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Fixing the Tories

Kevan James

February 17, 2024

The by-elections held on Thursday February 15, 2024 both produced what has been described as ‘shock’ wins for Labour. Both were also described as Reform UK’s big chance to make a difference.


Reform first. The party’s leader Richard Tice has been quoted as saying he is ‘delighted’ with the results. But they didn’t win, did they? Not even close. A distant third is nothing to shout about if you have pretensions of forming a UK government.


If Reform are really serious, they will have to up their performance by a distance, otherwise they will be nothing more than a receptacle for a small minority of disaffected voters. Whether they have the right policies and so on is a debate for another time, but both in Wellingborough and Kingswood, Reform do not appear to be the answer to the UK’s problems of governance.


What of Labour? Party leader Sir Keir Starmer predictably trumpeted much about ‘the country wanting a changed Labour party in government.’ But does it?

Not on turnouts of 37.1% and 38.1% it doesn’t.


61.9% and 62.9% of voters did not vote, at all.

If enough of them had, and voted Labour, Starmer may have had a point. Labour’s vote share however, was pretty much the same as it always has been – a minority.


Labour has a numerically substantial and dedicated hard core of people who will always turn out and vote for the party, no matter what. But it is still a minority and by some margin. Put another way, Labour never ‘win’ elections, local or national. Elections are lost to them by the others, primarily the Conservatives.

They are so because of those who do not vote.


That can, and has been regularly, upset by others, the Greens, the SNP in Scotland and to a lesser degree, Plaid Cymru in Wales, along with Independent candidates. But this doesn’t alter one essential fact – the UK is, by nature, habit and history, more inclined towards Conservatism than any other.

Yet the Tories have deep-seated problems, problems that have roots going back decades. So how does one fix those? Indeed, can they be fixed?


The answer is yes. They can.

But it will take a sea change in attitude, application, dedication and some hard work to do it.


Most people tend to focus on the House of Commons and its MPs. How does one become a Conservative MP?

Mostly, candidates are selected by local associations. Those who wish to be considered are usually active members, turning up for meetings and so on. Sometimes not however – even so, when a vacancy arises, anybody can put their name forward and all are interviewed by the association committee. Who the committee recommends is then put to the association members, a vote taken and the winning candidate announced.


The waters are muddied however by the current Tory methodology.

Conservative Central Office (CCHQ), maintain an ‘approved’ list of potential candidates and to be considered by a local association, one has to attend CCHQ and pass their requirements first. Once done, one can offer oneself to a local association.

That’s any local association, anywhere in the country. Even if you don’t live there, work there and have never been there.


That of itself is something of an oddity but things are complicated even more by CCHQ being able to impose its own preferred candidate, overriding any wishes local associations might have.

Local associations then (usually) meekly acquiesce and who CCHQ wants, gets the nod.


In case you wonder how I know by the way, I’ve done it. Or more accurately, had a go.

Granted there may have been some minor changes since my time but, now many years ago, I called the Surrey Heath constituency, where the then-MP had been de-selected. The first question asked was, “Are you on the official list?”


The list was in its infancy at the time, having been introduced by David Cameron, newly elected as party leader.

I’d never heard of it…list? What list?

So I duly went to CCHQ and was interviewed there. One of the questions asked was, ‘would I go against the wishes of the party leadership?’

My answer was yes - if a majority of my (potential) constituency members wished me to.

That would be my primary function; to serve my constituents.

I passed the requirements of the time and thought about it some more.


Surrey Heath also wanted an MP with Cabinet potential.


It’s not something that interested me greatly, I would have been content to be a backbencher and look after those who elected me. So I declined any further interest and Michael Gove became Surrey Heath’s MP.

Since I’m not interested in touting myself up and down the country, and would rather serve a constituency that I live or work in or at least have some knowledge of (and I know Surrey Heath quite well) I haven’t taken the matter any further.


So, getting back on track, that’s pretty much how a Tory MP gets to be one.

The involvement of CCHQ is where the first question arises. Granted there have been the occasional odd selections in the past (the same applies to Labour) which is why David Cameron introduced the list. Like Blair before him, he also wanted to increase the number of women and minority group MPs.


Admirable enough but interference in areas often remote from CCHQ isn’t the way to do it.

The best candidate should be selected and by the local association, regardless of whom they are – straight, gay, whatever.


And therein lays the key – the local association.

Whilst there may be numerically a good number of members, for the most part those who attend the regular meetings, get elected as chairman and committee members, usually come from the same few.

And they can be there for years. Mostly because the majority are content to be members but they don’t want to be there very month, don’t want to trudge the streets knocking on doors and so on.


It’s understandable, at least up to a point. But ask yourself – have those long-standing and relatively few, active members really done right by everybody?

Given the performance of so many MPs, the answer has to be no.


So while the obvious answer to getting rid of poorly performing MPs is to ‘vote them out’ who do you replace them with - Labour? That’s the usual result.


What needs to happen is for there to be a big upsurge in local party active membership, with new people standing against the current committee membership and (if the big upsurge is big enough) electing new committees.


New committees that will subscribe to a new way of doing things; including requiring candidates for the job of MP to serve their constituents and not themselves; to actually listen to those they serve and act for them.


To be scrupulously honest; to have had some real-life, working experience behind them, paying their bills and fretting over how much money they might have at the end of the month. To end the concept of ‘career’ MPs, who enter parliament in their mid-twenties and stay there for the next 40 years or more, never having done anything except be an MP; to apply for the job as an MP somewhere in your mid-forties and serve for about twenty years or so before standing down.

And if not, be subject to de-selection.


On top of that, collectively, across the country, inform CCHQ that it is not their place to dictate to local areas as to who their MP will be.


The starting point to fixing the Conservative party’s problems is at local level.

Remember –

You don’t have to simply accept who is foisted upon you, so get involved.

You may not be interested in politics, but politics will be interested in you

and bad governments are elected by people who do not vote.





© Kevan James 2024

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