As a long standing member of the Party and one who had an active involvement in the voluntary side of the Party before being elected to Parliament, a background which is not typical of many of my Parliamentary colleagues, I am determined to make my voice heard in all matters affecting Party reform. The Party is intent upon setting a minimum membership fee which it has never had before and at a meeting in CCO on 3rd December I try to interest Vice Chairman, Archie Norman, in the idea that it would be better to create two classes of membership with Full members paying the agreed minimum subscription or more and Associate members paying whatever they can afford, the reality being that many existing members regard their subscription more as a donation to a cause that they wish to support than as a means of obtaining the privileges that go with full membership.
Similarly, I ask Party Chairman, Cecil Parkinson, to consider whether the cause of Party democracy would not be better served by allowing the voluntary side of the Party to elect the Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Treasurer and a majority on the proposed Board and to leave the election of Leader in the hands of the duly elected MPs. In reply Cecil tells the meeting that he is absolutely on side with Wm. Hague on these matters and that there would be enormous risks in allowing the voluntary side of the Party to elect the Party Chairman – we shall see!
There is encouragement from Paul Sykes when he telephones on 10th December to say that he has finished meeting all the people that he felt he wanted to see and that in future there is only one person that he will want to meet when he comes to London and that that person is myself!
The last word as far as 1997 is concerned must however be reserved for our erstwhile Leader, the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon. On 17th November, at the Parliamentary Party’s weekly ‘Forward Look Group’ meeting at which the week’s business of the House and other matters are discussed, I raise the question of a replacement for the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA. There is no support forthcoming from those present and the Chief Whip suggests that I leave matters as they are for a while, not least because we don’t know what the Royal family themselves think and in the meantime to talk to Shadow Defence Secretary, George Young (Hampshire NW). The following day I am able to introduce the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Royal Yacht Group, Lord Ashbourne, to George Young as we travel back to Westminster by river ferry after attending an event onboard HMY BRITANNIA laid on by the Royal Navy Presentation Team. George appears to be only moderately interested in the question of a replacement Royal Yacht and seems to be more focussed on settling the fate of the existing one before giving any consideration to the provision of a new one. He says that opinion polls carried out by the last Government demonstrated that the idea was not a sure-fire vote winner, to which I feel bound to point out that had the survey been taken of exclusively Conservative voters it might well have told a very different story.
Be that as it may I am not inclined to let the matter drop and a few weeks later I table an Early Day Motion (EDM) to mark the end of BRITANNIA’s illustrious service. No less than 81 MPs sign my EDM but when I invite John Major to add his signature he dithers and then declines, saying that if it hadn’t been for one or two in the Cabinet “I would have done something about this”!
The EDM read ”That this House, whilst much regretting the decommissioning of HMY BRITANNIA, wishes to place on record its sincere thanks to all past and present members of her ship’s company, several of whom have served aboard the Royal Yacht for very many years; pays tribute on this her final decommissioning date, to all Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel who have served aboard ‘BRITANNIA’ during the past 44 years; and commends them for their service and dedication to a much loved British institution”.
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