Tories urge party change

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 1997, 12:00am

SENIOR members of the beleaguered Conservative Party yesterday called for it to totally reorganise itself after disgraced former minister Neil Hamilton revealed he could not be forced to resign - because he was no longer a member.

He surprised Tories by his revelation that he could not be expelled following damning criticism of him in a report by Sir Gordon Downey on receiving cash for parliamentary questions because he has not renewed his membership since leaving the Commons when ousted by former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell at the general election.

'I don't know quite what action you would expect me to take,' he said. 'I am not in Parliament any longer so I can't resign.

'It's because we have a system of local membership. There is no national membership of the Conservative Party, so you have to belong to your constituency. And as the MP it's regarded as an oddity to be a member of your own association which selects you as a candidate.' The confusion over his status has highlighted the urgency with which the Conservative leadership says it must reorganise the party's membership structure.

Lord Archer, a former deputy chairman and leading fund raiser, said action needed to be taken quickly if new leader William Hague was going to be able to exercise greater control.

'We ought to have a central membership as the Labour Party does,' he said. 'There are many things the Labour Party has done in the last five years we ought not to be too proud to copy.' He agreed Mr Hague ought to have the power to discipline errant MPs through suspension, removing the party whip, and basically having them deselected.

'Otherwise we are going to have a situation where the leader of the party is described as wet, weak, and a wimp because he can't do something.' Mr Hague has said he intends to be ruthlessly intolerant of financial misconduct and, though no official comment has been made on Mr Hamilton, there seems every likelihood that constituency organisations would be advised not to readmit him if he tried to rejoin the party.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair said his Government would be bringing forward a series of measures on the conduct of MPs and party funding.