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Unforced errors

ConservativeHome's Seats & Candidates blog: Local Association officers back Douglas Hogg MP.

What kind of political fool would openly back Douglas Hogg or Andrew Mackay in the face of current public contempt for their conduct? Their constituency chums may be loyal friends, but they have done their party a lot of harm.

Had I been the chairman of Hogg's constituency association, I would have told him to prepare his case against deselection to put to the association when called upon to do so. In the meantime, I would have demanded he keep his nose clean and his head down.  I would have refused to call an association meeting or discuss the matter further until the smoke had cleared. Hogg is not the worst offender, by any means. His conduct, while embarrassing, was not probably not criminal. But he and his infernal moat have become the emblems of the Tory side of this scandal. His association has now perfected the comic narrative for Labour and its luvvies in the media. He acted like a feudal lord and they -the damned fools- have tugged their forelocks.

Mackay's local council colleagues have been less dim, but no less naive. He may not even have asked them to express their support. They were put in that invidious position by ConservativeHome and should have ignored a question irrelevant to their role as councillors, which they were under no obligation to answer.

What the friends of such reprobates are doing by loyally seeking to protect them is signalling to local electors the extent to which the party thinks it can take their votes for granted. It achieves nothing good and does a lot of harm. Just when New Labour is finally being punished for disrespecting its core vote, the Conservatives appear to be copying the tactic. In protecting Hogg and Mackay from Conservative Party discipline, their local friends risk exposing the party to the electors' wrath. If the party won't discipline them, the electorate may try. Given a "white suit" or suitable minority party candidate as its weapon, it might even succeed.

It is dangerous to take any electors for granted right now. The provincial working class which established the Labour Party is incredibly loyal. Yet even it submitted to being Blair and Brown's political commode for only a decade. Having watched that happen, I doubt if rather more sophisticated Conservative voters will wait meekly in line for their turn. Cameron needs to get on the phone to all his constituency chairmen before more such foolish things are done. It's not too hard to imagine a smoothly plausible Tory MP talking his constituency association into backing him just before the fraud squad comes calling.

Local associations would do well to strike stern poses, maintain dignified silences and keep their powder dry. Unless they have a clear case for deselection, of course, in which case they should act ruthlessly and without hesitation. Better an ex-Tory MP in gaol than a current one.

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