Tory chairman faces grass-roots rebellion over party democracy

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Indy Politics
THE Conservative Party chairman, Sir Norman Fowler, is facing a grass-roots revolt from activists seeking to make half of the party's powerful board of management democratically accountable.

Norman Lamont's constituency of Kingston is among more than two dozen which have backed a motion for next month's Conservative Central Council at Plymouth which would require half the board to be directly elected by constituency delegates.

The motion, which has been circulated by the Party Reform Steering Committee - formed after the 1992 election - is designed to meet discontent over their lack of direct control over use of finances, propaganda, the criteria for selecting candidates and other key Central Office functions.

The motion endorses the decision last year by Sir Norman to set up a new board of management as part of his shake-up of Central Office. But it adds that the new board 'still lacks the crucial democratic element' without which constituency associations cannot have complete confidence in the 'future operation and control of either Central Office or the party's central funds'.

Reformers are optimistic that the Central Council - which acts as the party's annual general meeting - has a chance of passing the motion, despite a defeat for a similar proposal last year. They resent Sir Norman's right as party chairman to appoint the entire 11-person board, which includes leading party dignitaries such as Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1922 Committee.

While official sources say that only a 'very small' number of constituencies have backed the proposal this year, reformers claim that three times as many have backed the plan than at the same stage last year.

They claim that last year's proposal, debated in a private session, was supported by up to 40 per cent of representatives, though senior party sources insist that it was defeated by a 'substantial majority'.

Sir Basil Feldman, chairman of the party's National Union, has told constituencies that party leaders do not want motions for this year's Central Council, but the party says this applies to policy issues, not to management.

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