms amount to a power grab by the party’s London headquarters and will lead to the Tories losing grassroots members.
David Campbell Bannerman, a Tory MEP and patron of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, said the changes to candidate selection would allow associations to be “steamrollered” in the manner of “panicky” selections made ahead of last year’s election.
The letter’s signatories, who include John Strafford, the chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, Don Porter, a former chairman of the party’s national convention, and Ed Costelloe, chairman of the Grassroots Conservatives group, also highlight the proposed deletion of any mention of “constituency” in references to “constituency associations”, in a draft revised constitution circulated in December. The move, designed to rec- ognise the merging of associations into multi-constituency groupings, would “break the vital link between constituencies and their MPs” and, along with the proposed changes to candidate selection rules, risk “destroying” the party, the letter warns.
The proposals are due to be discussed at the party’s national convention – effectively the parliament for volunteers – in May.
Party officials said the draft reflected feedback from grassroots figures and amounted to “small changes” designed to “bring us into the 21st century”, up- dating a constitution dating back two decades and “strengthening” the role of volunteers. A new draft is due to be published by the spring.
However, some senior activists said they feared that vesting power for candidate selection with the Candidates Committee could lead to officials primarily choosing “yes men and women” representing the “mirror images” of the party’s current leadership.
In the letter to Mrs May, Mr Campbell Bannerman, Mr Porter and Mr Strafford, along with 18 current and former association officers, state: “We believe the reforms will be the nail in the coffin to membership of our party, and are badly conceived.
“We urge you to step in to stop these cavalier reforms, which will only serve to strengthen the position of unelected officials at CCHQ at the expense of hardworking and dedicated local associations and their members. The Party needs more democracy and local control, not increasing centralisation and dictation from the centre.”
Rob Semple, the chairman of the Conservative National Convention, and deputy chairman of the party’s
board, said: “These claims are inaccurate and misrepresent the current process of reviewing the party’s constitution.”
A new draft will be subject to “extensive consultation” after being published in the spring, he added.
“But I can reassure members that there are no plans under discussion to abolish constituency associations or their role in selecting candidates.
“A draft will be published shortly and will be subject to extensive consultation and a vote of the National Conservative Convention members.”
‘We believe the reforms will be the nail in the coffin to membership of our party, and are badly conceived’