Tue, 16 July 2024

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Lord Diary: Lord Cormack

3 min read

For the first time in over two years I feel hopeful. Rishi Sunak has indeed brought a smile to my face and – after the two most memorable (and for all the wrong reasons) years in my 52 in Parliament – I have a spring in my step.

These two years have been humiliating for the Conservative Party and, far more importantly, for the country and I have felt bound to say, on a number of occasions, that I have been ashamed of my party and for my country. I joined the Party in the autumn of 1956 – the time of Suez and of the Hungarian Uprising. I was in sixth form when I became badly bitten by the political bug. Of course, in those days political parties were mass movements and there were, if I remember correctly, around two million paid up Conservatives in the country. When I became chairman of the Lincolnshire Young Conservatives, some four years later, the under-30s were numbered in their hundreds in the Louth Constituency alone.

After I graduated and became a schoolmaster, my sights were set on Westminster. At my third attempt I was elected in 1970 and have been in Parliament ever since. I remember vividly debates leading up to, and following, our joining what was then the Common Market; the three-day week and the miners’ strike that brought down Heath’s government; the Winter of Discontent that did the same for Callaghan; the Thatcher years, with the up of the Falklands and the down of the Poll Tax. But never at any stage did I feel that things were as hopeless as they became during the last two years as we were plunged into chaos, not least because of the antics of the buccaneering Boris Johnson and, more recently, by the ineptitude of Liz Truss.

It is profoundly unpatriotic to paralyse government while a tiny, unrepresentative section of the electorate is consulted

I now feel much more reassured, more optimistic that the political sun will rise again. However I am all too conscious that my own party, through its absurd rules, created a wholly unnecessary period of crisis. Rishi Sunak entered Downing Street on 25 October. Had it been left to Conservative MPs he would have had his feet well under the prime ministerial desk by the 25 July, his new Cabinet in place. This summer’s pantomime, when a long drawn-out leadership contest was conducted among paid-up members of the Conservative Party put our government into suspended animation for seven weeks. This must never be allowed to happen again. There may be a case (although I don’t myself favour it) for allowing a wider vote when the leader of the opposition is being chosen but when it is the office of prime minister that is at stake it is profoundly unpatriotic to paralyse government while a tiny, unrepresentative section of the electorate is consulted. The 80,000 or so of those who voted for Liz Truss imposed a leader on the parliamentary party that the parliamentary party itself had rejected.

I have been banging on about this since it became clear that Boris Johnson could not survive as prime minister and I shall continue to do so until the rules have been changed. If the Party hierarchy want to provide a constructive role for the members, give them the chance to elect the Party chair. 

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Cormack - Forensic: Lord Cormack reviews Peter Hennessy’s 'Land of Shame and Glory'