Tory HQ attacked by party activists

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The Independent Online
TORY PARTY managers will come under strong pressure from the rank and file at the annual conference in October to make the organisation a more democratic and financially accountable body that takes greater note of the views of constituency activists.

Implicit criticism by the grassroots of failings of the party and Central Office, its London headquarters, in particular, comes in more than 40 motions on policy and organisation to be put before the Brighton conference.

The motions spotlight thinly-veiled impatience with a perceived absence of democracy and sound money management, and apparent unwillingness to listen to party workers in the field.

The criticisms are in part the result of growing discontent in constituency associations over giving substantial sums to Central Office, especially at elections, without full disclosure of how the money is used.

The scale of grassroots concern over financial management is apparent from a motion from the Ruislip Northwood Conservative Association. It says: 'This conference accepts the need to control local government expenditure and supports the method used to achieve this, ie. capping.

'In order to control the spending of Central Office, this conference requests that they too be 'capped'. If local authorities can be forced by cash starvation to manage effectively, surely the same applies to Central Office.'

The Rushcliffe association calls for the publication of the party's balance sheet and that of Central Office, while the Hendon North association urges that a new party executive committee, with at least half its members elected by Central Council members in a postal ballot, should have responsibility for Central Office and for the party's central funds.

Another welcomes the organisational review already put in hand by Sir Norman Fowler, the party's chairman, but calls for full recognition to be given to the 'rich abundance of talent' in the voluntary wing of the party.

Several motions call for better presentation of policies. In an apparent swipe at election campaign managers at Central Office, one from Cheadle urges: 'We should follow the example set by John Major, pick up our soap boxes, go out into the community . . . '

Sir Norman has cut spending by a reported pounds 3m and headquarters staff by 20 per cent. The party went to the April election campaign with an overdraft understood to approach pounds 10m.