Fear of grassroots Tory rebellion as MPs are kicked out until next election | conservatives

ANDagain the Conservatives revolted against their own party? One MP, who was recently warned that he could be deposed by a local association before the next election, fears that may be the case.

“In general, we are not a group of activists who take people away,” lamented the MP. “It’s just not the Tory way – we like to leave it all to Labour.”

The MP wants to remain anonymous for the time being, hoping that the selection committee meeting will go their way. But for three sitting Tories the ax has already fallen, most notably Damian Green, formerly Theresa May’s deputy prime minister but now in grave danger of being left without a seat.

There are obvious dangers in guessing a pattern from so few cases, and some party veterans say the recent rejection of Green, as well as two 2019 MPs, Theo Clarke and Sally-Ann Hart, is nothing more than business as usual within the party as as brutal as the Labor Party on such matters, though usually quieter about it.

But there are some new factors at play. One is the Conservative Democratic Organization (CDO), founded by key Boris Johnson allies Peter Cruddas, a businessman and Tory, and former MEP David Campbell Bannerman.

In addition to pushing for a radical, member-centered reorganization of the party with a directly elected chairman, the CDO also wants local members to have much more influence over candidate selection.

Some reports portray the CDO as Johnson’s front organization, exploiting the anger of members still devoted to the former prime minister to wreak revenge on the MPs who helped overthrow him.

Campbell Bannerman says this is a misreading of his actual mission: to restore autonomy to the candidate selection system too often used by the Conservative central office to parachute former ministerial advisers and thus remove MPs who are doing poorly.

“In the old days, the job of the headquarters was to eliminate the bad, crazy and sad, not to attempt a social engineering selection of candidates,” he said.

“We take no credit for awarding any single MP with poor performance. But we take credit for allowing members to make their own decisions. And that’s an important distinction.”

Another complication is that the next elections will take place within the revised constituency boundaries, with many seats changing shape and some disappearing altogether.

For example, Green was not turned down by the Ashford constituency he had represented since 1997, but when he sought to run for a new seat in the Weald of Kent, which includes part of his current constituency.

A number of party sources dismiss the idea that Green lost because Johnson-loving members saw him as hostile to the former prime minister, arguing instead that they wanted a fresh start – and that some believed Green had come to the selection with the expectation that he would be elected.

Similarly, there is no evidence that Clarke or Hart are victims of the Johnsonist conspiracy. Clarke, MP for Stafford, linked her cancellation to recent maternity leave rejected by local party chairman.

Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, was dismissed earlier this month. While the reasons have not been made public, it is understood that this is related to local party factors, including a faction of members having another preferred candidate. Rejected MPs can apply for a full membership vote, which Clarke and Hart do.

Uncovering common threads is all the more difficult because often a small number of people are involved in the initial selection decisions made by a committee consisting of representatives of the local areas of the association.

“It can be up to 20 people, but it’s often much less,” said one local constituency mayor. Since we don’t have many members and not everyone shows up, a fairly small number of people can have a disproportionate impact. So maybe get a little dirty.”

But there are certainly those who believe local Tory members have become more interventionist and rebellious, which is perhaps unsurprising in a party whose MPs have ousted three prime ministers in less than four years.

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And while there are few visible signs of an orchestrated plot against MPs perceived as betraying Johnson, local chairmen routinely report that he remains extremely popular with members, with considerable concern over his removal.

It cannot be ignored, said Campbell Bannerman, although Rishi Sunak and his team might wish: “It seems No. 10 is getting wet due to the fact that Boris is a factor in these decorations. They try to vehemently deny it and almost say it’s just the members who are terrible.

“But there are a lot of factors, including MPs’ performance, and simply that members don’t like being railroads.”

The MP, who could be dismissed by his local party, said it had been made clear to him that his support for Johnson’s removal was a key reason.

“I have nothing against this man. Only because of the damage he was doing to the party, said the MP. “However, some members – and it doesn’t take many to cause trouble – are now pursuing me for alleged treason. If we turn into a party where that happens, I’m not sure I want to be a part of it.”

Other party observers, however, are skeptical that we are witnessing a major awakening of the Tory grassroots.

The local party chairman dismissed the CDO’s role as “excessive and mostly on Twitter”, adding: “It can be a rough game and it can be fixed, there are seams. But is there some kind of membership rebellion? I don’t think so.

Another veteran Tory senior said very similar events had also taken place before the 2017 and 2019 elections, but these were polls where many candidates were elected or rejected at a rapid pace.

“There has always been a sense that members want a say and it is not uncommon for them to reject their preferred candidate from the central office,” they said. “But this time we see all these dramas as individual episodes played out in time. In 2017 and 2019, people just didn’t notice.”

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