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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 May, 2005, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Leader rules must change - Hague
William Hague
William Hague was leader of the Tories from 1997 until 2001
Former Tory leader William Hague has backed calls to change the leadership election rules which he introduced.

Michael Howard has said he will resign as leader, but not until a review of rules which were changed to give the final say to party members, not MPs.

Some say this was a mistake as party members tend to be older and understand less what is required of a leader.

Mr Hague said the rules he brought in seven years ago should be changed so MPs again had the decisive say.

I believe a new system should return the final vote on the leadership to the MPs
William Hague

Writing in the News of the World, he said he had hoped to create a bigger and more varied Conservative membership.

"Yet this has not happened and the party members can be said to be no more representative of the population than the MPs, but without the personal knowledge of the possible leaders," he wrote.

"In politics, you have to learn from experience, so I believe a new system should return the final vote on the leadership to the MPs, but should still ensure the grass roots cannot be ignored."

He suggested a system whereby candidates should win nomination from several constituency parties before MPs voted.

Duncan Smith

There has been speculation that Mr Hague might run for the leadership again, but he said he would not be volunteering for the job. The bookies' favourite is currently shadow home secretary David Davis at odds of 7/4.

Most Conservative party members are getting a little bit old
Former Tory MP Phillip Oppenheim
Other leading Tories have criticised the rules which meant that after Mr Hague's resignation following the 2001 election, an outside candidate, Iain Duncan Smith, won as a result of the grassroots vote.

His spell as party leader was cut short when he was toppled by fellow MPs shortly after the Tory conference in 2003.

Modernising MP John Bercow said party activists tended to be more right-wing than most voters, and tended to pick a leader "who reflects their views".

"The problem with that is that we end up with somebody who is simply incapable of appealing to the mass electorate," he told GMTV.

Former Conservative MP Phillip Oppenheim agreed.

"Most Conservative party members are getting a little bit old... they are half a percent of the population who are probably the most right-wing half a percent of the population," he told BBC News.

He believes the current system, where MPs choose two candidates who are then voted upon by the constituencies, will be reversed so the constituencies will suggest a slate of candidates who are then picked by MPs - as Mr Hague suggested.

'Gypsies'

"I suspect the way it will be framed is, that slate will be quite large, to make sure the constituency members don't limit it to just one or two relatively right-wing candidates," he added.

A lot of serious discussion's got to go on to find a way through this, so the members of Parliament are satisfied with their leader and the members of the party feel they've had a say
Former party chairman Lord Parkinson
However, activist Stephen Parker, from Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire, stood up for the constituencies and told BBC News it may be the party headquarters that is out of touch.

"Let's take gypsies for example. I'm sure it's infuriating to have gypsies at the bottom of your garden, but only Central Office in the full fruition of its genius could run a campaign in which perhaps 250 votes will be influenced up and down the country."

Former Conservative chairman Lord Parkinson, who drew up the current rules with Mr Hague, said they had been aimed at bringing "more democracy" into the party, holding the party together, and making the constituencies feel valued.

"There's no need for confrontation," he said.

"But a lot of serious discussion's got to go on to find a way through this, so the members of Parliament are satisfied with their leader and the members of the party feel they've had a say.

"Those two things are absolutely immoveable from any reform."





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