Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Brexit: and Totnes' independent MP

The MP for Totnes has been very outspoken:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Totnes' MP calling for a peoples' vote

She has become 'Devon't most influential MP': 

How family GP Sarah Wollaston became Devon's most influential MP

She has become an outspoken opponent of her own party leadership when the party line goes against the best interests of her constituents.

Guy Henderson Chief Reporter5 DEC 2017

From the moment she was chosen as the Conservative candidate for the Totnes constituency, Dr Sarah Wollaston was on course to become Devon's most influential MP. In a little over seven years she has become an outspoken opponent of her own party leadership when the party line goes against what she believes are the best interests of her constituents.Her selection for the Totnes constituency was the first of its kind. She was the first person to be selected through a postal open primary, in which voters of all parties were invited to have their say on the candidacy.

How family GP Sarah Wollaston became Devon's most influential MP - Devon Live

The idea of an 'open primary' was controversial at the time - some ten years ago:
Open primaries are an open invitation for political mischief - Telegraph
Sarah Wollaston: GP, mother and Conservative Parliamentary candidate - Telegraph
GP becomes Tory candidate in first 'open primary' election - Telegraph

And yet the Telegraph liked the idea of an 'independent' Tory:
Here's to Sarah Wollaston: the Tory tweeter who cannot be silenced - Telegraph

Here is Dr Wollaston writing in the Telegraph five years ago: 

Why open primaries make for better MPs

Open primaries get the public involved in politics - and produce better MPs, says Dr Sarah Wollaston

Voters tend to prefer candidates with a connection both to real life and their local area 

By Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes
15 Oct 2014

Parliament still doesn't look or sound much like modern Britain. We have a long way to go, not only to balance gender and ethnic minority representation but also the background of our MPs. To put it bluntly, we need more parliamentarians who haven't spent a lifetime trying to get there.

The problem for those who come from outside the Westminster bubble is getting selected to fight winnable seats when the selection system tends to favour the default option of former insiders. Truly open postal primaries hand the decision making to an entire constituency and, far from discriminating against those without a track record, voters tend to prefer candidates with a connection both to real life and their local area.

Open primaries make an even greater difference in seats which rarely change political allegiance; where currently a tiny selection committee in effect dictates the MP who will represent the wider electorate, sometimes for decades to come. In marginals, they focus the mind of Parties, not on their favoured sons and daughters, but on putting forward a choice of individuals who are most likely to appeal to the widest electorate.

I had never been to a political meeting before applying to become an MP but had spent 24 years in clinical medicine as well as teaching. It was the decision of the Totnes Conservative Association to take a chance on shortlisting me for the first fully open postal primary in 2009 despite my lack of political experience.

Every registered voter received a postal ballot including a leaflet from each of the three candidates and a return paid envelope and a public hustings was held for those who wanted to come to grill us in person.

One neighbouring MP called on his Party's supporters to sabotage the primary by voting for the person he judged would be least likely to win; it backfired as this undemocratic intervention was resented and the turnout was higher than expected at 25%.

Did it make any difference? Even now, four and a half years on, people who didn't vote for me at the general election remind me that they supported me at the Primary. They're glad to have had a say in the type of Tory who represents them in Parliament.

For my Association, far from losing control of the process, they were able to shortlist not one but three candidates, any of whom they would have been happy to support but confident that the eventual winner of the primary would also be more likely to command local support. Several people told me that, having supporting me in the primary, they wanted to do so again on the day.

As for myself, being elected twice, I have always felt an extra responsibility to be everyone's MP; perhaps in part why I am less tribal in my approach to politics and followed a scrutiny role within Parliament, now as Chair of the Health Select Committee.

This week, voters across Rochester and Strood will receive their own open postal primary ballot papers. Both candidates have strong local connections as well as local government experience; Anna Firth is a former barrister and Kelly Tolhurst runs a marine surveying business.

I hope UKIP do not set out to undermine this democratic fully open primary, if they did it would be a direct challenge to their first elected MP, Douglas Carswell, who has long championed their cause.

I hope that all Parties will look at how full open primaries can be made cheaper and more accessible but that will depend on voters in Rochester and Strood demonstrating their appetite for democratic reform.

Why open primaries make for better MPs - Telegraph

The point being that such a process means that a candidate and MP is less beholden to the local party association and its members - and more to their constituents:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and two-thirds of Conservative Party members opting for "no-deal rather than a bad deal"

Which is why she's been under threat of deselection:
Threats to deselect Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston – the PRSD

The former Prime Minister talked yesterday about 'entryism':
Sir John Major: Extreme fringes are manipulating the Tories and Labour - Telegraph

Which has been a concern voiced by others for some time:
Tory Remainers warn party is being infiltrated by 'purple Momentum' | Daily Mail Online
Tory grassroots deny 'Blukip' infiltration as MP defectors accuse 'tyrannical associations' of falling victim to 'Purple Momentum' - Telegraph

When it came to Brexit, Dr Wollaston was originally a Leaver - but changed her mind:
EU referendum: Respected Tory MP Sarah Wollaston quits Leave campaign over 'false' NHS claims | The Independent

And now she's left the party:
Live updates as Sarah Wollaston quits Conservatives to join Independents Group - Devon Live 

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston writes to Totnes constituents to explain Independents Group switch

20 February 2019 

Sarah Wollaston has quit the Conservatives to join the newly-formed Independents Group.

The Totnes MP, the first to have been elected via an open postal primary, announced her decision to leave the Tories along with Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry on Wednesday morning.

The trio have opted to join the Independents Group, which was formed earlier this week after seven MPs defected from the Labour Party.

In a letter to her constituents, Dr Wollaston said she could no longer remain a member of a party, “whose leadership has become so driven by the demands” of others.

“I do not share their right-wing values or those of the UKIP supporters who have been urged to join the Conservative Party via aggressive and well-funded social media campaigns in order to deselect moderate MPs,” she wrote.

The final straw has been the Government’s mishandling of Brexit. Despite the PM losing her majority, no meaningful attempt was made to reach out to heal the divisions left by the referendum or to seek a cross party, or national consensus, on the way forward.

The Totnes Conservative Association Chair said he was "saddened" by Dr Wollaston's departure.

The 57-year-old, who was elected in November 2017, went on to blame Brexit for “squandering the energy of Government”.

She also said the uncertainty surrounding Theresa May’s ongoing negotiations with the EU, and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, was partly responsible for some companies opting to leave the UK - like Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan.

11:44 - 20 Feb 2019

Dr Wollaston’s letter to constituents, in full, below:

With regret, I have decided to resign the Conservative Party whip. I am passionate about this constituency and proud to have been the first Conservative parliamentary candidate to be selected via a full open postal primary. This gave every registered voter in the Totnes constituency, regardless of party affiliation, the opportunity to decide which Conservative candidate they would prefer. From the outset, I have made the case for a centrist, moderate and outward looking approach to our politics. I assure you that I will continue to take that approach but will now do so as an independent MP. I will carry on working constructively with the many hard-working Conservative councillors across this constituency, for whom I have the greatest respect. My decision is no reflection on them.

However, at a national level the Conservative Party appears to have abandoned attempts to modernise or to broaden its appeal and has instead become less tolerant and more inward-looking. I can no longer remain a member of a party whose leadership has become so driven by the demands of the ERG and the DUP. I do not share their right wing values or those of the UKIP supporters who have been urged to join the Conservative Party via aggressive and well-funded social media campaigns in order to deselect moderate MPs.

The final straw has been the Government’s mishandling of Brexit. Despite the PM losing her majority, no meaningful attempt was made to reach out to heal the divisions left by the referendum or to seek a cross Party, or national consensus, on the way forward. The 48% who voted to remain are marginalised and alienated and many Leave voters have also been left exasperated by the PM’s Deal. The trade-offs and compromises in the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework mean that the Deal is a long way from the unrealistic promises made during the referendum campaign.

Brexit has consumed and squandered the energy of Government, Parliament and our political parties. That together with a shift to the right by the Conservatives has undermined efforts to tackle the ‘burning injustices’ that the PM pledged to address on entering Downing Street.

We have reached a precarious moment in our national life. Nothing has divided us like Brexit and we now face the serious prospect of crashing out of the EU in less than 40 days’ time with No Deal and no transition. This would not be a ‘clean Brexit’ as some have chosen to represent it. The serious real-world consequences would harm people not only in this constituency but across the whole of the UK and beyond. We are already seeing clear evidence of the consequences for people working in companies like Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Dyson, Fly BMI, Panasonic and for sectors like the pharmaceutical industry following the relocation of expertise and jobs with the European Medicines Agency. It is also starting to hit local businesses.

The truth is that No Deal Brexit would deal a body blow to our economy, putting jobs and livelihoods at risk as well as crushing the opportunity to reverse austerity. Having looked at the evidence of the damage it would inflict, I cannot support a No Deal Brexit and I wholly reject the PM’s false binary choice between that grim option and her own deeply flawed Deal. I have for many weeks said that I would resign the whip if No Deal became the stated policy of the Government but also that I would do so if running down the clock amounted to the same.

I believe that everyone deserves the right to examine and weigh up the pros and cons of the Deal and to have the final say in a referendum. This would offer the opportunity to confirm Brexit and proceed rapidly with implementation or to remain. Without that valid consent, I believe there will be decades of acrimony about the consequences.

The Labour Party has also changed beyond repair. It is now permanently in the grip of the hard left and tainted by its failure to root out anti-Semitism, these are some of the reasons why several of its MPs have already decided that they too must resign the whip. I will be sitting alongside them in a new centre grouping of independent MPs who share a common set of values, The Independent Group. We agree with the millions of people who feel that neither main political party represents them and that there needs to be a new offer at the heart of our politics.

I know that being an MP is an enormous privilege and I remain hugely grateful to everyone who has supported me. I know some will now call for me to stand in a by election but neither this nor a general election would answer the fundamental question that is dividing us… for that we need a referendum on the final Brexit deal. I will be listening carefully to views about The Independent Group and how this could develop in the future. I remain absolutely committed to this constituency.

Last updated Wed 20 Feb 2019


Hamfisted said...

Feel sorry for Sarah Randall Johnson. Twice defeated by an independent; and her day job at Flybe has gone. Maybe she could come back to be chair of EDDC where she was ignominiously voted out by voters who preferred the integrity and public commitment of Independent Claire Wright. Or maybe she could be parachuted into a safe Tory seat (if such a thing still exists) after being ignominiously defeated in the Totnes primary by the now independent Sara Woolaston. At least nobody in Devon objects to her refusal to allow the DCC Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise cuts to NHS provision etc.

Jeremy Woodward said...

Thank you Hamfisted,
Well, I never: that the Leader of the East Devon District Council at the time was beaten by a mere family doctor: 33% of the vote compared with 48%: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Totnes_Conservative_primary
I doubt the local Party will be doing it this way ever again:
So said the former Prime Minister back in 2011:
"The Conservatives used primary elections to pick several of their parliamentary candidates before the 2010 election – both in the form of open meetings, and postal ballots of every voter. But the PM is reported to have been unhappy that this made some of his MPs too independent – notably Sarah Wollaston in Totnes, one of the leading rebels over the health reforms. So Cameron has declared “never again” when it comes to primaries for parliamentary selections."
Finally, perhaps she has jumped before she was pushed: