EXCL Theresa May faces Tory grassroots backlash over draft party rulebook changes
Tory activists have warned Theresa May she could face a grassroots revolt if the party pushes ahead with proposed changes that appear to strip local associations of key powers.
A new set of draft rules appears to completely wipe out the role of local Tory associations in choosing new parliamentary candidates and instead proposes more control for the Conservative HQ.
One top MP said the direction of travel seemed “entirely wrong” while councillors piled in with complaints and a grassroots Tory group warned that association chairs could quit en masse.
It comes after the central Tory office sparked rows across the country by parachuting candidates into constituencies ahead of the June general election.
A new draft Conservative constitution published by grassroots website ConservativeHome yesterday completely removes the section of the rulebook about local associations selecting new MP hopefuls.
Instead, a new paragraph says CCHQ's Committee on Candidates will decide the rules over selections for prospective MPs, police commissioners, mayors and other local government positions.
The Committee on Candidates is the organisation accused of riding roughshod over the local process at the June election as the Tories scrabbled to put a list of candidates together.
Tory MP and ex-minister Robert Halfon - responding to PoliticsHome after first seeing reports of the proposals - said: “The direction of travel appears at first sight to be entirely wrong.”
He added: “We should create a mass membership party by democratising the party, allowing members to vote individually for party board and chair of the convention and on policy proposals.
“Our party should be modelled on a cooperative and act as a modern trade union, providing valued services to members and empowering members to take control.”
'WE DON'T LIKE YOU'
Ed Costelloe, the chair of the Grassroots Conservative campaign, said the proposals would “cause more and more distress and potentially resignations”.
He told PoliticsHome: “Ordinary members who work their socks off doing coffee mornings and rubber-chicken dinners and everything else to raise funds start to wonder what on earth they are in it for.
“They simply don’t recognise the central part of the party as having any concept of what the party locally is about.”
He warned that membership could plummet, and added: “The party itself seems to be doing everything it can to say to ordinary folk: ‘Forget it, we don’t like you’.”
Matthew Follows, a councillor and Tory communications officer for the party in Walsall - one of the areas where the selection process for the June election provoked anger - also hit out at the proposals, despite praising his local MP Eddie Hughes.
“These new proposals do little to address the frustrations of party members in an increasingly remote selection process,” he told PoliticsHome.
“Members and activists on the ground are best placed to understand the sort of candidate they need to win elections. Members need to be empowered and encouraged to play a more active role in the party.”
An association chair and councillor in another constituency where a selection row exploded ahead of the June vote also hit out at the proposals.
"Judging what happened previously in the last general election there will be a good number of dissatisfied local members,” the source said.
“My best guess is that they would be dissatisfied that some of their power and their authority will be taken away from them.”
But Geoff Hill, a councillor and chair of Theresa May's local association in Maidenhead, was unperturbed at the prospect of local party groups being stripped of their selection powers.
“We have such a great MP in Theresa May, our Prime Minister, that I haven’t troubled myself with the new rules around the selecting parliamentary candidates,” he told PoliticsHome.
The Conservative party failed to comment by the time of publication.