Tom Richmond: Way for Cameron to avoid a repeat of Tory blood-letting

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IF the Tories want to draw a line under the blood-letting in the troubled Thirsk and Malton constituency, there is a very straightforward solution.

David Cameron should introduce a new rule which compels every sitting MP to face a re-selection vote of all local party members if it is their intention to stand for Parliament again.

The benefits are two-fold. First, it may encourage more people to join their local party if they can have a say on the selection – and accountability – of election candidates, whether it be MPs or councillors.

Second, this democratic test will lessen, still further, any likelihood of MPs taking their local members for granted, and in particular those politicians, like Anne McIntosh, who represent safe seats that are very unlikely to change hands in a general election.

If MPs are confident about their record and diligence, they should have nothing to fear from an open and democratic process like this.

This need was actually reinforced by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, the current bête noir of the Tory party, when he described many converts to his party as ‘Walter Mitty’ characters in a rather disparaging manner.

Whether Farage intended to or not, he gave the impression – correctly – that local political activists are fully paid-up members of the ‘awkward squad’ who, generally speaking, are advancing in years. I’m sure McIntosh would not disagree on this point after her own travails.

Yet is it healthy for democracy? No, it is not. People of all ages and backgrounds need to become involved if politics is to be driven by pragmatists rather than those who fantasise about agendas that will just never happen.

And it comes back to my remarks last week that it is politicians, and not celebrities or cynical commentators, who are to blame for the current malaise in the relationship between Westminster and the very people that elected MPs purport to represent.

If politicians are made to work for the support of their local party, and especially in those rock-solid constituencies where MPs can effectively have a job for life, it might just help to revive interest in politics and prevent associations being held to ransom by the warring factions like those witnessed in Thirsk and Malton.

TALKING of Ukip, it is ironic that Nigel Farage wants to “professionalise” his outfit after being embarrassed by the extreme and intolerant views of a number of members, including Yorkshire MEP Godfrey Bloom.

When challenged on live television about the party’s proposal to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent, a flustered Farage questioned the validity of the assertion. Told it was on the Ukip website, he said: “When it comes to websites, I’m not the expert.” It was also news to Mr Farage’s party that Ukip’s 2010 manifesto included a compulsory dress code for taxi drivers. “Do we?” he laughed. Yet he was a prominent candidate in that election.

If Ukip – a one policy party at present – wants to present a more professional image, it can begin by coming up with a more coherent policy programme. It is what voters have a right to expect.

THIS week has offered a glimpse into the mindset of a future Labour government. A 50p tax rate for high earners, a new quango for small businesses in response to David Cameron’s drive to cut red-tape and Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, backing new laws that would ban smoking in cars where children are passengers – even though the police do not have the resources to enforce such a rule.

In short, more tax, more regulation and more petty rules. Sound familiar? Yes. It is precisely the type of intervention that left Britain on its knees at the end of Gordon Brown’s government and which will take at least a decade, if not longer, to rectify.

Yet a word of warning to those business leaders who claimed, confidently, that this was the week in which Ed Miliband and Ed Balls lost the next election. They could be right – but the captains of industry, like former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, need to remember that the economics are always a secondary consideration to the politics when it comes to Labour’s ‘bash the rich’ campaign – its only policy.

A GENTLE word of advice to Keighley-born Julian Hartley, the new chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

If he wants to rebuild the trust of patients and staff at Europe’s largest hospital trust, he will take personal charge of complaints.

If he does so, he is likely to gain a far better understanding of the issues than his predecessor Maggie Boyle whose decision not to take complaints seriously culminated with children’s heart surgery being suspended two years ago at Leeds General Infirmary.

MORE pontificating from the BBC over the Bank of England governor’s speech on the implications of Scottish independence – Wednesday’s 10pm news bulletin required input from its economics correspondent, Scottish political editor and political editor Nick Robinson.

I’m afraid it smacked of the BBC spending our money keeping egos happy – and nothing else.

HERE’S further evidence why jump jockeys are a breed apart. As a thunderstorm erupted over Town Moor, Doncaster, Ruby Walsh would have been forgiven if he had sprinted back to the sanctuary of the weighing room after the majestic mare Annie Power extended her unbeaten winning run to 10 races.

Not a bit of it. As the heavens opened, Ireland’s top rider spent minutes in the pouring rain, with only his racing silks offering protection from the elements, as he posed for photographs from a succession of wellwishers who had come to support Walsh during his flying visit from Yorkshire to Ireland.

This is not unusual – his great friend and rival AP McCoy is just as generous with his time – but it spoke volumes about Walsh’s character that he was cheered and congratulated by those bookmakers still braving the elements in the betting ring.

My point is this. In an era when all sports competitors face 24/7 scrutiny from social media, it is only right that occurences are highlighted when they lead by example – even if jump racing would expect nothing less from the likes of Walsh and McCoy. If only the same could be said about their counterparts on the Flat and those riders whose rapport with racegoers depends on whether or not the TV cameras are present.

I COULDN’T believe it when I read that the Environment Agency had stopped dredging on the flood-hit Somerset Levels last year because some water voles had been discovered.

Yet what do you expect when this quango is headed by one Lord Smith? 
As Chris Smith, he was Culture Secretary in Tony Blair’s first government and I can only assume that his appointment to the Environment Agency was based on political cronyism rather than finding the best person for the job.

How about sacking Smith and appointing one of the people steeped in Britain’s rivers and who understands the importance of water management and dredging?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk