Cameron’s Conservative Party, Con-coctions and Torydiddles: internal party democracy (The Fib List No. 1) #toryfail

Look at the websites of local Conservative parties the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and you will find the following claim:

“the Conservative Party is now the most democratic political party in the UK”

From Chipping Barnet to Epping, from Maidstone to Aberdeen, Tory websites flaunt the party’s democratic credentials.

Democracy is a term derived from the Greek terms dêmos and krátos: people and power. You would therefore reasonably expect that, if you were a member of the most democratic party in the UK, the constitution and mechanisms of the party would enshrine decision-making power with its members.

Interesting then to read the following in the Daily Mail (not usually a paper regarded as hostile to the Conservative Party):

Mr Cameron, frustrated in his attempts to change the male, middle-class image of the Conservative Party, took emergency powers last month which allow him to impose short-lists of ‘suitable’ candidates on reluctant local party activists.

Until then, local associations had been allowed to make their own broad selection of possible candidates and send a short-list to Conservative Central Office for approval.Inevitably, Central Office would add some of their own candidates for the final list, but at least the local party had some say in the matter.

But under the new emergency powers, Central Office can impose its own short-list on any local association, leaving longstanding members with no say whatsoever.

This draconian  measure has incensed local party members up and down the country, triggering a wave of protests and resignations which is in danger of spilling over into a civil war with devastating implications for Mr Cameron.”

This is clearly a very particular and expert understanding of democracy shared by David Cameron, the Conservative Party and Kim Jong-il (the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

But perhaps that is just candidates and, with a General Election approaching, perhaps we should cut Cameron some slack if he thinks his party doesn’t yet look right and instead decides to act decisively. Of course, you might think it a little hypocritical for an Eton-educated millionaire white male Conservative to be fixing selections because the likely candidate of choice of local associations isn’t representative of modern Britain, and it doesn’t say much about his confidence in these local associations, but perhaps I am being ungenerous.

So what of policy? If the Conservative Party is the most democratic in the United Kingdom (“and possibly the Western World” if you listen to bonkers Maidstone and the Weald) you would expect a robust mechanism of participation where members decide policy.

Er, no.

Have a look at the agenda for the last Conservative conference. When it comes to policy, members are excluded from decision-making. They receive presentations, hear speeches and get to take part in panel-discussions. Things looked up in 2006 when, with polished politico-spin, they announced a “Dragon’s Den-style” session:

“Tory candidates mimic the TV series by pitching their policy ideas to Ms Widdecombe and other ‘dragons’.

There will also be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style ask-the-audience electronic votes on conference motions.”

Admirer as I am of Mrs Widdecombe, she isn’t the first person who springs to mind when I think of modern Britain. Anyway, the reality wasn’t quite so straightforward. Conservative Home had the real story:

“At the end of the session, conference will vote for the policy they would most like to see included in the Party’s policy review and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel.”

That’s it folks… You get a chance to vote on what you would like to see included (not decide) – and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel!

Whoa! Careful! Ordinary members might end up making a submission to a review! One at least.

Contrast that with the Liberal Democrats.

Candidates are selected by local parties. One member one vote. Simple. Democracy in action. (The Liberal Democrats openly share their full constitution on the web.)

Policy is made by its members. Local parties submit motions. Local parties elect delegates. The delegates vote. Simple. Democracy in action. The full process is laid out on the party’s website.

Cameron is attempting to make the appeal that they are not the same old Tories. The mendacious claims on local Tory websites across Britain will do nothing to give people confidence that his are people who say what they mean.

They don’t.

As a footnote, take a look at the Conservative Party website.

Notice something?

There is no obvious search function. You see exactly what they want you to see and nothing else – no rooting around to find out what you want to know. Be in no doubt – this is a party of centralisers and controllers who place a premium on slick presentation and encourage creative input only so long as it doesn’t rock the Cameron boat. “We know better than you” is a sentiment that Conservatives cannot shake, no matter how hard they try.

Don’t say we weren’t warned.

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