Direct Democracy the way forward

A HOST of younger Conservatives – MPs, MEPs and think tank members – this week published a pamphlet setting out the direction they believe the Tories have to follow to regain power.

A HOST of younger Conservatives – MPs, MEPs and think tank members – this week published a pamphlet setting out the direction they believe the Tories have to follow to regain power.

It's hard hitting, attempting to get through to Tory members, still in denial over the reasons for three election defeats in a row, that change is vital if the party is to survive.

The authors of Direct Democracy include the new MPs for Braintree and Harwich – Brooks Newmark and Douglas Carswell – as well as the Suffolk based Nick Herbert, elected for Arundel & The South Downs last month.

The book pulls no punches. It rubbishes the euphoria of the 30-plus gains in last month's elections to show the Tory Party that it is still in a dire plight.

"Once again, the Conservative Party is starting a new parliament with fewer MPs than Labour enjoyed in 1983, its popularity declining in important areas of the country, its future insecure.

"While parties of the Right enjoy intellectual dominance and electoral success in other parts of the English-speaking world and in Europe, the situation of Britain's Conservatives – once the world's most successful centre-right movement – remains calamitous.

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"At the 2005 election, against an unpopular government, led by a distrusted leader, the Tories could barely increase their share of the vote by half of one per cent."

In 1997, the Conservatives won 30.7% of the vote, in 2001, 31.7% and this year 32.3%. At that rate of increase, the authors predict it will be 2037 before the Tories can ever hope to form a parliamentary majority.

Labour lost 1,168,770 votes between 2001 and 2005 – 1,167,724 of these, or 99.9%, went to the Liberal Democrats, who increase their share of the vote by 3.7%.

"The issues on which the Tories fought – MRSA. Classroom discipline, border controls and the rest – were indeed of concern to the electorate. But although individually promising, they proved collectively unconvincing.

"Why? Because Conservatives had failed to construct a sturdy trellis on which their various commitments could hang harmoniously."

The book offers many solutions. The one which is likely to resonate with voters in the East of England and other traditional Tory areas where the party is not yet back to the popularity it enjoyed 20 years ago, is to support localism.

In Europe and the US "parties of the right have succeeded in championing devolution, localism, direct democracy, personal freedom. They have shown that, far from wanting to use the machinery of state to impose their ideology on peoples, they are prepared to push powers outwards and downwards."

Fine. But the authors fail to recognise that that it has always been Tory governments which have destroyed local government in this country – happily consigning Middlesex, Rutland, Huntingdonshire, the Yorkshire ridings, and Westmoreland to history and creating unloved giant counties such as Avon, Humberside, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, and Greater Manchester.

It was the Tories who destroyed the county boroughs, the most efficient system of local government on the planet, in favour of shires and districts.

If the Tories are going down the road of localism, they should loudly shout "mea maxima culpa" from the rooftops, reject regionalism, and look to adapting European subsidiarity – nothing should be done by the centre if it can be done more efficiently at local level.

What the Tories have suffered from over the years is any meaningful policy on the Health Service. The public does not want vouchers to go to hospitals hundreds of miles from their homes – it wants the NHS free at the point of entry and delivery and at a local level.

As the authors say: "Vacating the vital political terrain of health cannot be an option for a modern political party. Timorously promising cleaner hospitals, or falling back on the idea that simply improving NHS management is the answer, will convince no one.

"We can hold to the ideals of the NHS – guaranteeing care for all, irrespective of their ability to pay – while showing that a 1940s monopolistic structure is no longer relevant to the 21st century."

The thinking in this book mirrors Labour's re-evaluation under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair. Whichever Tory leadership candidate wholeheartedly embraces the ideology of Direct Democracy deserves the top prize.

He or she will have to build on if there is to be any chance of the Tories defeating a Gordon Brown-led Labour Party in 2009 or 2010.

Direct Democracy, price £7.99, is published by

MAIDEN speeches are a traumatic occasion for new MPs, who have to sell themselves – and by tradition, praise their constituencies and predecessors – to colleagues in the House of Commons.

Braintree's Broooks Newmark, one of the authors of Direct Democracy, used the second reading of the Finance Bill to make his foray into the cut and thrust of adversarial politics.

Speaking for 15 minutes, American-born Mr Newmark praised his two successors, Labour's Alan Hurst – whom he defeated in May – and Tony Newton, who represented the constituency between 1974 and 1997 and sat in John Major's government as Leader of the Commons.

Mr Hurst "served our constituency well for eight years, was an individual of the utmost integrity and was highly regarded in all our communities. Alan was particularly active in supporting a number of local campaigns, he served our farmers well on the Select Committee on Agriculture and he stood up for the need for pensioners to have dignity and security in their retirement. Above all, Alan was a gentleman and I wish him all the best for the future."

Having treated the House to the usual georgraphy lesson on the beauties of his new constituency, ensuring that as many towns and villages as possible were entered into the official record, the new MP lamented the threat to rural life being posed by Government policies.

"Two thirds of my constituency is rural and many of my constituents feel not only that their way of life is under threat, but that the very fabric of their day-to-day lives is being diminished. Rural post offices and village shops are being closed down.

"Local bus services are being cut daily and there is almost a complete lack of police visibility, as our forces become more and more overstretched. In addition, the farmers in my constituency are increasingly burdened with more red tape and regulation."

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