Journalist Matthew d’Ancona says the fact that MP Crispin Blunt was forced to undergo a reselection process because a minority of Tory activists in his constituency had a problem with his sexuality should alarm Tory modernisers.
Yesterday, Mr Blunt, the MP for Reigate in Surrey, wrote exclusively for PinkNews of his joy at being overwhelmingly reselected as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Reigate in the 2015 general election.
“I won the ballot by a margin of 5 to 1,” Mr Blunt said. “Not quite a North Korean result, but it was a thumping rebuke from the majority of ordinary conservatives to the 12 or more Executive Council members who voted against me, but more significantly an overwhelmingly positive vote for a very, if rather late, ‘out’ Conservative candidate. This is the message to take away about grassroots Conservatives: that given the choice to re-select an openly gay MP, their overwhelming decision was positive.”
Mr Blunt was forced to undergo a new selection process by his local Conservative Association’s Executive Council in September – which he said was completely without grounds.
In his PinkNews article, Mr Blunt said: “Without having to come to any coherent, collective reason for refusing my application, and the only major change in my life since the last election being my coming out in 2010, the conclusion that homophobia was in play was wholly reasonable.”
Despite Tuesday’s handsome victory for Mr Blunt, journalist, political commentator and author, Matthew d’Ancona believes the fact that Mr Blunt was forced to undergo a reselection process by a small minority within the Conservative Party is an alarming development.
“It shows that the Tory dinosaurs, far from being extinct, are only slumbering”, wrote d’Ancona, in the London Evening Standard. He said: They may not prevail in such local struggles but they can cause plenty of mayhem along the way.”
He went on to say: “It is now the threat that hangs over Conservative MPs or candidates who anger traditionalists — a threat that rumbled menacingly during the votes earlier this year on same-sex marriage. Blunt’s victory may dissuade reactionary caucuses in other constituencies. But the Battle of Reigate will scarcely encourage talented men and women who happen to be gay to stand for Parliament in the Tory interest.”
d’Ancona added: “Blunt’s near-death experience has much to tell Cameron and his allies. I do not mean to suggest for a moment that the great mass of voters is much exercised by the politics of sexual orientation, or the minutiae of Conservative modernisation. But what must strike the punters as odd is that a group of Tory reactionaries — a vociferous minority — was prepared to dump an experienced MP because he declared his homosexuality.”
He continued “Cameron had never intended to make same-sex marriage a great confrontation with his grassroots. It was the unmodernised party that turned a simple act of equalisation and fairness into a trial of strength and proxy battle for the soul of Conservatism. At such moments — and again in Reigate — the Tory tribe looks besieged, fearful and distracted. It does not look like a governing party.”
In September, d’Ancona claimed that David Cameron’s support for same-sex marriage had provoked such a backlash from Tory party members that the prime minister almost wondered whether it was worth the cost.
Yesterday, the Tory MP and Minister for Planning, Nick Boles, said the party would find it difficult to secure a parliamentary majority at the 2015 general election unless it speaks loudly about social progressive policies such as equal marriage.
However, Tory equal marriage critics, such as MP Nadine Dorries, have warned that mentioning the policy in an election campaign would play into the hands of the UK Independence Party.
Labour said Mr Boles’ comments highlighted a feeling of frustration that the Tory modernising project remains uncompleted.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Ashworth said: “Nick Boles, one of the prime minister’s closest advisers, has let the cat out of the bag. David Cameron’s so-called detoxification of the Tories has been a sham and his modernisation project is dead and buried.”