Brexit: Conservative HQ should announce an amnesty for Tories not voting Tory on Thursday

Brexit: Conservative HQ should announce an amnesty for Tories not voting Tory on Thursday

Need to talk more about Brexit? Well here you go…

Lord Heseltine will be voting for the Liberal Democrats. This will come as no surprise to many Conservatives – the less generous amongst us may suspect this isn’t the first time – but to publicly endorse another party goes directly against our rules; rules which are being used to intimidate and shut down Conservative Brexiteers who are threatening to vote for The Brexit Party on Thursday. As things stand, there has been no response to Heseltine’s outburst from CCHQ.

Darling of the Tory grassroots, Ann Widdecombe, was treated quite differently. She received her letter of expulsion – after 53 years of service, including a period as a minister – merely a day after she announced her Brexit Party candidacy. Of course, standing for an opposition party is different to simply endorsing it. But it is not Ann Widdecombe who’s changed her position; it’s the Conservatives. On social issues, public opinion has developed and Widdecombe doesn’t reflect this. But she reflects other important Conservative principles, particularly in her bracing commitment to free enterprise, free markets and democracy. It is we who are failing to honour democracy, not her. She is a great loss and many Tory activists will have been encouraged to give Nigel Farage a second look because of her departure.

Perhaps there are explanations for Heseltine’s increasingly bitter position. He is, in many ways, an anachronism; an old patrician who is watching his country move in a global direction which he loathes. His recent Telegraph article revealed his long-held contempt for Margaret Thatcher; a grudge based more in his own failure to replace her than anything she did to him. Most Conservatives would choose Thatcher over Heseltine. Indeed, many blame him for her defenestration and, thereby, generating the circumstances for our protracted mid-90s march into the wilderness. As I write, Heseltine is still a Conservative member. So the question is: why should there be one rule for Michael Heseltine and another for everybody else?

It is no secret that the Conservative Party is in a bad way. The disconnect between the grassroots and the leadership has never been more profound. Associations are holding no confidence motions in the Prime Minister. Activists are downing tools. The relationship between the ordinary membership and much of the Parliamentary party – particularly the self-styled, Ruddite “one nation” wing – is at breaking point. There is a clear reason for this: Brexit.

Repeatedly, Theresa May promised us we would be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. Repeatedly, she promised us we would be leaving on 29th March. Repeatedly, she told us no deal was better than a bad deal. All of these promises have now been broken. There is a collective sense amongst not just the activist base but the wider country that we’ve been wilfully misled.

It should be no surprise that the Brexit Party is trouncing us in the polls. What is a surprise is the way our leadership seems to be reacting to this. CCHQ is threatening activists who show sympathy to Farage’s pro-Brexit movement with disciplinary procedures, including suspension and expulsion. Is there really anything to be gained from throwing out Brexiteers simply for sticking to their principles? Why encourage further splits in a party which is already split? Clearly, there will be a leadership contest soon and a new Prime Minister installed. Given the Herculean task they will face, they will need all the support they can get from the grassroots – including Brexiteers, who, we mustn’t forget, make up the majority of the membership.

The solution to this mess is obvious. Rather than be seen to favour Remainers over Brexiteers or grandees over activists, the Conservative Party should announce an amnesty. These elections were never supposed to happen; indeed, we were repeatedly told they wouldn’t happen. Emotions are running high. Now is the time for CCHQ to be circumspect. Activists who have supported the Conservatives in many cases for decades deserve a degree of respect and a chance to make their voices heard. Let’s park the internal acrimony and stop trying to intimidate an already seething base. The Conservative Party should allow Conservatives to be honest about their vote this Thursday.

Photocredit: Julian Mason









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