Whilst I accept that David Cameron is demonstrating some leadership in terms of electoral reform, his latest proposals are so limited as to leave him open to the accusation of political tokenism. He has suggested that he is willing to open the Conservative candidate list to anyone “who wants to apply”, using what he describes as a system of “open primaries” where everyone in a constituency can vote at public meetings to select their prospective Conservative MP.
However, in typical Cameron style, he limits the risk. Instead of making this policy widespread, by insisting that all Conservative MP’s stand for re-selection, he has stated that this policy will only be implemented in areas where Conservative MP’s have announced their intention to retire or stand down. At the moment, that is just 5 seats, which, even based on the current number of Conservative MP’s (190), would account for just over 2.5%. If the Conservatives are successful in getting into government, these candidates, chosen by the people, would likely amount to much less than 2% of the total. In other words, it will make little or no difference. Pure, unadulterated tokenism.
Cameron needs to demonstrate that he is a man of conviction, we have had 12 years of tokenism from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. At the very least, Cameron should insist that his entire front bench stand for re-selection. However, I would like to see him go further and provide the people of this country with the opportunity to select their preferred Conservative candidate, in every constituency. That is true democracy. If the people don’t like his preferred candidate, then that is the will of the people, you can’t get more democratic than that. I am encouraged that he has stated that candidates would not be rejected because they had no experience of politics, that is also a step in the right direction, but if Cameron wants to be taken seriously, then he needs to go all the way. I personally believe it will strengthen his party, not weaken it and if he loses a few ‘mates‘ along the way, then that is the will of the people he claims to want to serve.
When we look at a potential new leader, it is essential that, as well as taking into account their policies, we look at the leaders principles and judgement. In the case of Julie Kirkbride, David Cameron has come out to defend her, stating that her case was “different” to that of her husband Andrew Mackay. That is total piffle and he knows it. Kirkbride and Mackay are married, both had to have known about the arrangement to maximise the ‘Second Home Allowance and, of course, as a family unit, Kirkbride would have been a benificiary of this arrangement. If David Cameron can’t see what everyone else can, then he is not fit to lead the party, much less this country, because he will be no better than Gordon Brown. He must, at the very least, insist that Julie Kirkbride stands for re-selection in an ‘open primary’, which would leave it to her constituents to determine whether her behaviour was acceptable, not him. Having put up with 12 years of New Labour, the public know the difference between headline grabbing rhetoric and action, as well as the difference between right and wrong. He cannot and must not take his poll position for granted. If the people of this country want to see fresh new faces in parliament, they may decide to vote for candidates from smaller parties, or independents.
For the record, I would like to say that I wholeheartedly endorse his suggestion that Conservative MP’s will only be required to follow the Whips orders on Manifesto commitments, other party’s should take note.