One hundred and twenty people attended the Abbotts Ann Branch Barbecue at the home of Susan Hibbert.The event was organised by the branch chairman, Barnabas Hurst-Bannister and his committee.
Sir George spoke about the Party's Leadership election and conducted a poll of those present.
"There are two questions; how do we elect; and whom do we elect?
On the how, there is an inherent instability in the present system. The membership have the final say; but the MP’s can then unilaterally undo that decision. Indeed, the first time we used that system, that is exactly what happened.
We need a system without that tension in it. But that raises the broader question as to who is best placed to take the final decision.
The view of MP’s is that we are; and that is also the majority – but not unanimous – view of the members. So MP’s have resolved to change the system. We will nominate anyone who can get 20 MP’s to sponsor them; we will then consult with the membership; and the result of that consultation would produce a ranking. And MP’s would then vote knowing the views of the Party. If that model is approved on September 27th, that will be the “how” for the next election. If there is no agreement, we will choose a leader using the existing rules.
I think MP’s are better placed for this reason. When we chose a leader, we tend to ask the question “Which of these candidates will get me the most votes in my constituency; and, leading on from that, which of these is most likely to win a General Election?”
The party members tend to ask a different question. “Which of these candidatess do I agree with; which most accurately reflects the reasons why I joined the Conservative Party?”
The two questions produce different answers. In 2001, the preferred choice of the MP’s was Ken Clarke – not because he most accurately reflected the values of MP’s; but because, in the currency in which we deal – votes – he was better endowed that Duncan Smith or Portillo. The members asked a different question to which the answer was IDS. It remains my view that, however much distress it might have caused some of my members, we would have got more votes on May 5th 2005 with Ken Clarke than Iain Duncan Smith."
MP's know the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates; the leader must have the support of the Parliamentary party in a democracy such as ours. So I favour repatriation of the decision by the MP’s. But it is important that we know the views of our supporters. And this is where the audience participation comes in.
I am going to read out a list of ten people who I think might want to lead our great party. I am then going to read it again slowly and ask you, if you wish to, to indicate by raising your hand which one you want.
Alphabetical. Michael Ancram; David Cameron; Ken Clarke; David Davies; Alan Duncan; Liam Fox; Andrew Lansley; Theresa May; Malcolm Rifkind: David Willetts."
The result of the straw poll at Abbotts Ann was Ken Clark 18; David Cameron 15; David Davies 7; Liam Fox 4; Malcolm Rifkind 3; Michael Ancram 2.
The following Sunday, Sir George repeated the same exercise at the Millway Branch Curry lunch. The results were David Davies 12; Ken Clark 7; David Cameron 5; John Redwood 4 (not put forward at Abbotts Ann); Malcolm Rifkind and Liam Fox 2 each.