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November 01, 2006

Watlington asks, is it the end of the centralised Conservative Party as we know it?

Posted by Watlington

Watlington asks, is it the end of the centralised Conservative Party as we know it?

In Cameronite circles there is a fascinating debate going on. How to deal with the new politics that has emerged? How to react to the blogging community, the pressure group activism that is changing the face of politics?

Are blogs like www.conservativehome.com and Iain Dale a force for good or major constraints on modernisation? In one quarter a set of modernising apparatchiks argues that politics has changed for good. The days of centralised political party machines dictating everything are over. Politics has moved away from IBM and Microsoft-style all pervasive control to one of Linux style anarchy. In the Linux world of politics, Conservative Home can have more influence than a Shadow Cabinet Minister.

The medium of the internet allows any capable person to set up a successful pressure group - and through blogs and emails influence thousands of members who in turn can influence the Conservative Party. Not for nothing do some Conservative MPs say that Conservative Home is the website they fear to cross. This group argues that the Conservative hierarchy must embrace the new politics and build alliances and coalitions. Given that there is no way of stopping this new politics, Conservatives should work alongside it rather than against it.

In this new spirit of anarchistic politics, there is also a view that Conservatives should loosen the whipping allowing people to hold different views and admit when there are differences of opinion.

In the other quarter, mainly composed of MPs, there is a view that the Conservative Party must remain tightly centred - after all, anarchistic politics may be all well and good in opposition, but what happens if the Conservatives are in Government and have to make tough choices? What happens when the media paint Conservative differences as a party deeply divided? The view here is that Conservatives will retain their market share if they are simply better than the rest and that Cameron's liberal conservatism will endear itself to far more real people than those on the blogosphere fringes.

Thus far it seems that the first view is holding sway. The Conservative leadership and Party HQ have decided to work with weblogs like Conservative Home (better inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in, as President Johnson might have said) in a recognition that (i) this is an unbeatable product and (ii) the official party website by its very nature of being official would never come near Conservative Home in style or content.

Indeed, there are even rumours that the Party high command leaked the controversial A list to Conservative Home using the website to publish a list that they themselves felt unable to publish (for data protection reasons and objections by various candidates etc).

One thing is for sure: as Mr Cameron works hard to change the Conservative Party, he can flag up Conservative Home as being a vehicle for dissent - i.e. Conservative Home could become the Tory equivalent of Tony Blair's fight over "Clause 4". It could be the arena for the type of battle the Conservative leadership are so determined to replicate.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.


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