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Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election

The Conservative Party's Ideological Rift

The Conservative Party’s Ideological Rift

The British Conservative Party is grappling with an internal rift over its ideological direction, with accusations that Downing Street is deliberately blocking traditional right-wing candidates from contesting the general election. The aim, according to those on the Tory right, is to ensure the party’s dominance by centrist forces aligned with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s more moderate stance.

The Alleged Purge of Right-Wing Candidates

Conservative MPs and party insiders claim that Sunak is attempting to purge the party of those who support low-tax, small-state conservatism, paving the way for centrists to take control after the election. The allegation is that even if Sunak loses the election and resigns as leader, he will have already ensured the party cannot shift to the right by filling its parliamentary ranks with moderate “One Nation Tories” who would reject potential right-wing leadership candidates.

The Rejection of “True Blue” Conservatives

Some Tory MPs have expressed dismay that high-quality applicants with traditional Conservative values are being rejected from the list of approved parliamentary candidates, while those who believe in higher taxation and increased public spending are being approved, even if they lack the requisite skills to serve as MPs effectively.

The Battle for the Conservative Soul

This controversy is the latest evidence of the civil war raging within the Conservative Party between those who believe it must move to the right to combat the growing threat of the Reform UK party, and those who believe the only way to remain electable is to occupy the center ground of British politics.

Accusations of Anti-Brexit Bias and Diversity Obsession

Applicants who have spoken to The Telegraph describe those in charge of the selection process as “yellow Tories” – a derogatory term for centrists – whose preference is for candidates that are largely indistinguishable from Liberal Democrats. They allege a clear anti-Brexit bias among those who interview applicants and complain that rather than being grilled on Conservative values, they are asked multiple questions about promoting diversity.

The Case of Aman Bhogal

Aman Bhogal, a former diplomat who contested a Northern Ireland seat in 2015 but has not been selected since, said the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) was involved in a “stitch-up” by blocking right-wingers from making it onto constituency shortlists. He claims that in the past, candidates were asked about their Conservative values and ideals, but now the focus is on “how you have promoted diversity and how you have addressed white privilege.”

The Plight of Lord Frost

Among those who would like to be a Tory MP is Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator, who has made it clear he would renounce his peerage to sit in the Commons. Although he has not made any public comment, The Telegraph understands he has been blocked by CCHQ from applying for seats in the Commons. A Sunak loyalist suggested Frost is being excluded because “he is a member of the House of Lords who is also trying to remove the Party leader.”

The Blocked Brexiteer Candidates

David Campbell Bannerman, a former Conservative MEP who has been on the approved list of candidates since 2019, says he is being blocked from progressing to the long list for any particular seat “because I wasn’t being nice enough about Rishi Sunak.” Another candidate who has been overlooked said: “Essentially, true blue Conservative candidates are just campaign fodder, people who will shove leaflets through doors – CCHQ has no serious intention of letting them stand in a winnable seat, if at all.”

The Rise of the “Liberal Democrat Tories”

The unnamed candidate added, “If, like me, you’re pro-Brexit, tough on immigration and want low tax, CCHQ see you as a repulsive headbanger. Too many in the party might as well be Liberal Democrats.”

The Fallout from Flawed Selections

Problems with the selection process have been blamed for MP defections in recent years, including former Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston and former South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen, both of whom jumped ship to Change UK and then the Liberal Democrats, as well as former Wokingham MP Phillip Lee, who defected to the Liberal Democrats.

CCHQ’s Defense and Counterattack

A CCHQ source denied the claims of ideological bias, stating: “These claims have no basis in fact. It’s obviously a bit difficult for candidates who attack the party leader to be selected given they will be asking constituents to cast their votes for him to be Prime Minister.” However, the source acknowledged blocking candidates hostile to Sunak, adding, “But the idea that people are not being put forward because of some ideological bent is totally false.”

The Diversity Dilemma

Critics argue that CCHQ’s obsession with diversity has led to the sidelining of merit-based selections, with Brexiteers and traditional conservatives overlooked as centrists who should be Liberal Democrats infiltrate the party ranks. The row exposes the fractured state of the Conservative Party as different factions wrestle for control over its uncertain future.

The Power Brokers

Influential figures in the selection process include Gareth Fox, chief of staff to the chairman of the candidates committee, a Remainer tasked by David Cameron with making the party more diverse; Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, who co-founded Women2Win with Theresa May to increase female Tory MP numbers; Matt Wright, chairman of the candidates committee; Matt Lane, director of candidates; and Dougie Smith, a long-term No 10 fixer who vets candidates and liaises between Downing Street and the candidates committee.

The Implications for the Party’s Future

Even if Sunak loses the election and quits as party leader, he can determine what sort of party his successor inherits by controlling the list of potential parliamentary candidates. By blocking right-wing candidates and favoring centrists, he could shape the Conservative Party’s ideological trajectory for years to come.

The High Stakes

With 63 Conservative MPs already announcing their intention to step down at the election, the stakes are high as candidates are selected to contest those constituencies. The outcome of this internal battle will not only determine the party’s electoral prospects but also define the very essence of modern British conservatism.

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