Lifting the lid on David Cameron's centralist tendencies
The launch of the Conservative manifesto has been a lot more impressive today than Labour yesterday, simply because Cameron has a simple, persuasive, coherent theme.
Indeed, it's perhaps the most powerful and popular slogan in history - essentially Power to the People.
On the other hand, the Conservative document is more badly written than Labour's, full of jargon. And it assumes a fair degree of political knowledge. How many voters know what an RDA is, for example, or an SME?
And what does this policy mean: "develop a measure of well-being that encapsulates the social value of state action". (page 38)
The trouble is, as I've commented before, that Power to the People is not a maxim which Mr Cameron has pursued much in running his own party over the last five years.
The organisers of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy will tell you Mr Cameron's leadership has been more centralised than any in party history.
The activists at ConservativeHome.com would probably agree, though they tend to keep quiet about such things these days.
True, Mr Cameron did institute the primary process where power was taken from party members and given to ordinary voters, whether Tory supporters or not.
In fact, I myself participated in one of the first primaries in Battersea. But even the primary operation involved elements of centralisation.
Here, almost off the top of my head, are several more examples of Mr Cameron's centralist tendencies:
The sacking of MPs over expenses, giving no say to their local parties of constituents; the centralised A-list of candidates; imposing shortlists on local constituencies in selections since 1 January this year; controlling the order of the party lists for the 2008 European elections, and stopping activists from sacking Conservative MEPs; by-passing the Shadow Cabinet, and avoiding significant discussion or decision-making at Shadow Cabinet; centralised leaflet formats and wording; centralised and very detailed requirements of candidates for money granted under the Ashcroft strategy; making candidates get approval for articles, literature and even tweets; threatening councillors in East Surrey they would lose the party whip if they complained about the selection of Sam Gyimah; telling activists in Westminster North they had no option but to keep Joanne Cash as their candidate, or the local party would be disbanded; the huge influence of a small group of unelected individuals around David Cameron; the taking of the whip away from the Croydon MP Andrew Pelling before he had ever been charged with any offence (which he never was).
Labour, of course, has similar centralist traits, as I've often observed over the recent selection processes.
And the Lib Dems too - remember the ruthless way they ditched their candidate in Crewe and Nantwich, just before the by-election.