Thursday, October 27, 2005

Here we go again ...

It has been ages since the last entry, but this blog is back on track. Apologies for the break in transmission. I sincerely hope you had some other source of keeping up to date with the news, because if not, I must say, a lot has passed you by in the last week while this blog was on holiday.

A few things:

David Cameron and David Davis won through as the two leadership candidates to face the Conservative party faithful in the membership vote.

Joan Rivers did what many have long desired to do and whupped Darcus Howe's ass all over a Radio 4 studio. He had had the gall to imply that she was a racist. (Incidentally, he would have been the prime candidate for last week's Lunacy of the Week award.) By the time she had done with her withering comments, one had almost begun to feel sorry for the poor man.

The ban on smoking in public places has been confirmed, but it will not affect private members' clubs.

I think we can now carry on from here, and this we will do, God permitting.

More later.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

ID cards

While we were all distracted over the Conservative Party leadership election, MPs were preparing to vote on the ID cards bill. The Opposition wanted to amend the Bill to remove the requirement for applicants for a passport to submit their details to the ID card database. Unfortunately, the Government got its way, albeit with a slashed majority of 32. The Bill is scheduled for a Third Reading next week, and some more backbench rebellion can be expected. I for one am still hopeful, even in the teeth of indications to the contrary, that this Bill can yet be defeated. In June 2005, the Government was forced to deny claims that it would sell our details to private companies to pay for the ID card scheme. That sits somewhat oddly with a Home Office statement that banks would be able to check our details against the ID cards database. And what is a bank if not a private enterprise? It is a short step from that to opening up the database to other companies. There are many reasons to oppose the introduction of ID cards. Catch up with me another day, say next week, and I will give you the civil liberties argument. I will be following this Bill's progress and commenting as necessary.
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Tory leadership: round 1 (results)

So our sources were right, after all. Kenneth Clarke got the fewest votes and has now been eliminated. It is widely expected that David Cameron will be the beneficiary as many of Clarke's supporters are expected to switch their support to him.

David Davis received fewer votes than expected, although he still topped the poll. David Cameron received more votes than expected, and it is clear that the momentum is with him. There is now talk of Liam Fox overtaking David Davis in the next round of voting. Fox's supporters are trying to get the right wing vote behind them by trying to convince Davis's supporters to switch to them. They are expected to argue that their candidate has a better chance than Davis to beat Cameron in the poll of the party members. I wouldn't rule out a surprise result after the next round of voting on Thursday, with David Cameron and Liam Fox going forward to face the party faithful.
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Tory leadership: round 1 (voting closed)

Conservative MPs have finished voting in the first round of the election to choose a new leader. They had to choose from four candidates, Malcolm Rifkind having dropped out of the contest last week. The result of the first round of voting will be announced in the next 20 minutes. However, rumours are circulating that David Davis and David Cameron are safely through to the next round. Speculation is rife that Liam Fox has scraped into third place. If true, this will mean that Kenneth Clarke will finish in last place and will therefore drop out of the contest. I know what I have said in the past about Kenneth Clarke, but if this is true, I for one will be sad to see him leave frontline politics. Having thought about the matter for a while, I would prefer the final two candidates to be David Cameron and Kenneth Clarke. They are the two candidates who are most able to reach out to the non-traditional Tory voters that the party needs.

Still, it is good to see the media all a-frenzy over the Conservative Party leadership election. It shows that the party is not irrelevant, and that everyone, even the BBC, realises that we need a proper Opposition.

The results will be announced shortly, so there will be more later tonight from this blog.
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Sunday, October 16, 2005

An aside ...

I think I have just had an epiphany. Perhaps I should celebrate, as such moments do not come along every day. Strangely enough, I don't feel moved to do so. I am oddly elated, and yet at the same time pensive beyond belief.

Indulge me today. This blog will be back to normal tomorrow.
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Lunacy of the Week 2

This is the second Lunacy of the Week entry. For the second week running, I am submitting this after the Friday deadline. My, my, the auguries are not good. I promise to be more efficient from now on.

Ever heard of the Local Government Ombudsman? I hadn't until last week. For now I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt that they do a useful job. It is hard, though, as the next paragraph will demonstrate.

We are informed in the Sunday Telegraph of 9 October 2005 that a council that expelled a boy from school for carrying a knife has been fined 10,000 pounds by the Ombudsman for failing to find him another school. Poor Greenwich council. We are told that the ruling includes a payment of 5,000 pounds to the pupil's mother to compensate her for the 'anxiety and uncertainty she has suffered' while her little cherub was out of school. I should add that the council did make attempts to place Bladeboy in other schools, but not surprisingly, not all the schools were willing to have him. One school, though, was brave enough to take him, but he did not want to go there. He was then offered a place in a pupil referral unit, but his mother was not happy as it did not offer the full range of GCSE results. One would think that Mama Bladeboy would have been more concerned about keeping her loathsome child out of jail.

The Ombudsman also ordered Greenwich council to pay 6,000 pounds to meet the cost of tutors for the boy.

For the avoidance of doubt, the award for Lunacy of the Week goes to the Ombudsman, although Mama Bladeboy came pretty close to nicking it. I promise, I will get round to contacting the Ombudsman. I still haven't contacted last week's winner though, so first things first.
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Friday, October 14, 2005

A peculiar derailment

How sad to hear that the Railtrack shareholders have lost their case against the government.

It's a long story, and I'll try my best to be brief. It all began when the Conservative government privatised the rail network in the '90s. Some bright spark came up with the goofy idea of packaging and selling the rail tracks separately from the train routes which ran along them.

A company, imaginatively named Railtrack, was set up to look after the rail tracks, and other companies bid for the franchise to run trains on the routes. The public enthusiastically took up the invitation to buy shares in Railtrack. The company subsequently did very well in the market, posting record profits year on year.

This arrangement had problems, not least the fact that the route operators had no control over the punctuality of their trains in cases where delays were caused by problems with the track.

Then disaster struck. There was a train accident at Hatfield and four people died. The accident was caused by the poor state of the tracks. As a result of the publicity generated by this tragic event, Railtrack was forced to spend a lot of money repairing all the tracks across the country. Its productivity suffered, and profits fell. The government ended up ploughing millions of public money into the company to keep it afloat.

Sick of the increasing demands for even more public money, the Department of Transport and the Treasury hatched a plan to force Railtrack into administration. Documents exchanged between both departments (which were produced in the court case) revealed the disdain with which Railtrack shareholders were regarded. An official queried whether public money should be used to compensate these investors in the event of Railtrack being forced off the rails, and there was a sneering remark about worrying about 'grannies losing their blouses' when the company went belly up.

The company was eventually put into administration by the Secretary of State for Transport. It was replaced by a not-for-profit entity. The 'grannies'and other enterprising persons who had bought shares in Railtrack lost all their money. They took the government to court, alleging misfeasance of public duty. At the time he put Railtrack into administration, the Secretary of State had claimed that he had no other option as the company could no longer support itself. However, evidence was adduced at the trial to show that the company would not have gone under if it had not been so spectacularly derailed. The Secretary of State even admitted to the court that he had not told the truth to Parliament about conversations he had had about plans for the company.

Sadly, the shareholders lost their case. The court held that malice on the part of the government had not been proven. In order to succeed, the shareholders had to prove that the Secretary of State put Railtrack into administration with the intention of injuring their interests. This is a tall order, so the ruling should have come as no surprise. However, the judge dismissed the reasons given by the Secretary of State for lying as 'little above gibberish'.

A moral victory, if nothing else, for the shareholders. For me, it raises questions as to why we should believe the government when it claims that it wants to foster an 'enterprise culture'. The sneering disregard for people who have invested their money in a company, having been invited to do so by the government, is stunning. We used to talk about nationalisation by the back door, but this is a straightforward battering-ram job. We should be concerned about a government that has no compunction about mounting such a raid on private property. Admittedly Railtrack sat in an ambiguous position as a private company receiving government handouts, but that does not justify the government's actions. I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that when the Secretary of State announced his assault on Railtrack, he was cheered to the rafters by the Old Labour brigade. These people, with their raging waves of self-righteous cant, foaming out their own envy, can always be relied on to resist sound capitalist progress. Armed with an ideology that has been shown to be withered from the roots, they have managed, for the past eight years, to block economic progress in this country. To give Tony Blair credit, he has occasionally managed to face them down. However, if Gordon Brown does become the next Prime Minister, we could be in for a lot worse.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Earthquake in Pakistan

In the last ten months, we have been ravaged like never before by the forces of nature. Now, terrible news from Pakistan. At least 20,000 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the earthquake that struck last weekend.

PS. Does anyone know if Osama was hiding out in the hills of Muzaffarabad?
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Many happy returns

Today is the 80th birthday of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

Margaret Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher, Lady T, or even M******t T*****r, is probably one of the most famous people in the United Kingdom today.

I will not spend any time discussing Lady Thatcher's record as Prime Minister. Everyone has heard of her, and everyone has an opinion about her. All I will say is that she made an invaluable contribution to the economic landscape of the United Kingdom. She quite correctly grasped that the role of the State was that of an enabler. She believed that the State should provide enough to inspire its citizens to achievement, but not spoonfeed, harass or nanny. It has been stated before that her one failing was that she did not realise that in every society, there are people who need more than 'inspiration'. As a result, in many cases, the State kicked away the crutches without stopping to check that the poor citizen was able to raise himself up by other means.

Nevertheless, history will be kind to Margaret Thatcher. We are already getting indications of this by the fulsome tributes being paid to her by people from all parts of the political world. Even her one-time foe, Tam Dalyell, who attacked her for lying during the Falklands war, has stated that her untruths are as nothing compared to Tony Blair's statements over Iraq. That surely is praise of a kind.

Margaret Thatcher's legacy lives on. It is no secret that Tony Blair has picked the more successful parts of Thatcherism and used them to his advantage. As Charles Moore (Daily Telegraph, 8 October 2005) infers, it is a pity that the Conservative Party appears unable to do the same.

As 'Thatcher Thatcher the milk snatcher' enters her ninth decade, we wish her all the best for the future. She is having a birthday party which will be attended by the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prime Minister and the outgoing Leader of the Opposition. This is as it should be. Have fun over the canapes, dear Maggie, and stay well away from that oily showman Blair.
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Monday, October 10, 2005

Lunacy of the week 1

First, I must apologise for the late appearance of this maiden edition of the Lunacy of the Week series. I was away for the weekend.

Now, straight to business.

As expected, competition was stiff, but I have decided to award first prize to Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph (4 October 2005) reports that the Council has, following a complaint by a muslim employee, banned all pictures and items relating to pigs. This includes, we are told, an employee's box of tissues, because it had a picture of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

I intend to contact the Council to pass on the glad tidings of their win. I shall keep you posted.
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Exclusive bombing rights over Iraq

Iran has been accused of having a hand in the bomb attacks which killed some British troops in Iraq. Apparently, the bombs used in the attacks bear Iranian fingerprints all over. Tony Blair has of course condemned this, stating without irony that there could be no justification for Iran, or any other country, interfering in Iraq.
Nothing more to say here.
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The Blackpool Grand Prix

The Conservative Party annual conference has come to an end. We had a chance to hear all the five leadership contenders speak, and my! how things have changed. David Cameron delivered the most inspiring speech of them all, and apparently is now favourite with some bookies to win. David Davis, erstwhile favourite, gave a lacklustre performance. I had expected this, anyway, as public speaking is not one of his strong points. Kenneth Clarke did well, and I don't feel so hostile to his candidacy anymore. Liam Fox did better than expected, and may well supplant David Davis as the candidate of the right. Malcolm Rifkind got the loudest ovation, probably because his speech reminded the Tory activists of the good old days of government. There is definitely a buzz in the air as the MPs return to Westminster to begin the first round of voting. Momentum is building, and the excitement is palpable. Blackpool has fired the starter gun, and now, as the great Murray Walker used to exclaim, it's go, go, go!
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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What is the point of children?

Television chatshows in the United Kingdom have one staple: a warring young couple with two or three children apiece and a shared baby. The typical story runs along these lines: young girl has two children from a previous relationship; she meets young boy who already has a child of his own. Young boy is sent to prison, invariably for burglary or joyriding. Young girl is pregnant. When young boy comes out of prison, he accuses young girl of cheating on him, and they end up on a television show with the theme: Lying ex! Is my baby really mine? Or even the more threatening 'I want the truth TODAY!'

The understanding chatshow host gives both parties a chance to put their stories, and then runs through some standard questions, well knowing what the answers will be: did you plan this baby? Is there a history of alcohol abuse in the family? Is there a history of drug use in the family?

As the chatshow host does not really have any answers to the problems, or more likely, dare not express her real views on the matter, she falls back on a default statement, 'the innocent party in all this is the child. You should think of the child'.

This statement can be guaranteed to bring applause from the studio audience. By the same token, any member of the studio audience who utters these magic words is generously applauded and acknowledged with the sort of respect normally reserved for a guru or psychic.

This would lead us to believe that the British are a nation of children lovers. Do not be fooled. That is far from the truth. This is a nation which has not yet worked out what children are for. To some, they are a tool with which to beat guilt-ridden working mothers into submission (Daily Mail). To some parents, children are little gods and goddesses at whose pampered altars they must pay homage every Christmas. To the Government, they are little beings to be bribed with precious taxpayers money (Child Trust Funds, anyone?) in the hope that the appreciative parents will do the right thing and vote wisely.

Perhaps it is the Government's ambiguous relationship with the nation's children that is currently causing the confusion. The Government that thinks nothing of jailing a mother because her teenage children refused to go to school is the same Government that doles out contraceptives to 14 year olds behind their parents' backs. So who is responsible for the children? Legislation exists to penalise parents who give their children a good whipping, yet these same parents are blamed by Tony Blair when their children turn out bad. (Contentious issue, I know, but I will point out that there is a difference between chastisement and inflicting violence. On my side of this argument, I have no less an authority than the Bible. Proverbs 13.24, since you ask.)

Children are tough young things, and well able to weather some of these things that we feel would cripple them. Mother going out to work? That's nothing! I was brought up with the sort of studied nonchalance that would have landed my parents in jail were it to happen in this day and age. I don't think this harmed us in any way. My mother went out to work. It didn't even occur to me and my brothers that it could be any other way. My parents frequently went on their annual holidays around Europe and America while we stayed at home with our grandmother and uncles. I remember they once went on holiday and left us in the care of a slip of a girl who had just finished her A'levels. We were all happy with the arrangement. For us, it also gave us a break from our parents for a month, and we could hardly wait for them to leave. I still remember the jubilant celebration as they drove off to the airport that night. However, if that were in these times, my dear mother would have been on the front page of the Sun, above the caption 'Monster Mum leaves Tots for Month-long Jolly'.

A recent study on happiness has just shown that, contrary to what we may think, having children does not make us any happier. So why are we sitting here pretending? Because we feel too guilty to admit that. For the most part, guilt plays a huge part in our relationship with our children. We know it. The tabloids know it. Trisha Goddard the chatshow host knows it. The Government knows it.

So what can we do about it? Nothing much. Accept the truth. Accept that with children, we can never be 100 per cent right. Accept that Princess Michael of Kent was right when she said earlier this year that the English take the breeding of their horses and dogs more seriously than they do that of their children. To quote her, 'God forbid that the wrong drop of blood should get into their Labrador, but their children marry however they wish'. Accept that, and get on with it.
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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lunacy of the week: introduction

This blog will be launching an additional service from the end of this week. Every Friday evening, I will present you the news story to which I have awarded the Lunacy of the Week prize. Given the state of affairs in the country at the moment, I am expecting that competition for this award will be stiff. More on Friday!
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Congleton or Islamabad?

Ann Winterton, the MP for Congleton, is in trouble again. This seemingly foolish Tory MP has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. She was sacked from her Shadow Cabinet position in 2002 for making a joke with the punchline that Pakistanis were 'ten a penny' in the United Kingdom. Last year, she had the party whip withdrawn for telling a joke about the Chinese cockle pickers who drowned at Morecambe Bay. Mrs Winterton has now written an article in which she stated that 'the United Kingdom is still, thankfully, a predominantly white, Christian country'.

Hmm. Given her past record, it is not surprising that Ann Winterton holds such views. What is surprising this time around is the absence of the outrage that normally greets such pronouncements from La Winterton. I believe that this is because, given the current climate (to borrow a phrase), Winterton's views are resonating with an increasing number of people. The only complaint I have so far seen has been from the Cheshire Racial Equality Council. Even the Conservative Party, nowadays anxious to dispel any whiff of racism, has not said much.

What do I think of Ann Winterton's comments? Difficult question to answer, but I do not want to duck the issue. Perhaps I would do a better job of answering it if I pretended that the comments were made by anyone other than Winterton.

I can see why she would feel 'thankful' that her country is 'predominantly white'; after all, no one likes change that much. What I resent is the implication that it would be a bad thing if it were not the case; the suggestion that a country is that much better for being 'white'. Anyway, her opinion. I don't have to agree with her.

Please don't shoot, but along with Winterton, I am thankful that this is a 'Christian' country. Perhaps I should say that I am thankful that this is not a muslim country. For all our quarrels with the Government about the erosion of human rights, we are at least in a better state than many muslim countries. Here, at least, there is more than a passing regard for democracy, freedom of speech, and the rights of women. Daily we hear about the situation in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and as a woman, I know where I'd rather be.
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Monday, October 03, 2005

Beside the seaside

This should be an exciting week to be a neo-liberal or conservative. The Conservative Party Conference is taking place in Blackpool, and with a leadership election around the corner, the contenders are using this occasion as a platform to share their vision with the party faithful. This is therefore an opportunity like none other to reshape and articulate prinicples of modern conservatism. Thus far, five men have thrown their hats into the ring. It is important for Party members to listen to each man's vision for the country and decide whom to entrust with the task of leading the Party into the next dispensation.

It is not enough just to field a candidate who can beat Gordon Brown at the next election. There is no point in being in power if one lacks the principle to bring about effective change in society. Far better to remain in the wilderness. What we should be looking to hear from the contenders is not how they intend to win the general election, but what they intend to do for the good of the country. Whatever is good for the country will be good for the party, but the converse is not necessarily true. It is unfortunate that the one man who appears to have properly grasped this truth is not standing. David Willetts has instead given his backing to David Davis.

Peter Oborne, writing in the Spectator, tells of a general election that took place during the dark days of Labour opposition. As the results were announced and it became clear that Labour had once again suffered a heavy defeat, the talk turned to whether the party needed to change to appeal to the general public. At this point, it is alleged that one of the leading party leaders defiantly pronounced: there is to be no compromise with the electorate!

That attitude has characterised the Conservative Party in recent years. Its response to election defeats and negative opinion polls has been to move even further to the right.

After the fiasco of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and the negative campaigning of the last general election, the Conservative Party has finally learnt its lesson. The contenders are all now freely talking about the need for change, and the importance of occupying the centre ground.

David Davis is on the right of the party. He has however promised that there will be no 'swerve' to the right. Davis has described himself as the 'Heineken' candidate, reaching parts of the country no else can reach. He is correct in thinking that as the son of a single mother, brought up on a council estate, he had an upbringing different from what one might expect in a typical Tory. Maybe so. While that in itself does not qualify him for the job, there is something to be said for having a leader who appears to reconnect the party to the working classes. Sometimes even the mere perception of a thing is good enough.

Liam Fox appears to be a genial, fun-loving man. It is important to have a leader who appears human. Of all the candidates, he has produced the most right wing manifesto, making abortion an issue in the election. As a former GP, it is only to be expected that he would have strong views on abortion one way or the other. He talks encouragingly of healing Britain's 'broken society', thereby attempting to debunk the misconception that the Conservative Party does not care about the impact of socio-economic issues on the lives of the general public. The one thing that may count against Liam Fox is that he is Scottish. Were he to become Party leader, he may be facing his fellow Scot, Gordon Brown, at the next general election, and probably Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, another Scot. This may be too much for English voters to stomach. It is possible that this fact alone may persuade some Conservative Party members not to vote for Fox.

Malcolm Rifkind espouses One Nation prinicples, and remains a skilled orator. However he is trailing the others, and it is suggested that he may step down at the end of this week.

Kenneth Clarke. Well, what can I say? He is widely hailed, and promotes himself, as the man to beat Gordon Brown. This may be true. In addition, he scores highly with the non-Tory voting public who may be persuaded to vote for the party if he were leader. However, he has not told us what his vision is for Britain. His answer to the problem the Conservative Party faces seems to be simply: vote for me. Then there is the Europe question. The fact that Europe is on the back burner at the moment does not mean that it is safe to let Ken lead the Conservative Party. The first sign of trouble, and his pro-Europe views will split the party. In any case, with a Government hell-bent on surrendering our sovereignty to Europe, we need a Leader of the Opposition who will keep an eye on the national interest. I doubt that we will get that with Ken Clarke.

David Cameron is doing well, but he will not win. He is only 38, and lacks the experience. Then there is his background. He went to public school, and then to Oxford. I have no problem with that, but in a party trying to shed its image as an 'out of touch' orgainsation for the rich, this is creating a certain amount of nervousness. His ideas are good, though, and it will be a good thing if they are adopted by the eventual winner.

So let's sit back and watch the week go by.
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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cooing, heckling and the blue-rinse brigade

The past week has been rather eventful. There have been many stories in the news, almost all worthy of comment here. However, one cannot talk about everything, so I have to be selective. Below are a few events that gave me pause for thought.

Walter Wolgang, an 82 year old leftie, was thrown out of a meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. His crime was that he had dared to heckle the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who was making some mealy-mouthed comment about the British Army being in Iraq to restore democracy. Wolfgang was manhandled out of the hall by two heavies, and then, when he tried to get back in, he was prevented from doing so by the Police who applied anti-terror legislation to achieve that effect.
My comment: this event has confirmed my suspicions about the potential for abuse of anti-terror legislation, and we should resist any attempt by the Government to extend the existing laws.

A hospital has advised its visitors not to coo at, or touch, any babies in the vicinity, on the basis that this infringes their human rights.
My comment: I agree with the ban on touching babies. I think it is rude to touch someone's baby without being invited to do so. As to the cooing, that may be taking things too far. Speaking about babies, though, I could do with a ban on them touching strangers in public. How many times have I been on a train and had a baby wipe its grubby paws all over my clothes, to the amusement of its mother? The worst part is that everybody expects you to grin and bear it. Note to mothers: that aint cute, get your baby to stop it!

The electoral college of the Conservative Party has rejected proposals to amend the rules regarding the Party leadership election. This means that the old rules remain in place, and that all Party members still have a vote in choosing the next leader.
My comment: This is a good thing, because, if the proposals had been voted through, the Party membership would have been disenfranchised. The leader would have been chosen by the MPs only. Given that the Party has very little Parliamentary representation in the North of England, and only one or two seats in Scotland, that would have meant that those constituencies would have had no say in choosing the leader. Yet it is precisely from such areas that we need to hear. The Constituency chairmen and volunteers in those places are much better informed about what the Conservatives need to do to reconnect with the electorate. This is especially the case in marginal seats. Far from producing an unsuitable leader, we can trust the membership this time around to listen to all the candidates and make a decision for the good of the country. More about this in a coming blog.
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