Following his disclosure in the Sunday Times at the weekend that he will vote Liberal Democrat at the European election taking place on Thursday, Tory peer Lord Heseltine has had the Conservative whip suspended in the House of Lords.
Following a meeting with the Government Chief Whip in the Lords earlier tonight, a Conservative spokesman said:
“Lord Heseltine has given more than half a century of service to the Conservative Party and his long-standing and sincerely held views on Europe are well understood. But, with his long experience, he will know that publicly endorsing the candidates of an another party is not compatible with taking the Conservative whip in Parliament.
“As a result, the Chief Whip in the House of Lords has informed Lord Heseltine that he will have the Conservative whip suspended. This will be reviewed if he is willing to support Conservative candidates at future elections.”
However, despite Tory HQ issuing a warning last month that “endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the party,” I can disclose that the former Deputy Prime Minister’s membership of the Conservative Party will not be suspended and he will not be subject to any further disciplinary investigation, following a meeting of the Party Board at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) today.
It was a regular meeting of the party’s governing body which by coincidence occurred the day after Heseltine’s intervention in the Sunday Times in which he confided that he will “lend” his support to the Lib Dems on Thursday because of “the Government’s position on Brexit”.
A source from the Board tells me it was decided that he could remain a Conservative member because he had merely stated his personal preference for supporting another party rather than actively campaigning for another party or encouraging others to follow suit – actions which would have resulted in disciplinary action.
“It’s a pretty fine line, but technically he has not gone over the line,” adds my source.
I gather that there was even discussion that the CCHQ-issued guidance contradicts what is written in the party constitution.
The ConservativeHome website’s regular survey of Tory party members earlier in the month found that 60% of them intended voting for The Brexit Party on Thursday.
But tonight’s news would suggest that, following Rebecca Ryan’s call on BrexitCentral, the Conservative Party will effectively turn a blind eye to any rank-and-file party member simply declaring their support for another party at Thursday’s election (although not if they are deemed to be encouraging others to vote for anyone other than Conservative candidates).
Nonetheless, today’s events would appear to confirm that publicly advocating voting for another party is not compatible with retaining the Conservative whip for those holding public office.
CCHQ has not yet provided me with a further formal statement on the matter.
Photocredit: Julian Mason
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