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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 14:16 GMT
Plan to 'cut Tory members' power'
Iain Duncan Smith
The Conservatives are thinking of reducing the role of party members in selecting a leader, reports suggest.

A Tory spokesman has confirmed the party's board has been consulting about changes to its constitution.

But the decision would rest with senior Tory volunteers and would not be taken before a general election, he said.

The fate of Iain Duncan Smith, dumped as Tory leader after a no confidence vote from MPs, prompted many to question the current system.

'Consulting'

Mr Duncan Smith was the first leader to be chosen under the new rules devised by his predecessor, William Hague. Before that only Tory MPs had a vote.

He received fewer MPs' votes than former Chancellor Ken Clarke but won in a poll of party members.

According to Monday's Daily Telegraph, a number of options for reducing the power of party members in future elections in favour of MPs are now being considered to avoid a repeat of those problems.

The parliamentary party, whatever the individual views of members there, has an instinct to win
Lord Heseltine
Ex-Deputy Prime Minister

Michael Howard did not face a leadership ballot when he took over the reins last year, as he was unopposed for the job.

In a statement, a Conservatives spokesman said: "The Conservative Party Board has been consulting over possible changes to the party's Constitution on a wide range of issues since the beginning of the year, but if there were to be any changes made, these would not be implemented until after the next general election.

"No change could take place without the consent of the Party.

"The decision to change the constitution would rest with senior volunteers including all Constituency Chairmen and Area and Regional Officers, MPs, MEPs and front bench spokesmen in the House of Lords."

Members' balance

Any changes for leadership elections would need support from at least half of those entitled to vote and the backing by a two-to-one margin among both MPs and senior volunteers.

Nicholas Winterton, vice-chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, told BBC News there were currently no firm proposals.

But former Tory Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine said Monday's statement from the party indicated discussions were under way.

Calling for change, he told Radio 4's World At One: "The parliamentary party, whatever the individual views of members there, has an instinct to win.

"They recognise that winning in a modern democracy requires a degree of balance.

"Individual activists I don't think have that balance."

John Strafford, from the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, said preliminary discussions had taken place.

He warned: "If MPs take unilateral action it would be the death of the Conservative Party."

But introducing reforms as part of a wider package of giving ordinary members more say over policy could prompt a Tory revival, he argued.




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