Magazine article The Spectator

How to Breed Poodles

Magazine article The Spectator

How to Breed Poodles

Article excerpt

Conservative MPs and candidates have spent the last four years campaigning against two connected evils of the Labour style of government. In innumerable speeches and press releases, they have stood up for local and national democracy, and against the tendency of the government to centralise power and to hand it over to quangocrats, bureaucrats and officials in Brussels. They have also launched countless philippics against Labour's love of the target and the quota, and all manner of diktat from Whitehall.

It is quite incredible, therefore, that the Tory hierarchy is now proposing reforms of the party that are not only anti-democratic but which impose, for the first time in the history of British democracy, a series of demented Stalinist tick-box productivity targets on MPs. In so far as the changes announced on Tuesday are intelligible, they would seem to take away the last vestige of sovereignty and autonomy that has traditionally resided with local associations. Candidates or MPs can now be purged by the 'Board' of the Conservative party, a collection of the nomenklatura, most of them unelected, so formalising the mechanism that was used with such brutal effect in the run-up to the last election.

Angry Conservatives bit their tongues this spring at the treatment of Danny Kruger, Adrian Hilton and Howard Flight. There was an election to fight, and the higher cause was unquestionably the removal of Tony Blair. No one now need exercise any such compunction, especially since Michael Howard has explicitly called for a wide-ranging debate. Let us enter that debate, therefore, and say that these three appeared to be punished for thought-crime - and, in the case of Kruger and Flight, for the crime of thinking what was in the minds of millions of other Conservatives. Far from giving the appearance of strength, the massacre of these candidates showed a kind of paranoia. Far from sharpening the electorate's understanding of Tory plans, the purges produced puzzlement. The Conservative manifesto explicitly called for the sacking of 250,000 public sector officials. That may or may not have been wise; but in what sense, exactly, were Kruger and Flight heretical? No doubt they had strayed off-message, but their distance from the approved piste was so small that we were left in the end with the unpleasant sensation that this was not about ideology but about power.

It cannot be right, when people are so bored with the cant of politicians, and the droning inanities of speeches made to please the whips, for the Tory party to introduce this new tyranny over the thinking of their MPs, and to sever the bond of accountability between MPs and their associations. …

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