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What’s the point of being a Tory member after Bedford?

September 15th, 2009

Could “open primaries” de-motivate activists?

Iain Dale, who was chairman, has produced his own version of last night’s events in Bedford on his own blog. It paints an upbeat picture of the event to select a Tory candidate for next month’s by mayoral by-election with an electorate of 100,000,

Iain did a good job in difficult circumstances and very much held the event together. He was watched over by Tory chairman, Eric Pickles, who, it should be noted, blanked me when I tried to introduce myself.

The meeting started an hour and a half late because of the need to process scores of extra participants – the result, apparently, of an amazing operation to pack the audience with supporters of the eventual winner when there was a risk that their man might lose out. Mobiles calls were being made and a stream of taxis kept on bringing new people to the venue. The picture above was taken just before 9pm.

As Iain Dale said afterwards this was entirely fair because the other candidates could have done exactly the same.

At it turned out the winner, Parvez Akhtar, was by far the best contender on the night and I can see a big future for him in a party that is trying to present itself as representing more than its traditional base.

The big issue, for me, was the reaction of local Conservative members to THEIR selection being handled like this. A number clearly didn’t like it and you have to wonder what the point is of being one if the wider public gets a say in decisions like this.

This was exacerbated by the way that the event was closed. In party constitutional terms the primary was supposed to “advise” the local party which would then make the final decision at a private meeting afterwards.

This meeting did not happen in spite of protests from the floor. Members who had been equipped with special wristbands were asked to give their approval in front of everybody. There were no only a few dissenters but not very many raised their hands to support the selection. That could be storing up trouble for the future.

  • Ladbrokes now have a market on the election. Tories 1/2; LD 2/1 and LAB 10/1
  • Mike Smithson