Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Need A "Fighting Chairman"

The job of being Conservative Party Chairman has, traditionally, been quite a unique one in British politics. The role is both political and administrative and tends to be split into 2 - the internal focus of party organisation, making campaign HQ work effectivly and firing up to troops (a job Eric Pickles did so very well) and the external one of going out onto the airwaves and beating the hell out of the opposition (a job Norman Tebbit did so very well).

So when, after the election, David Cameron appointed Sayeeda Warsi to the job I thought the new Prime Minister would have thought long and hard about this appointment. Warsi was clearly, I thought, the woman for the job - so impressive was she, that Mr Cameron had to get her into government via the appointed House of Lords rather than election to the House of Commons. At the time I remember some grumbling, from the old guard, about her getting the job because she is a female Muslim, but I had to dismiss these arguments. As if the Prime Minister, especially one whose task was made more difficult by holding a coalition together, would make an appointment on such spurious grounds.

The recent riots in Britain have, though, given me cause to think again. You see, in ordinary times the Prime Minister would balance his role in government with being the Leader of his Party. The problem Mr Cameron has is the nature of coalition government. I am sure he wants to do and say a lot of things that he just cannot do because somewhere a "senior" LibDem (and I am yet to hea of one of the media who doesn't have that label) would go ballistic. I am sure, call me niave if you wish, that Mr Cameron is much, much tougher on justice policy, human rights, EU integration and foreign policy than he could ever say in public. A coalition government is a classic balancing act in that respect and I am sure many LibDems feel the same about Mr Clegg.

So here is where I would expect the Tory Chairman to step in, and say all the things that our members and supporters want to hear (and, I warrant, a majority of the country). Where was our Chairman going from studio to studio, radio mic to daytime sofa, giving those no-nonsense tough talking interviews? Nowhere; almost invisible. The few media appearances she did make were, frankly, poor. That's why it was Michael Gove who - the PM aside - made all the running and gave the party faithful something to go door-to-door with. What stopped Baroness Warsi? Where was she and what was she doing?

When we have a Tory Leader who cannot be, and say, all that he wishes it is paramount we have a "Fighting Chairman" who goes out there and punches for us.

Now I know what my critics would say - Baroness Warsi is also a member of the government and a member of the cabinet. Her (almost) LibDem equivalents, President Tim Farron MP and Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP, both sit outside of the government.

So I have a suggestion to make.

Use the undoubted talents of Baroness Warsi elsehwere in the government and give us our "Fighting Chairman". Then, remove the holder of the Tory Chairmanship from the cabinet to give them the freedom to speak (or shout) up for us without the constraints of collective responsibility.

Because when the Conservative Leader cannot lead the Conservatives above all else, the Chairman should.

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