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Lifting the lid on David Cameron's centralist tendencies

Michael Crick | 16:55 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010

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 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    "How many voters know what an RDA is, for example, or an SME?"

    Michael, the only people who'll actually read the manifesto are the type who know what an RDA and an SME are! D'ya think you'll see people thumbing through pages on the bus, in parks or as they wander down the high street? It's why labour's 'Chairman Mao' attempt yesterday was such a disaster - you can dumb down such a document all you like but the public simply won't read it.
    Ever tried to get a teenager interested in something boring by 'snazzing' it up? Doesn't work does it?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.


    That was one helluva comb-over you were sporting on NN tonight!

  • Comment number 4.

    And I thought I was the only one that noticed all - well, most anyway! - of this!

    The manifesto today - given credence by you observations above - was just a coded statement of the old adage ....

    Jobs for the boys! (Queue here!)

    They just don't get it.

    "They", of course, being ....

    The Great British Public!

  • Comment number 5.

    Michael you rightly say that neither Labour or Conservatives mention VAT

    VAT is an EU competence where a standard VAT rate band exists,15 - 25%. Member states can charge the standard rate within that band and must seek approval when they make a change.

    There are rumours that the new EU Taxation Commissioner will shortly come forward with a proposal to abolish the band and establish a single standard VAT rate [perhaps 20%]. This was tried in the 80's and 90's. They will undoubtedly want to abolish the the derogations and exemptions of which zero rate, which applies only in the UK and Ireland, is a derogation.

    You should ask whether any such proposal will be vetoed by a UK government.

    Remember once a single rate is established and/or the derogations are abolished there would be no going back without a proposal coming from the European Commission

  • Comment number 6.

    looked like you had a hard time getting some opinions out of the keighleyites today.

    Quite amusing from my perspective, its a funny kind of semi isolated small town with an unusual demographic. You may as well have been a martian I think.

    You guys should spend more time in towns like keighley, it probably helps to bring the westminster / londoncentric / BBC bubble you live in into focus fr you, so you can take it into accout and help you in your journalism.

    You will probably get quite alot of good anecdotes from the experience as well.

    Attend a keighley cougars game (rugby league), have a drink in the star pub on north street afterwards, you will get a whole new perspective on the UK.

    You will probably have to go undercover though or like a physicist probing the mysteries of the universe, your very presence will change the nature of the insight you seek.

    Nice hairdo tonight by the way.

  • Comment number 7.

    thought you highlighted the right Tory policies on last night's programme, but your interviews seemed pointless and added no real value to the debate - the manifesto only came out that morning, so not sure how you thought the average voter would have had time to form an opinion on it, let alone read it?

  • Comment number 8.

    So this is how the BBC gets around it's supposed rules about party political bias? Saying that it is the blog of an individual and not representative of the organisation? Well, for one, you are still opperating on a BBC site with BBC logos and so appear to be endorsed by the BBC. And secondly, if this isn't endorsed by the BBC, and is in fact a personal Blog with personal views, then why are we paying for it? Either the BBC should not be running these pages, or they should not be biased. Yet they seem to be a platform for the anti Tory views of the BBC without them taking responsibility.


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