The Tyranny at the heart of the Conservative Party

Published in Daily Mail

Nadine Dorries 8I have never met Nadine Dorries, but I feel as though I have. She radiates the sort of plain-speaking, unstuffy approachability which is rapidly becoming rather attractive to the disaffected and disillusioned masses – if the Farage Factor is anything to go by. I listened intently to her speeches on abortion 18 months ago – in particular her plea for the utterly common-sense safeguard of separating ‘independent’, NHS-funded counselling from the profit-making abortion providers. I watched with sadness as she was predictably pilloried by the left-liberal media, but I was appalled when she was treated worse by some of her own parliamentary colleagues – simply for having the temerity to inject a little reason into the irrational consensus that constitutes our apparently immutable abortion settlement.

If I’d been in her abused shoes, I might have been tempted to jet off to spend a few weeks with Ant & Dec in the jungle myself, if only out of a preference for piranhas over politicians.

For the past six months Nadine Dorries has sat on the green benches whip-less, as an independent MP, stewing in political purgatory as a punishment for not seeking permission to munch on witchetty grubs and kangaroo testicles. It was a rather disproportionate punitive action, to my mind: her unscheduled absence may have merited a slap on the wrist, but she has endured half-a-year in the Tory Party Guantanamo – no habeas corpus and no trial by her peers; just an interminable, depressing and isolated exile of unknown and unknowable duration.

Now that she’s safely back in the Tory fold, I’m free to write on the more concerning – not to say sinister – aspect of this story.

ConservativeHome alluded to sources which were adamant that the party whips were not the reason for Nadine’s prolonged exclusion from the parliamentary party: ‘The block is coming from Downing Street – especially Number 11,’ they disclosed. ‘Regular observers of Tory politics will know that the Chancellor and Nadine Dorries do not have the best of relationships,’ they added, with a wink.

The Spectator corroborated: ‘George Osborne was widely reported to have been resisting requests from the whips to end Dorries’ exile,’ they nodded.

So, while an impromptu appearance in I’m A Celebrity may have justified the initial act of suspension, her protracted torture was apparently at the haughty whim of George Osborne. A healthy, rehabilitative punishment became a destructive, petty, malicious and vengeful retribution, meted out arbitrarily, with no consideration for natural justice. And all because she called the Prime Minister and Chancellor ‘two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk’ who have ‘no passion to want to understand the lives of others.’

Cameron Osborne 4You may not agree with her; you may find her an irritating, arrogant, opinionated harridan – a kind of reincarnation of Doris Karloff, as Ann Widdecombe was once known; or the Tory equivalent of the frightful Socialist-feminist Harriet Harman. But, like her or not, Nadine Dorries was approved by the Conservative Party as a parliamentary candidate; democratically selected by her local Conservative association; freely elected by the people of Mid-Bedfordshire; and she happens to articulate a number of opinions which resonate very widely within the party and without.

George Osborne may not like being called a ‘posh boy’, but there’s no escaping the fact that he is a public-school-educated baronet, with considerable hereditary privilege; very rich, and very well connected.

Nadine is the daughter of a bus driver. She was brought up on a Merseyside council estate, educated at her local comprehensive, and became a nurse. She grasps more than most that the current Tory leadership is ‘slightly disconnected from the rest of the people who are working very hard for true Conservative values and cause.’

And so she is cast as ‘Right-wing’, which basically means hysterical, swivel-eyed and slightly mentally imbalanced. She is obsessed with eccentric ‘fringe issues’ like abortion, gay marriage, immigration, the EU and religion (specifically Christianity). The current leadership might want rid of her simply because she holds an inconvenient mirror up to their vacuous metro-political posturing. She is hardly helping their process of ‘modernisation’ and ‘brand decontamination’.

But her disgraceful treatment by George Osborne is nothing new: indeed, the Conservative Party leadership is acquiring something of a reputation for summary injustice. Last year they exiled their co-treasurer, the generous philanthropist Peter Cruddas, without any consideration of the veracity (or otherwise) of the media furore surrounding him. He had become an embarrassment, and so was swiftly terminated. Lord Ashcroft made it clear at the time that ‘the party’s wider treatment of Mr Cruddas does it no credit.’ Charles Moore went further: ‘What bastards they can be,’ he said of the Tory hierarchy.

You see, like Nadine Dorries, Peter Cruddas wasn’t part of the elite: he is the son of an alcoholic taxi-driver from Hackney, who left school with no qualifications. He became a lowly bank clerk, but worked damned hard to become a self-made millionaire. No privilege, no power, no influential contacts.

To the Tory elite, Peter Cruddas is a ‘barrow boy'; Nadine Dorries is ‘Mad Nad.’ Both are to be pitied and patronised, and, in the final analysis, both are completely expendable.

But they were not the first to endure the worst, and without amendment to the Conservative Party’s constitution, they will not be the last.

I can empathise with the frustrated exasperation of both – that of total impotence against an omnipotent and unfeeling machine – because I’ve been there. I was one of the parliamentary candidates sacked in 2005 by Michael Howard (the day after Danny Kruger in Sedgefield and a week before Howard Flight in Arundel and South Downs). Charles Moore defended me in The Spectator and Telegraph, and William Rees-Mogg commented on my case in The Times. In some ways, as Charles observed, my dismissal was the more unjust of the three: I was sacked for having defended the Act of Settlement in The Spectator two years before I was selected as a parliamentary candidate, in articles which had been commissioned by Boris when he was a vice chairman of the party, and which had also been approved by the then chief whip, David Maclean.

I had cleared all hurdles of approval: I had not only been approved by CCHQ, but doubly-approved. I’ve even got a copy of a letter from Michael Howard telling one of my future constituents what a fine MP I would make. So when I was ordered to resign, I dug my heels in.

It did no good, of course. The Hague reforms to the party’s constitution give the leader supreme power: when you disagree with him – whatever the merits or moral force of your argument – you can expect swift retribution, especially if you’re not part of the elite.

And the party leader can ride roughshod over the democratic rights and devolved powers of local associations, basically because they have none. In order to get rid of me, CCHQ had to put the entire Slough Conservative Association into ‘support status’ (i.e., sack them en masse). As Daniel Hannan MEP observed at the time: ‘Unlike the deselections of Danny Kruger and Howard Flight, whose Associations were pressured into backing the leader’s decision, thus preserving a modicum of legality, Adrian Hilton was backed by his local party. The only way to drop him was to dissolve the Slough Conservatives. This seems to me the most worrying thing of all. If a leader can arbitrarily squash someone he dislikes, without due process, we are concentrating an enormous amount of power in one man’s hands.’

I received a lot of support and sympathy from members of the 1922 Committee, and have kept all the correspondence. I’m intrigued to read now that they think they’ve established a new rule to prevent any recurrence of such abuses of power. They haven’t: the constitution remains unchanged.

I took the Conservative Party to the High Court a few weeks before the 2005 General Election, in order to clarify precisely where power lies in relation to candidates. If Howard Flight wasn’t going to do it, I felt someone had to. And Mr Justice Butterfield determined in his judgment that local associations have no constitutional powers over candidate selection: the Conservative Party Board is omnipotent. Of course, the ’22 could cause the leader some media embarrassment, but according to legal precedent, the backbench group is as neutered as a local association when it comes to candidate selection or any quest for justice.

The Hague reforms rendered the Conservative Party an unincorporated association. They were brought in to ensure there could be no repeat of the Neil Hamilton affair of 1997, when Conservative Central Office wanted him deselected, but the local association wanted him to represent them. After months of wrangling and media embarrassment, the seat was won by former BBC journalist Martin Bell.

As a consequence, CCHQ now has central authority over every aspect of the party’s functioning, including the power to appropriate constituency assets and cash, along with the ultimate authority to determine who may or may not stand as a Conservative candidate. This overturned the historic view that the party had no legal existence as such, and local associations were free to select their candidates. CCO’s function in the process was simply to weed out the mad, the bad and the sad; and certainly not to advance a particular type of candidate (of preferred gender, race or sexuality) over any other. This local autonomy meant that MPs and prime ministers had to woo and charm the party membership: now they can dismiss them with impunity as ‘dinosaurs’, ‘backwoodsmen’ or the ‘Turnip Taliban’.

No wonder Conservative Party membership is declining faster than the Church of England.

In a speech last year, David Cameron said: ‘I run an institution – the Conservative Party…’ This is something Margaret Thatcher could and would never have said: she was mindful and respectful of the party’s essentially ‘bottom-up’ democratic structure, having risen herself through it ranks on merit. David Cameron, despite all his Big-Society rhetoric of localism and devolution, is essentially a ‘top-down’ Tory, like George Osborne. Both have risen through privilege and networks of elite contacts.

There is no longer any separation of powers within the party by which natural justice may be dispensed. CCHQ is the office of the leader, and the Board is his executive arm. The autocracy is exacerbated when you elevate one of your best friends to the House of Lords and make him co-Chairman of the party. When grievances arise, the Board alone is tasked with determining whether volunteers (however senior) have been fairly treated or not. Like the military in Guantanamo, they act as interrogators, prosecutors, judges, and appeal judges. And when death sentences are imposed by the leader (or his elite friends), as executioners.

The trials are all held in private. In my case, I was not permitted to be accompanied, and the panel which sat in judgment upon me included those who sought my removal, and they called witnesses I could not cross-examine. Charles Moore referred to it as a ‘kangaroo Spanish Inquisition.’ Certainly, none of the guarantees of a fair trial were or need be observed: the Conservative Party has become a law unto itself, and we all know what Lord Acton said about absolute power.

The costs of pursuing justice within the Conservative Party are considerable – financially, physically and emotionally. I’m obviously now just a footnote to the 2005 General Election, but it’s a footnote with profoundly disturbing and manifestly ongoing consequences for people like Nadine Dorries and Peter Cruddas. Until the metro-political privileged elite stop treating associations like local franchises; until they open up the party structure so that ordinary members are once again empowered democratically to participate fully within the party; and until they restore natural justice to the heart of the constitution, there will be no Tory revival.

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  • Never Again

    What an absolute eye opener. This makes very grim reading and to be perfectly frank it strengthens my resolution to never vote tory again. The popular comment of calling the electorate ‘plebs’ is frighteningly real by this account. Why on earth do people stay in this draconian institution?

  • Alfred

    If the head feeds at the expense of the body, the body will wither and die, shortly followed by the head. This is what is happening to the party that used to be conservative. There might be a “Tory Revival” but it will be outside of this party.
    As Paul said The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

  • Dave P

    This would have some meaning if Dorries had not abandoned all pretence of performing as an MP (of any party) to garner her z list celebrity by going to the jungle. She may have had the whip restored – selection as candidate at GE2015 may not be so simple – it is her constituents she let down. Pure and simple.
    This article is the worst sort of whining by someone who feels he was wronged but has been proved in court not to have been. Dorries should read this article and hope she is never in the position to appear as needy and totally beaten as you appear.
    Just once tories may understand loyalty – class, privilege, education are immaterial – you stand as a TORY, be loyal and you may find that returned. If you can’t be loyal, leave, don’t snipe – that is what whinging cowards do from the sidelines. You fail to learn this and Dorries is in danger of heading the same way.
    Much worse though is the damage you do to a party you apparently support – do you/Dorries really think that is beneficial? Are you really tories? Why didn’t you stand as Independents (oh, because you wouldn’t have been elected)? Grow a pair, you stood as tories perform as tories or leave.
    Here’s a tip – UKIP – that is where the clowns hang out! Beware though, no party will ever be totally comfortable with a traitor of any kind.

  • http://www.timeless-architect.com Philip Rock

    Thank you, and I am so grateful for this account which explains much to me. I have always voted Conservative (41 years) but at the last election I was seriously looking in another direction, not least because even whilst in the USA from 2000 to 2006 I felt that my party was not doing its job as it should. I now put this down to Hague’s strange method of leading the opposition while facing Blair’s government across the floor of the House.
    It was Cameron’s cast iron lie made before the election and which, in partnership with my fears of Labour winning and going on to wreck further my country, ensured that I did not vote for another. From approximately 2 weeks after the last general election I was coming to see that I had made a mistake, and from then on for the next 12 months or so the downhill slope became forever steeper. The EU referendum and other EU matters were one thing, but the changes and differences in the Conservative party that I thought I knew, yet could not explain, perplexed me. The party I had always voted for was a “Conservative” party, and had traditionally been this country’s saviour after ruinous Labour governments. The new character of the party gave rise in me to a justified hatred of most things they do on a daily basis, and now I will never ever vote for my old party again. It has been awful reaching this stage and at the same time wondering why, and wondering what disease has stricken it, whether it was just another case of fresh faced school leavers getting into too high and responsible a job too soon, or whether it is just the ‘politician’ disease to blame? Well now I believe I know, and I thank you for that. RIP to the Conservatives.
    I believe it is now more important to worry about how to ensure that UKIP become a responsible replacement for the old Conservative party, and one that perhaps can even avoid the old ball and chain that the Conservative party has traditionally suffered from – Cameron and his toffs will be a big help in that. Bring it on Cameron, get the whole of you stupid narrow minded schoolchildren friend to your side – anything to help the UKIP cause!! The more insults and schoolboy slanders of UKIP from Cameron the better!

  • Bill

    Why don’t you stand for UKIP?

  • john david

    excellent article what the posh boys are actually doing is blocking the new blood the party needs to survive in the current climate,posh boys are so far removed from todays society and worst of all they think they can carry on as they always have done the need for change in the party has never been so acute

  • http://hiltonblog.dailymail.co.uk/ Adrian Hilton

    Dave P – Thanks, but you clearly haven’t understood the more nuanced points of the article. This isn’t about any particular individual: it’s about a centralised, authoritarian constitution which has removed all checks and balances from its quasi-judicial functioning. You insist that candidates should be ‘loyal’, and with that I agree. But isn’t loyalty a contract? If the second party reneges on their pledge, what moral compulsion can there be upon the other party to sustain theirs? Ad hominem doesn’t advance any argument, so all your personal remarks against me add nothing. Try to work out why people like Lord Ashcroft and Charles Moore feel the way they do (and have written as they have) about the party’s treatment of Peter Cruddas. Or are they just being ‘disloyal’ or ‘bitter’, too?
    Bill – Because I’m a Conservative, and that’s the only party which is likely to form an administration to deliver an in/out referendum :o)

  • Never Again

    Adrian: ‘Because I’m a Conservative, and that’s the only party which is likely to form an administration to deliver an in/out referendum’ ============= I see you certainly are a conservative, but nowadays that means ‘out of touch with the electorate’. The conservatives are finished in Britain. Cameron has finished them.

  • Jim New Lewisham

    It seems that during the early 2000’s, a group of young Tory MP’s and advisers, literally hijacked The Conservative Party, not because of ideological principles but for simple, mutual self advancement. The actual Conservative Party itself, has been used like a Shell Company or Flag of Convenience. David Cameron, George Osborne and those, long time friends, they have brought in, seem to mainly believe in themselves, each other plus whatever is convenient to maintain their power. I believe The Conservative Party needs the sort of overhaul that Labour performed in The 1980’s but young, glamorous and slick, is not the same as modern, evolved and egalitarian. Party membership is falling and even people like me who are passionate about politics and believe in democracy and our system of government are not inspired or are too apathetic to join a political party. What is clear, is that democracy needs leaders and MP’s who are of the people, from different backgrounds and experience. We need politicians who’s ideals and passion come from personal experience, in their neighborhoods and workplaces not University Clubs, Union Offices or some exclusive social circle.

  • Norman P Yardy

    Theres just no ‘INTEGRITY’ in politics, is there Adrian?

  • George C.

    Is it any wonder that the Conservatives are losing members and support to another party of the right?

  • teresa

    Agreed with the point of the article but – having heard Dorries interviewed last night on Newsnight concerning the referendum amendment – I was struck at her dissimulation on the subject. She was anything BUT plain speaking – taking a strong anti-EU position but then repeatedly asserting she was simply representing the views of her constituents in doing so. She cannot know the views of her tens of thousands of constituents on this issue so to claim she doing no more than representing them is disingenuous. Disappointing from an MP who usually speaks very much for herself.

  • Rex

    2 more years (unless they are ejected) of Osborne & Cameron, over which time more and more people will see just how autocratic and unpleasant they are. There is nothing (believable) they could do or say to recapture my vote, so thank goodness there is UKIP to turn to. They are probably beside themselves that the ‘posh-boys’ tag has stuck and trying to talk ‘mockney’ from time to time doesn’t fool the public either.