CCHQ Drops Centralisation Plans After Member Outcry

Last week Guido told how the Tories were moving to centralise the candidate selection process and break the 150 year-old constituency association link. The story was followed up in the weekend papers and caused considerable consternation among members. CCHQ has responded by assuring members their new complaints are being heard and delaying any vote on proposed changes to the party constitution. Rob Semple, chairman of the National Conservative Convention, has written to members:

“I am also very grateful to all those who have fed in further thoughts since the meeting. We have reflected those comments, along with the decisions made in November, in our latest proposals to the Party’s Constitutional Committee. I am aiming for the revised draft proposals to be completed and available for your consideration by the Spring. There will then be a meeting of the National Convention during May, in London, to discuss the proposals. I would like to stress, the meeting is to discuss the revised proposals and is not a vote of the Party’s Electoral College.”

That should reassure members somewhat…

UPDATE: David Campbell Bannerman comments:

“We are delighted to hear the party has dropped plans to push through a range of undemocratic and centralising proposals this March and is now to fully consult in May. This is excellent news for grassroots members of the Conservative Party against CCHQ plans to seize power from them. It looks like the ill-thought out proposals have been kicked into the long grass. We urge the Party to abandon them completely.”

Tories Move to Impose Candidates Centrally and Break Constituency Association Link

Guido hears Tory MPs and members are grumbling about proposed changes to the Conservative Party constitution which they fear will lead to further centralised control. Later this year the National Convention is meeting to discuss a series of draft changes, including deleting entirely the section of the constitution which spells out the way candidates are selected. Instead selections could be determined by the Committee on Candidates, which could also decide the procedures for selecting candidates. This has sparked grassroots fears that they will have even less influence on selections, and that the power to determine who can be a Tory MP will be concentrated among a small group of centrally appointed officials. Separately, Guido understands the Tories have been holding Party Assessment Boards in the last couple of weeks to approve new wannabe MPs to the candidates list. Early prep for 2022…

The second change causing concern is the proposed abolition of Constituency Associations. For 150 years the link between Constituency Associations and their candidate has been a crucial, it is now in danger of going. Previous groupings of constituencies have not been popular to say the least. Backbenchers Guido has spoken to complain that these changes show direction of travel towards a further centralised organisation which risks alienating its already dwindling membership. Expect MPs to resist the reforms…

UPDATE: David Campbell Bannerman comments:

These proposed changes would further undermine reasons for joining the Party, reducing membership yet further, and break the critical link between MPs and their associations – indeed constituency associations may be destroyed all together. This is all about the centre taking total control in a negative way, and there is a very strong reaction building amongst activists.”

Mogg Wins Mock Election

The mischievous Campaign for Conservative Democracy launched in Manchester this morning with a more than slightly cheeky mock election for party chairman. The results are in, obviously the Mogg is the winner:

  1. Jacob Rees-Mogg: 28.6%
  2. Lord Ashcroft: 20%
  3. Ruth Davidson: 11.4%
  4. Boris Johnson: 10%
  5. Anna Soubry: 1.4%

A perhaps more realistic long-term ambition for Jacob after he once again ruled out the leadership at the ConHome fringe last night. Also worth noting that Patrick McLoughlin opened conference with a robust, well-received speech yesterday speaking to members’ concerns about the election. There is no vacancy…

Grassroots Plot to “Democratise” Tory Party and “Seize Control” From CCHQ

An insurgent group of grassroots Tories is launching a campaign to “democratise” the party and “seize back control” for Conservative members in Manchester next week. The “Campaign for Conservative Democracy” is aiming to wrest back influence from CCHQ, which it condemns as “autocratic” and “over-centralised” and argues has “undermined, overruled, ignored or destroyed” Conservative associations across the country. The group is demanding CCHQ listens to the policy opinions of Tory members to “help avoid the disastrous manifesto mistakes in the recent General Election”. They are seeking a directly-elected Tory party chairman “who would represent members’ views to the government”. Its founder, Brexiter Tory MEP David Campbell-Bannerman says:

“The Conservative Party has taken its core membership for granted for far too long. Local associations should be made the boss again. There has been a complete centralisation of power away from local associations and the relationship between the two has been shown to be highly unsatisfactory, undemocratic and one sided. You can’t run a party from one London office. CCHQ has often begun to resemble the remote and unaccountable European Union in structure and inclination.”

This sort of criticism of CCHQ will resonate with Tory associations. For years grassroots Tories have felt sidelined by CCHQ in terms of candidate selections, campaigning, policy and the general direction of the party. This new campaign reminds Guido of the Labour left’s similarly-named Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, which Corbyn, McDonnell and Tony Benn used for decades to lobby the Labour leadership on behalf of their left-wing grassroots. Expect Tory MPs on the right to endorse the group and use it to pile pressure on CCHQ and Theresa May…

The group is launching on Monday of conference – details here if you want to go – with a mock election for party chairman. Eyes will be rolling in CCHQ at the thought of Tory members having their say…

Losing Tory MPs Made to Undergo Selection Interviews

Tory MPs who lost their seats at the election have been forced to undergo a selection process in order to stay on the candidates list. Defeated MPs who want to run again have had to face an interview and write a short report demonstrating their efforts during the campaign. Mercifully they are not being given the full Parliamentary Assessment Board treatment. Some ex-MPs are relaxed about it all and say the interviews were good-natured, though others are complaining that it’s a bit rich for CCHQ to cock up the election then submit losing MPs to a grilling as if it were all their fault. Jacob Rees-Mogg says “it’s an appalling way to treat them”. No love lost between some loser MPs and CCHQ at the moment…

Chairman Boris?

Speculation that Theresa May could demote Boris Johnson to party chairman is again doing the rounds, weeks after BoJo’s enemies first punted the idea around. Does it make sense? Sacking Boris would create the highest possible profile enemy at a time when the PM is hardly in a position of overwhelming strength. Giving him the party chairman job would then arguably increase his power. Chairman Boris would be able to reconnect with members and activists, effectively given free reign to tour associations and win the membership’s support. He could actually be political, which is what he does best and would only help his popularity in the party. Rather than being sent around the world and restricted to 20 second pooled clips he could do all the broadcast and press he liked. If May really were to do something with Boris in a future reshuffle, making him party chairman would be a particularly brave move…

Major CCHQ Revamp: Full Details

A major restructuring of CCHQ is underway. There was a feeling among senior Tories that they needed to improve coordination between the party’s research, press and digital operations, and make sure that going forwards they are all on the same page. CCHQ has been revamped accordingly, those three branches will now work much more closely together.

Iain Carter, who most recently worked with Lynton Crosby at CTF, has been hired as the Tories’ Political Director. Carter is a Conservative Research Department veteran and former SpAd who has fought two elections at CCHQ. Tory sources describe him as a “very effective operator“. PFL?

Guido hears Richard N Jackson will be Co-Head of Operations and Head of Regional Media, in charge of all visits and regional press. “N“, as he is known by colleagues, is one of the good guys, a former Tory Head of Press and CCHQ veteran who has been there a decade. Carter, Jackson and Carrie Symonds, who yesterday Guido revealed is the new Director of Comms, worked together in CCHQ before the 2015 election.

CCHQ has taken a kicking from Tory colleagues since the election. ConservativeHome recently accused it of “resting on laurels”, describing it as a “weaker machine than needed” and arguing “there must be a reckoning”. Tory MPs will hope this restructuring and these senior hires are that reckoning, and will turn CCHQ back into a powerhouse in time for the next election…

CCHQ Hiring Campaign Managers

You might think that after electing a “strong and stable” government, a party headquarters would be reducing the headcount. As of yesterday CCHQ put up new adverts for campaign managersSomebody clearly thinks there could there be another election in the offing…

CCHQ Diverted Resources Away from ‘Safe’ Seats Tories Lost

There is a lot about the Tory campaign that has caused huge anger among MPs. Though little provoked more fury than the decision by CCHQ to divert resources away from supposedly ‘safe’ seats that the Tories then went on to lose. Guido has heard from several defeated MPs who were continually assured by HQ that their seats were safe. The decision was taken centrally to pull resources out of these constituencies and divert them to target seats like Ealing Central. Some MPs themselves were even sent to knock up in others seats on polling day. This complacency was fatal for several MPs. They ended up losing their seats by small margins, while in Ealing Rupa Huq increased her majority from 274 to 13,807.

MPs repeatedly warned CCHQ that large numbers of Labour and Momentum activists were flooding their perceived safe seats, while their local Tory campaigners had been relocated elsewhere. They were told not to worry. Then they lost their seats. What an extraordinary clusterf**k.

CCHQ Already Preparing For Next Election

Tory HQ was caught on the hop by the snap election, initially struggling to find enough candidates to fill seats having culled their list of approved prospective MPs. They are determined not to make the same mistake in the event of another early election – Guido hears preparations have already begun. CCHQ Head of Candidates Gareth Fox emailed the old candidates list yesterday inviting them to apply be considered for the new list. This would not normally happen for several months after an election, instead the process has been accelerated and is already underway less than a week after polling day. Applications from candidates are wanted “as soon as you can”, and by no later than 10 July. CCHQ wasn’t ready when Theresa May called the June 8 election, they want to make sure they are all set to go if they have to in the autumn…

Tory and Labour Candidates All Believe May Heading For Comfortable Win

There is a complete consensus among every Tory and Labour candidate Guido has spoken to over the last week. They are not seeing on the doorstep the alleged Labour surge seen in the polls. Not a single Tory candidate Guido has spoken to has noticed a significant problem in their constituency – there is grumbling over the manifesto, dementia tax and the May campaign’s general inadequacy, but nothing to suggest there is some unprecedented groundswell of people seriously considering voting for Corbyn. Guido has spoken to Tory candidates in seats with 8,000 Labour majorities who still believe they will win. As Politico reports, everyone in CCHQ is giving off an air of calm. That is the mood Guido gauges too. Not one Tory candidate has indicated to Guido they believe there is a problem in their seat. 

Labour candidates (with the exception of Corbyn and McDonnell) agree. As the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot says, there is unanimity among Labour that they are not seeing what the polls suggest. More than one Labour veteran has told Guido that several high-profile Labour MPs are still likely to lose their seats. A senior former Labour official reckons the Tories will still win an 80+ majority. As Joan Ryan, the Labour incumbent in the Tory-Labour marginal of Enfield North says, “Realistically no one thinks Theresa May will not be Prime Minister”. Everyone on the ground on all sides does not believe the YouGov hung parliament projection, they are all expecting to see a Tory majority of 50 plus at the very least…

UPDATE: A well-timed new model from Lord Ashcroft projects a Tory majority between 40 and 78. Sounds much more like it…

CCHQ Faces Revolt in Don Valley and Walsall

Two more Tory associations are fighting with CCHQ over centrally-imposed shortlists freezing out local candidates. Up in Don Valley the locals are upset that the 2015 candidate Carl Jackson has not been included on the three man shortlist. The local Tory chairman and all the local councillors have written to CCHQ Head of Candidates Gareth Fox to express their “dismay“:

“We would like to express our absolute dismay that Carl Jackson who previously stood in Don Valley in 2015 has not been offered a place on our short list for the parliamentary seat. Carl was an excellent candidate who has since been back to Doncaster to help campaign in our target wards for the Local Election prior to the General Election being called.”

Big battle ahead of the selection meeting tonight. 

There is further trouble in Walsall South, where ConHome reports the association is so unhappy it has voted not to even hold a selection meeting to consider the two candidates proposed to them.

These are two seats worth targeting for the Tories – Caroline Flint has a majority of 8,800 in Don Valley and Valerie Vaz has a majority of just 6,000 in Walsall, both in the danger zone for Labour. Busy day for Gareth Fox…

CCHQ Rows With Associations Over Female Candidates

CCHQ is embroiled in a number of nasty spats with Tory associations after imposing female candidates on seats across Wales. The Tories do not have a single female Welsh MP, something party chairman Patrick McLoughlin and Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns are determined to change. In Bridgend, CCHQ has imposed Karen Robson on the association against its will. Robson is not from the local area (she moved to Wales after university and last ran for the Tories 20 miles away in Cardiff). This has infuriated local members, who passed a vote to reject the carpetbagger and choose a local candidate instead. One member says:

“The majority of members are up in arms as this is an outrage and tearing our Association apart in a target seat. It is hardly an example of strong and stable leadership in the national interest. This is immoral and treats all of us hard working volunteers who have been here through thick and thin with contempt.”

CCHQ has ignored them and pressed ahead with Robson as the candidate, in response some Bridgend Tory councillors are threatening to go independent…

The Tories have also imposed female candidates on associations in both Newport West and East. In Newport West, European Parliament bag-carrier Angela Jones-Evans has been imposed at the expense of the 2015 candidate and long-serving local member Nic Webb. In Newport East, CCHQ wants Natasha Asghar, the daughter of the local Tory assembly member. These associations are upset with Cairns, McLoughlin and CCHQ. Behind closed doors Cairns has insisted there has to be at least one female MP returned in Wales this election and imposing female candidates is the only way to guarantee that. As Guido’s (male) Welsh mole says: “We do need to have a female MP, but CCHQ has gone about this in an awful fashion…”

Tories Accidentally Send Conference Call Details to Labour and LibDems

Yesterday afternoon a Google Calendar invite pinged into Tory inboxes from CCHQ’s Stephen Gilbert, outlining details of their election campaign conference calls so staff can dial in and be briefed on the plan for the day. One problem. The email arrived in the inboxes of Gilbert’s old referendum contacts book, rather than his Tory HQ contacts book. Which means the private dial in details were received by top LibDems James McGrory, James Holt, Harriet Shone, Sam Barratt and Ryan Coetzee, and Labour’s Joe Carberry, Will Straw, David Chaplin, Brian Duggan and Amy Richards. Ooooops…

From: Stephen Gilbert
Sent: 21 April 2017 14:33
To: Ameet Gill; James McGrory; Ameetpal Gill; Brian Duggan; James Holt; Craig Oliver; Harriet Shone; Craig Oliver; Stuart Hand; Olivia Jensen; Charlotte Todman; Lucy Thomas; Guillaume Amigues; Iain Gill; Joe Carberry; Charlotte Vere; Will Straw; Kamala Mackinnon; Amy Richards; Tom Edmonds; David Chaplin; Sam Barratt; Ryan Coetzee
When: Occurs every day effective 20/04/2017 from 06:00 to 06:45

Morning Campaign meeting

Hi All, please note that the daily Morning Campaign meetings will now take place at 09.30 am every weekday…

HQ conference line

Dial-in: 020 XXXX XXXX

Participant pin: XXXXXX

The calendar invite was then cancelled. Loose lips (and email cock-ups) sink ships…

UPDATE: A Tory source gets in touch to clarify that the pin revealed in the email was an old Stronger In pin, so the CCHQ conference calls were not compromised.

CCHQ Caught on Hop: Not Enough Candidates to Fill Seats

The Tories were quick out of the blocks with their rules for candidate selections yesterday, though CCHQ has been caught on the hop in terms of the actual candidates. The word is the Tories still do not currently have enough names on their candidates list to fill every opposition-held seat. The shortfall came after the list was culled last summer, and the CCHQ candidates department has been painfully slow at processing new applications. As Guido revealed in February CCHQ did begin the search for candidates in Labour strongholds. Yet there remains a deficit between candidates and seats…

Guido has spoken to Tories who applied to join the candidates list last autumn and still haven’t been interviewed. As one Tory insider says of the CCHQ head of candidates: “Gareth Fox has been sleeping for six months”. This means the Tories will likely have to hold emergency PABs (Parliamentary Assessment Board meetings) to appoint new people to the list over the next week. You might end up with a no hoper seat, though this news will excite a lot of ambitious wannabes…

Will Tories Drop MOAB on Corbyn?

It has long been assumed that the Tories have a ton of dirt of Jeremy Corbyn that they were holding back for the election. That somewhere in the archives at the bottom of a filing cabinet in CCHQ sits a dossier of new revelations about Corbyn’s links to various terrorists, extremists and all round wrong ‘uns. There has even been talk that the Tories would drop a “MOAB” – Mother of All Bombs – on Corbyn with weeks to go. Guido understands the MOAB isn’t quite as big as has been hyped, and that the Tories believe most of Corbyn’s IRA / Hamas links have already been factored in. There are however two or three front page newspaper stories ready to go over the next 50 days. Not so much a MOAB to wipe Jez out, more a couple of well-timed mortars to cause damage tactically during the campaign…

Tory MPs Meeting to Discuss Yellow Peril

Tory MPs in LibDem marginals are meeting with officials from CCHQ today to discuss the yellow peril. The feeling among backbenchers is that, as things stand, the LibDems would likely unseat a handful of Tory MPs in the event of an election. Those particularly under threat are obviously Tory MPs who won their seats off LibDems in the West Country and now have small majorities, and vocal Leave MPs in heavily Remain areas who could succumb to the Zac Goldsmith / Sarah Olney effect.

Dear Colleague,

As part of our series of briefings on campaigning in seats previously held by the Liberal Democrats, I have arranged for CCHQ to provide some materials that may be of use. A CCHQ representative will be present for our discussion and I hope you can join us.

The session will now take place on Tuesday 28th March in XXX from 1300-1400.

Best wishes,

Anne Milton
Deputy Chief Whip

If Sarah Olney can make it to parliament…

UPDATE: A LibDem source responds:

“They saw what we did to Zac Goldsmith. The Tories know the only seats at risk are ones that are being targeted by the Liberal Democrats.”

Theresa Deploys Philip May

In the month running up to the Copeland by-election, veterans at Tory HQ were surprised by the almost daily presence of one unusual visitor. Philip May, the PM’s husband, turned up to phone bank for Trudy Harrison nearly every day between 6pm and 8pm. “He was there at least 90% of the days for the last few weeks,” says a source, noting that by contrast Samantha Cameron would attend phone banks once or twice per by-election, usually just as a photo opportunity. A sign of how the Tories threw the kitchen sink at Copeland? Possibly, though there is more to it than that…

Theresa May’s inner circle comprises of just four people: the PM, her chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, and her husband. She trusts few outside that group. So, Tory insiders say, Theresa has deployed Philip as her political secret weapon: her personal focus group, amateur pollster and party mole. Those in the room estimate Philip spoke on the phone to more than a thousand Copeland voters and believe the PM used him to gauge opinion, rather than rely on the professional pollsters who let down her predecessor. “He was her personal focus group for voters because she trusts no one else,” says a Tory source. He phone banked assiduously in the Sleaford by-election as well.

There was of course another benefit to having Philip in CCHQ – he could report back on which Cabinet ministers and MPs were pulling their weight. Tories say the proof that Philip is being used as a serious political operative is the fact that his phone banking exploits have not been briefed out to the media, as was the norm with SamCam. An insight into how few people the PM keeps close, and how important those few are…

Tories Start Candidate Selection Process Early

The Tories have started the first stage of their candidate selection process early, Guido can reveal. CCHQ has told its parliamentary candidates list that the Team Seats programme in 44 seats will be beginning “early”. Team Seats, formerly known as City Seats, is the preliminary stage of the selection process in urban constituencies and Labour strongholds. It allows potential candidates to put their names forward and establish themselves locally before the formal selection process takes place. Candidates have been set a deadline of February 20 to apply – Tories on the list tell Guido the programme is usually launched much closer to a general election. Those who received the email yesterday were surprised to say the least – it has set a cat among the pigeons.

The email from CCHQ Head of Candidates Gareth Fox acknowledged that the party had brought forward the process:

We recognise that the early appointment of teams are essential to build trust with the Associations and for the candidates to establish themselves locally.”

Formal selection will take place “later in the parliament”. The 44 seats are in Doncaster, Rotherham, Durham, Manchester, Merseyside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, North Tyne and South Tyne. These safe Labour seats are usually selected close to an election. A fascinating move that will help prepare the Tories either for a snap election or for an unprecedented assault on Labour seats in 2020…

Tory Candidate Seeking Injunction Over MEP Dispute

story

Guido understands Tory candidate Alex Story is currently in the High Court seeking an interim injunction against the Yorks and Humber nominating officer to prevent him from installing anyone else as Yorkshire’s MEP. Story was due to take up the vacant role as Yorkshire’s next MEP, only to have his career “ended”, he says, by a “CCHQ cock-up”. […] Read the rest

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