We were right – there was no Blukip. No Purple Momentum. No mass infiltration of the Conservatives.

6 Jul

Mark Wallace said that allegations that the Conservatives had been infiltrated on a mass scale by non-Conservative Brexiteers were baseless.

He was right.  See the above – and here’s a link to Tim Bale’s Twitter thread.  We reproduce below the original text of his article on this site of February 22 2019.

In recent weeks, allegations have grown that something dark is afoot among the Conservative grassroots. Anna Soubry summarised it this week with a bold assertion: “the majority of associations are being infiltrated by a nationally orchestrated entryism designed to remove rebel MPs who they call traitors”.

She is not alone. Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston apparently agree, and last week Nick Boles raised a similar allegation in The Times:

“There has been a systematic operation of infiltration of the Conservative Party by Ukip and Ukip sympathisers. I had 400 members until 12 months ago and I now have 500 . . . They have coalesced with those in my party who already had these views…”

“What has happened to me and I think is in the process of happening to others like Dominic Grieve, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry, Mark Pawsey and George Freeman is a sudden influx of ex-Ukip members or ex-Ukip voters actively recruited by the organisations Leave.EU and Leave Means Leave.”

The supposed phenomenon has even picked up a couple of headline-friendly nicknames: “Blukip” and “Purple Momentum”. It has become a central refrain for those claiming the Conservative Party has become “extremist”, and obviously for those either leaving or under threat of possible deselection it is a potentially powerful charge to level at their critics.

But is it true?

First, let’s look at the fabric of the allegation, from those making it. The three former Conservative MPs made it such a central part of their reasons for leaving that they wrote in their resignation letter that “a purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative Party” – so were inevitably urged to give more information at their press conference.

A simple question

Hannah Al-Othman of Buzzfeed asked: “You mentioned entryism – who are these people, where are they coming from, and how many of them are there?”

It was a straight down the line question, the perfect opportunity for three experienced politicians to elaborate on an issue which they had chosen to bring to the fore. Wollaston answered that there was “a very well-funded social media campaign…against many of us” and a “deluge of really threatening calls” to her office. Soubry said that the Leave.EU website features calls to deselect Conservative MPs and urging its supporters to join the Conservative Party, pictures of which she has since tweeted as “the evidence” of her claim.

And that was it.

Those issues referred to are undoubtedly real. I’m sure Wollaston’s staff have received some really nasty calls (as have Boles’s, among others), which is sickening. And Leave.EU does have a website full of rants about traitors and a founder who loves to boast of his influence.

But none of this actually amounts to any evidence whatsoever of that alleged “nationally orchestrated entryism”, affecting “the majority of associations” and “subsuming the Conservative Party”. Given an open goal, an invitation to lay out the evidence and substantiate the claim, they chose to present nothing at all.

What basis would there be to think those horrible phonecalls are coming from Tory members? Although she mentioned them in answer to a question about entryism, even Wollaston herself carefully didn’t assert that the calls were from members, entryist or otherwise.

Similarly, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Leave.EU’s aggressive Facebook posts and self-indulgent boasts have actually amounted to any real-life entryism. Calling for something to happen is not the same as succeeding in making it happen, and tweeted pics of bluster is not evidence of an outcome.

Empty boasts

Leave.EU itself has publicly failed on this front already. By my count this is at least the third time they have called for UKIPers and Leavers to join the Conservative Party en masse in order to hijack it. Each time, the group has claimed victory, supposedly having secured hordes of entryists who now control the Party, deselections are imminent and so on…only to announce a few months later that the Conservative Party is not controlled by Brexiteers and must be taken over by entryists, rather undermining their previous claim.

For anyone who has followed that outfit’s history, this is a familiar story of wild over-claiming that isn’t matched by reality, with those boasts eagerly lapped up by Remainers for whom they are politically convenient. While Arron Banks claims to run a sizeable chunk of the Conservative Party, there is zero sign that he actually does so.

Where are these 30,000 members (the most recent claim)? CCHQ, which runs the join-up pages that Leave.EU links to has detected only a tiny increase in traffic coming from the advert campaign paraded by Banks and Soubry. The numbers actually joining as a result are even smaller, and have been subject to vetting and bans. Banks himself, his sidekick Andy Wigmore, and Steven Woolfe, the (now former) President of “Blue Wave” (their previous outlet for entryism press releases) were blocked from joining last summer – a fact which didn’t stop Lord Adonis from claiming that Woolfe, who is still not in the Conservative Party, “sums up the takeover of the Conservative Party by extremists”.

Where are they all?

Perhaps, though, while those ad campaigns haven’t actually driven much traffic, there is still a huge wave of organised and hostile entryists flowing into the Conservative Party through other routes?

It’s not clear why or how that would happen covertly if it isn’t happening through the supposedly influential adverts, but let’s entertain the possibility. Even if this army of entryists had got in, then they would be visible somewhere. A 25 per cent or more boom in membership figures, if you believe Banks’s latest number, would be impossible to miss.

There would be a sizeable financial uplift in membership subs – for which I can find no evidence. There would be a sizeable boom in the membership total – of which there is no word beyond the effects of the Conservative Party’s own recruitment campaign last summer, and a slower rise in the Autumn as the possibility of a leadership rise grew. A Conservative Party which is deeply worried, and often mocked, about the decline in the size of its membership would be shouting from the rooftops about such a massive surge in numbers.

Nor is this something that might be concealed by CCHQ. Unlike Labour, local Conservative Associations have to individually approve (or reject) potential members in addition to checks done by the centre. So there are hundreds of association officers across the country who personally see the names and addresses of those who join up. They know their local patches – and often their local UKIPers, from years of rivalry – and many double check or spot check for known allegiances to guard against anything untoward.

Search though I have, I have yet to find a single Association officer who has seen evidence of this “purple momentum” wave. They’ve seen the occasional rather inept attempt, but nothing more.

For example, an email was sent to a range of associations earlier this week from a previously unheard-of outfit calling itself “The Endeavour Group“, promoting a mis-spelled and rather vague guide on how to select Leaver candidates in future. Having made the first mistake of actually using generic association email addresses, it seems unlikely to have any impact.

Indeed, the only grassroots-level concern I have discovered along these lines is that some associations with Remain-leaning MPs – including Heidi Allen’s – have noticed that people previously identified as Liberal Democrats have joined the Conservative Party in recent months. It isn’t a basis for alarm, but sources on the ground speculate that this is an in-flow of pro-EU activists hoping to defend rebellious MPs from deselection.

Furthermore, deselections are not triggered by rank and file members in the Conservative Party rules, they take place by Association executives voting not to re-adopt the candidate (a verdict which can than be verified or overturned by a ballot of the membership, if the MP wishes). So even an influx of entryist members alone wouldn’t have the claimed effect – there would have to be branches and Association executive seats taken by such people, in sufficiently large numbers to wield a majority in each constituency. Again, where are the signs that long-serving Tory officers and councillors are being supplanted in such a way?

Association membership figures are not routinely published. However, it is possible to make broad estimates from declarations in their accounts. An analysis I have seen, carried out by an experienced former Conservative Party agent and officer, notes that Wollaston’s local association membership fell from over 750 at the time of her selection in 2008 to around 400 by the end of 2017. The same analysis estimates, from membership revenues, that Soubry’s association shrank from 172 members in 2009 to something a shade over 120 by the end of 2017, and that Allen’s local membership fell from around 450 to around 350 from 2014-2017.

The Conservative Party as a whole has lost many members over the last dozen years, and it seems these MPs’ associations have suffered if anything from that problem, not from a vast influx. Soubry lamented this week that while she had signed up members “in the past”, she was nowadays unable to find anyone “like me” who wanted to join, which might hint at the real issue.

And why is there no sign of them doing anything?

So without evidence of these entryists existing, and without reports of anyone seeing them joining, how else might we test the theory? The remaining option is to look for symptoms of their activity. If, as we’re told, they are infiltrating “the majority of associations” in sufficient numbers to “subsume the Conservative Party”, and are acting on specific instructions to deselect pro-EU rebel MPs, then that should be visible.

Where are the signs of an orchestrated movement carrying out this mission? Despite a lot of excitement, there have still been no deselection votes, never mind actual deselections, in the Conservative Party since 2014, when Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo were deselected.

Soubry’s views on the EU are not exactly a secret, and she has been warning of entryism since last August, but the closest she has come to deselection was when her association chairman – a Conservative councillor since 2012, not a UKIP interloper – tried to rally opposition to her in July 2018, allegedly because he fancied the job of MP himself. His effort ended with him being No Confidenced unanimously by his own association executive, after which he resigned. If anything, this week’s news suggests that Broxtowe Association may have been a bit too tolerant of its MP’s opposition to Conservative policy.

In Grantham and Stamford, where we have reported on the Association executive’s recent efforts to hold a vote on re-adoption (a vote fended off by Boles thus far), there is precious little sign that the executive is in any way controlled by hostile outside forces. The members include a range of experienced and long-serving Conservative councillors and activists, who voted unanimously to try to proceed with the vote. The most senior former UKIPer at the table – Cllr Robert Foulkes – joined the Conservative Party as a defector wooed by the Tories, not as a hostile entryist. He was welcomed in the local press on that basis by one N. Boles.

There are former UKIPers in the Conservative Party

There have certainly been real changes in the composition and/or views of the Tory membership in recent years. Natural attrition and political events make that inevitable.

Every measure – from our own survey through YouGov’s polls to the research of the ESCR-funded Party Members Project – indicates that the grassroots membership is strongly anti-EU, and a majority voted Leave. Indeed, there’s reason to believe the Conservative Party, not UKIP, was the single largest source of Leave activists in the referendum.

That isn’t a shock, given the long history of Conservative Euroscepticism, but the membership has become more anti-EU in recent years. In part that mirrors the change of opinion among the electorate at large, but leaving the EU has also gained ground in Tory circles in particular. When the Conservative Party adopted support for Brexit as policy after the referendum, that swung more people (like, at least for the duration of the 2017 election, Heidi Allen) from Remain to Leave. It also led to some really ardent Remainers leaving the Conservative Party, which further exaggerated the trend.

In addition, others who supported Brexit decided to join the Conservatives. Indeed, the Conservative Party appealed for them to do so. Rather obviously, parties try to get people who agree with them to join by promoting their policies. That brought some from no party at all, some from Labour and even the Liberal Democrats, and quite a few former UKIP voters and members.

Aha, so there are ex-UKIPers inside the Tory Party. Well, yes. A fair few are even former Tories who defected to UKIP then came back (something David Cameron actively encouraged). But that’s not “entryism”, a hostile act organised from outside, that’s the Conservative Party successfully recruiting supporters and activists, something it ought to do rather more of if it hopes to be successful in future.

This is what successful political parties do, win people over. It’s why the Conservatives have absorbed former SDPers like Daniel Finkelstein, former Communists such as Erics Pickles and Forth, ex-Labour candidates like Rehman Chishti and even a former UKIP leader in the form of Craig Mackinlay.

During the years of the UKIP insurgency, there was angst in almost all wings of the Conservative Party about the way in which the divide helped Labour, and how to “reunite the right”. Now it is happening, it is absurd to make out that it is illegitimate.

A slur on good Tories

The sad reality, beneath all the hyperbole, is that the three MPs who have quit the party were simply unsustainably unhappy with the platform their party was committed to. Many of their local Conservative members – new and old – will have disagreed with them about Brexit, in particular. Some might even desire to deselect them due to that disagreement, or – as is often the case – due to a mixture of politics and interpersonal tensions.

I doubt that is a comfortable or pleasant position to be in. Evidently it has led to a difficult decision and the breaking away of three MPs. They may be angry, or frustrated, or bitter about that, and fair enough. Allen, at least, now appears to want to destroy the Conservative Party entirely.

If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. But it is unworthy, and untrue, to tar dedicated Tory activists as UKIP interlopers while you head out the door. They aren’t like Momentum and they aren’t being controlled by Arron Banks. Dismissing them as such to try to bolster a political position is rather shoddy, particularly when many of them slogged their guts out to help secure the election of the MPs who now insult them.

It is somewhat rich for Soubry to talk to Matt Chorley of how “the hardest tug” is leaving “the people [I’ve] been working with in Broxtowe…who have gone out in all weathers, walked miles…knocking on doors”, or for Wollaston to write that her “decision is no reflection on” the local “hard-working Conservative councillors” for whom she has the “greatest respect”, while simultaneously throwing them all under the bus by sweeping and evidence-free allegations in the national press.

If you must break your promises to them, then you could at least have the decency not to wrongly slur them as extremists and hijackers at the same time.

New event: Scotland and the Future of the Union, with Douglas Ross MP MSP

20 May

We are very pleased to invite you to our next live online event, on the topic of Scotland and the Future of the Union, with none other than Douglas Ross, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Join our expert panel for a discussion hosted by ConservativeHome in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, featuring:

  • Douglas Ross MP MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
  • Mandy Rhodes, Editor, Holyrood Magazine
  • Professor Nicola McEwen, Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing Europe
  • Henry Hill, News Editor, ConservativeHome (Chairman)

With unrivalled insight from political, media and academic perspectives, the event will explore the implications of the recent Holyrood elections for Scotland, the Conservative Party and the Union.

As ever, audience members will also have the opportunity to put their questions to the panel.

The event will take place at 7pm-8pm, on Wednesday 26th May, via Zoom.

Click here to get your free ticket.

New event: ‘Back to Business – reopening international travel’, with Grant Shapps

15 Apr

We are very pleased to invite you to ConservativeHome’s next live online event, in which our special guest Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, will be joined by a distinguished panel for this timely discussion.

Following the recent publication of the Global Travel Taskforce report, there are a host of crucial questions to explore, from the return of tourism and business travel, to the reunification of families separated by the pandemic.

When and how can international travel reopen? What approach offers the best route to do so safely, promptly, and to the greatest benefit for passengers and the wider economy? After a year of unprecedented disruption, how soon will things return to normal, and what will normal look like?

In this event, hosted in partnership with Airlines UK, the Secretary of State will be joined by:

Keith Glatz, Vice-President of Airlines for America and
David Evans, Group CEO of Collinson Group, the UK’s leading provider of Covid-19 travel testing.

The event will be broadcast live via Zoom at 7pm on Tuesday 20th April.

As ever, there will be the chance for the audience to put your questions to the panel.

Click here to register for your free ticket.

Presenting ConservativeHome’s Spring Conference online fringe events

17 Mar

We’re very pleased to announce that, following the success of our online fringe events during last year’s Conservative Party Conference, ConservativeHome will be putting on a programme of free, online fringe events during the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference, on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March.

Click here to see details of our full line-up of speakers and topics. We do hope that you can join us for discussions ranging from the reform of business rates and the future of the asylum system to the Government’s plans to fulfil its promises on levelling up and net zero, featuring guests including Sajid Javid, Robert Jenrick and Paul Scully.

As ever, ConservativeHome’s journalists will also be putting your audience questions to our special guests.

All of our events will be broadcast for free on the Conservative Party’s conference website, the ConservativeHome YouTube Channel and via Zoom. Zoom signup links for all events can be found on our listings page.

Comments are back online – with a new system

24 Feb

As per our note earlier in the week, the provider of our old comments system suffered a serious technical failure which was beyond our control, leading to the comments on ConservativeHome going offline. Our apologies for the disruption, and thank you to readers for your patience as we’ve worked to find a solution to the problem.

We’re pleased to say that comments are now working again, as you will be able to see below this post.

To ensure a permanent and sustainable solution we have switched from the old system to a new comment system: Vuukle.

To comment, you you can log in using a Twitter, Facebook or Google account, or you can register for a (free) Vuukle account – which you can do directly in our comments section underneath each article, or on the Vuukle site.

This is the same system used by Guido Fawkes and various other blogs, so your account will also work on other sites that use the same comment system.

We are working to transfer the extensive archive of ConservativeHome comments from the old system to the new, but it’s not yet clear when that will be possible. When that does happen, it’ll be in archive format, so comments posted under the old system won’t be linked to accounts on the new system.

As ever, our house Comment Rules apply, and we’ll be moderating the comment section accordingly.

NB: when registering for a Vuukle account, some users initially had an issue with the link in the verification email that the system sends out. This has now been resolved – should it recur, please notify the editors.

Our next live event: Truss on ‘Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world’

18 Feb

We are very pleased to invite you to ConservativeHome’s next free online event: a timely discussion on “Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world“.

At 7pm on Monday 1st March, we’ll be joined (via Zoom) by:

  • Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade
  • Professor Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe and Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London
  • Katy Balls, Deputy Political Editor of The Spectator
  • Paul Goodman, Editor of ConservativeHome (Chairman)

Having left the EU, the UK is embarking on a new period in its political, diplomatic and trading history. Re-establishing an independent trade policy, negotiating new and ambitious trade agreements – including the recent application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – and navigating a competitive and turbulent world bring distinct opportunities and challenges.

In this live online event, our expert panel will be exploring what ‘Global Britain’ means in practice, how the UK is equipping itself to forge this new path, and what the future might hold for a country adapting to such changed circumstances. This event offers the opportunity not just to benefit from our panelists’ unique perspectives inside government, academia and the media, but also for the live audience to put your questions to them directly.

This event is hosted by ConservativeHome, in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, a research initiative which promotes rigorous, high-quality and independent research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the EU.

To register for your free ticket, click here.

Why did the BBC broadcast untrue claims about ConservativeHome?

20 Jan

This morning, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Michael Burleigh – the eminent historian of the Third Reich – was introduced for a discussion of the future of Trumpism after Trump. Out of the blue, he announced he didn’t really want to talk about that, and launched instead into an exposition of a somewhat peculiar personal theory about British politics.

A hijack, he claimed, had taken place in the UK via a three-pronged assault identical to that seen in America. First was “dark money and rather sinister ideological think tanks”, second came entryism, “the way in which the equivalent of Africanised bees have invaded decent political parties, so you can see that in the Tea Party or ConservativeHome or other similar movements in this country”, and “third, last but not least, the role of fanatical talk radio”. All this produced a “populist” force which he went on to link to “various anti-lockdown movements” and which he lumped in with “the group of nutters who believe that coronavirus is transmitted by 5G masts or worse”.

Oh dear.

Obviously, this isn’t true. Indeed, just about every discernable ‘fact’ asserted is untrue.

ConservativeHome is a media outlet, not a “movement” of any sort. Hence we feature in the Today programme’s own round-ups of the press on a regular basis.

We aren’t the equivalent of the “Tea Party” or any “similar movement” in this country or any other, but a site with a great reputation, established over 15 years, of expert analysis and insight on conservative politics and the Conservative Party.

Our readership encompasses millions of people, ranging from Conservative members, MPs and ministers of every ideological stripe and tradition, to large numbers of people of many political alignments and none, who are simply interested in reading great writing about politics. The idea they or we are some form of “invader” or entryist force is bizarre and baseless.

As Burleigh was espousing his own conspiracy theories and shoddily trying to draw associations with Covid conspiracy “nutters”, he somehow failed to notice that it is our columnist, Neil O’Brien MP, who is currently the most prominent and vocal Westminster critic of those very people.

I don’t know how we came to feature in his imagination as some sort of sinister entryist campaign group, but – rather by definition – logic and facts are not required components in the architecture of such constructions.

He isn’t alone in finding it hard to reconcile electoral events which he dislikes with his firmly held beliefs about the world, and apparently genuinely buying into elaborate and outlandish theories which seek to explain away the discomforting clash between the two. In recent years, various other eminent public figures, armed with good reputations and media clout, have wrecked the former and misused the latter in a similar way, particularly since the 2016 referendum and 2019 General Election.

Burleigh isn’t the only one at fault. It was odd – to say the least – to hear the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme giving him a national platform to go down the rabbit hole in this way.

It’s bad enough to have a formerly serious historian wibbling on air, but worse that the BBC failed to correct, challenge or even try to balance it for the benefit of listeners. Martha Kearney’s reply to the section which misrepresented ConservativeHome was simply to say “Well that’s a very particular characterisation of populism” – a characterisation which was then implicitly accepted for the rest of the discussion.

We often hear about the BBC’s commitment to accuracy, and its fretting about political misinformation, but this morning it failed its responsibilities and its audience on both fronts. A correction and apology is clearly due; we have contacted Today to request exactly that, but have so far received only a vague “we recognise you are concerned” reply, in keeping with the Corporation’s familiar tradition of non-apologies. We’ll be pursuing it further.

In the meantime, if you would like to enrich your mornings with a daily dose of top-notch news, opinion and analysis – no licence fee required, no peculiar celebrity ramblings involved – you can sign up to our mailing list here.

ConservativeHome presents ‘The North’s Economic Recovery – an evening with the NRG’

11 Dec

Given that it is a year on from 2019’s stunning electoral gains in the former Red Wall, our next live online event is particularly timely. We hope you’ll join us for The North’s Economic Recovery – an evening with the NRG.

Our editor, Paul Goodman, will be joined by a panel of three prominent MPs from the Northern Research Group – Jake Berry MP, Dehenna Davison MP and John Stevenson MP – at 6pm on Thursday 17th December, via Zoom.

Since its foundation earlier this year, the NRG has become an important voice on the backbenches, and we are fortunate to be joined by three of its leading lights. This event will provide an opportunity for viewers and politicians alike to explore the challenges and opportunities facing the Conservative Party in the North of England.

As well as putting ConservativeHome readers’ questions to the panel, we’ll be discussing topics including:

How will the ‘levelling up’ agenda translate into hard policy? What should the Government’s approach be to help the North recover from the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic? Where and when will the new infrastructure promised in the 2019 manifesto be built?

As ever, this event is free to take part in – please click here to sign up for your ticket, and feel free to share the link with your friends, family and fellow activists.

Kate Hoey joins us for the next episode of ConservativeHome Live

27 Nov

We are pleased to invite you to take part in the next instalment of our ConservativeHome Live interview series, for which we will be joined by yet another very special guest: Kate Hoey.

During her 30 years as Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate won both fans and critics across party lines by her willingness to stand up for her beliefs – vocally opposing the hunting ban as Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, defying Robert Mugabe by sneaking into Zimbabwe to meet with opposition leaders, and most famously campaigning for the UK to leave the EU. Her votes to honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum proved crucial more than once in the 2017-19 Parliament, as she resisted intense pressure from her then party to back down.

Having chosen not to stand again in last year’s General Election, in October she was elevated to the House of Lords, as Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin, where she sits as a non-affiliated peer.

Join us live as we discuss her experiences as a Labour Eurosceptic, as well as her perspective on the modern left, the future of Brexit and the challenges facing London. It is set to be a truly fascinating hour, with a unique politician who has a deserved reputation for speaking her mind.

Thanks to the support of our sponsor, Thorncliffe, this online event will be free to view. As ever, there will be a chance for audience members to put their questions to Kate, too.

The event will take place via Zoom at 7pm-8pm, Tuesday 1st December.

Click here to register for your free ticket.

Today on the ConservativeHome online fringe: Wallace, Sharma, Scully, Davison and more

5 Oct

Welcome to Day Three of the ConservativeHome online conference fringe programme. After a jam-packed weekend, today we present two Secretaries of State, a former Chancellor and a host of other great speakers across six events.

All of the below events will be live on the Party Conference site, and several will be live on Zoom at the same time for those without a conference login. We’ll post the full videos of each event below, too. Enjoy!


In Conversation with Sajid Javid MP

Held in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe.


A digital strategy for a digital society

Held in partnership with Atos.


Social care and beyond: delivering for older voters in the ‘Red Wall’

Held in partnership with Age UK.


A new generation of good jobs to secure an economic recovery for all of us

Held in partnership with JRF.


In conversation with Ben Wallace MP, Secretary of State for Defence

Held in partnership with Raytheon.


The Business Conversation with Alok Sharma MP: How to make small business the centre of a post-Covid UK

Held in partnership with FSB.