Tim Bale in the Telegraph has been considering the deselection of two Tory MPs much favoured by the party’s leadership, and comes up with some genuinely interesting thoughts on what’s happening the centre right undergrowth…
Had David Davis somehow managed to beat Cameron to the top job in 2005, he could (assuming he had left gay marriage well alone) almost certainly have pursued a less stridently right-wing agenda (assuming, for the sake of argument, that he had wanted to) and retained the affection of the grassroots.
Moreover, his background and general demeanour might well have prevented the loss of both Tory voters and Tory members to Ukip. Going up against a grammar-school-boy-made-good would certainly have made it harder for Nigel Farage (son of a stockbroker, privately educated, City trader) to pose as the quintessential man of the people battling on their behalf against an effete, Etonian establishment.
To point to what has happened this week, then, and claim that we are witnessing the early stages of what will eventually turn into a full-blown insurgency by the Tory Taliban/Tea Party (delete as appropriate) is clearly nonsense. Membership of the Conservative Party has never entitled its holders to a say on policy.
But what it has long afforded them, and continues to afford the dwindling numbers prepared to pay for the privilege, is the right every few years to pick who they want to represent them, and in so doing indirectly determine the long-term direction of their party.
What has happened in Thirsk and Malton and in South Suffolk may have left the leadership tearing its hair out, but it was ever thus – and, for the sake of democracy and (dare one say it?) the Big Society, that’s probably a very good thing, too.
And he concludes with this fascinating thought…
Once upon a time, except in truly egregious cases, most vaguely dissatisfied rank-and-file Tories were probably prepared to live with their quietly dutiful (or ostentatiously undutiful) Member of Parliament – as long, that is, as he or she didn’t appear in the tabloids for the wrong reasons and didn’t join Labour in the division lobbies.
Nowadays, however, the social media celebrity of backbench and even European Parliament stars such as Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan is effectively encouraging those activists to compare the market. Their counterparts in Thirsk and Malton and in Suffolk South have now shown them that (to borrow a theme tune used at a Conservative Party conference a few years ago) you can get it if you really want.[Emphasis added]
The Tory party (like most Irish parties) has always run on a much more decentralised model than Labour. But you do wonder if this is going to be a trend (the entry of UKIP to Westminster might be a further outworking of that decentralising, perhaps even centrifugal force) we begin to see elsewhere?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty