Saturday 13 February 2010

How young candidate Dave would have broken Cameron's 'control freak' edict

Want to see David Cameron looking really miserable on General Election night?

Here he is, looking quite incredibly glum on losing the Tory-held seat of Stafford to make him one of the less well remembered victims of 1997's Labour landslide. It was an image turned up by Peter Hitchens' investigation into the enigma who would be PM.

Which I mention in order to wonder what young Dave would make of the latest command and control edicts from his older self, the self-styled great decentraliser of British politics.

The Mail on Sunday reports Tory MPs fury at Cameron's "control freak" approach whereby which all candidate communications with the voters must be signed off as on message b CCHQ.

Sitting MPs standing for re-election have always had the right to say what they want without any prior checks. But now we have to get everything vetted first. These Big Brother tactics are going down badly. MPs should be trusted to write their own literature in their own way without diktats from party bosses.

The Conservatives tried to laugh off the "Tory twitter police" report a week ago, noting that it would be impractical to pre-vet any tweet. Yet the substance of the story as reported in the Mail was correct. As ConservativeHome also reported, (producing a direct quote from the relevant email which did not appear in the Mail), candidates had indeed been told to pre-approve any communication or blogpost addressing a national policy issue, whether major or minor.

All candidates were instructed to "check all newspaper articles and press releases, videos or blogposts about national issues with the relevant Press Officer."

But what would young Dave have done?

And can he, in all honesty, make these demands of his candidates if he would clearly have ignored them himself?

The biggest national policy issue for the party in the 1997 campaign was Europe.

The deep Tory rift led to the unprecedented dramatic mid-campaign spectacle of John Major pleading with his own candidates not to "send the British Prime Minister naked into that conference chamber with nothing to negotiate, with nothing to wring the best deal out of our partners".

As Major told the nation, and the candidates carrying his Tory standard in the General Election:

"No one at this moment, no one whatever they say, whatever their predilections may be, wherever their instincts may lie, no one can be absolutely certain in what way it would affect us, or what the outcome will be, whether we joined the single currency, or whether we stayed out ...

Whether you agree with me or disagree with me; like me or loathe me, don't bind my hands when I am negotiating on behalf of the British nation."

200 of his candidates ignored the Prime Minister's entreaties, and issued their own personal communications to their voters, pledging they would "never" support euro entry.

Among those Tory rebels, refusing to follow his Prime Minister's insistent line to break ranks with his own message, was the ambitious, young candidate in Stafford, Mr David Cameron.

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