David Cameron seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told his MPs to ignore the views of their constituencies in deciding how to vote in the EU referendum and I am not surprised. A parliamentary election campaign needs two things: money and canvassers. For many MPs, both of these are supplied by the local constituency association. To learn that their views on the EU issue are to be ignored is not going to enthuse many Conservative associations and there may be some MPs out there who are nervously thinking about the next General Election and how much support they can expect. This is not their only worry because Cameron is planning to downsize the House of Commons at the same time he equalizes the sizes of constituencies to eliminate the Labour rotten boroughs that have given Labour an unfair advantage for too long. Thus there will be wholesale boundary reviews and MPs wishing to stand again will need friends if they are to secure the offer of a seat in the new parliament and they will need supporters to go out and knock on doors for them as well as stuff envelopes and write out cheques to pay for the local party machine.
I gave the Conservative Party 24 years of my life as a county councillor and a political campaigner and I have judged that is enough. The standing down of Tony Baldry as our MP was the end of an era for me and marked the time when I decided to opt for a quieter life. I don’t expect to knock on another voter’s door or wreck my hands stuffing leaflets through vicious letter boxes or stand in freezing weather outside a polling station. I will pay my annual sub to the Party and that will be about it apart from an occasional rant on this Blog! Despite making this decision pretty clear, it does not stop the party machine bombarding me with begging letters. At the moment it is to go to Party Conference in Birmingham this year. When that subsides it will be to support the Party financially. During election time, I will get endless requests to travel miles to canvass in a strange and politically hostile place or to telephone canvass from my own home. Well at coming close to 70 years of age, I think I deserve a rest and I know I am going to take one!
But what to do about this arrogant disregard for the views of the grassroots of the Party? For the constituency associations that pay for the campaign machine and provide the shock troops to get Conservatives elected? Well there is one little idea in my mind. My own Association has its Annual General Meeting later on in this month and so will other constituencies up and down the country. I suggest Party members up and down the country demand an item on their AGM Agenda to debate the EU Referendum and to give advice to their MP. MPs are representatives and not delegates so their constituencies cannot mandate them but they can make their views very clearly known and then see whether their MP listens to them or their Party Leader! There could be some interesting debates in the next few weeks among Conservative activists and this could turn the usually turgid and, thankfully, short AGMs into a good spectator sport! Not to mention a means of giving Members of Parliament some food for thought!