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Tory constituency chair refuses to quit after saying he's voted for Brexit Party

Steven Holmes is refusing to stand down as chair of the Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Conservative Association

A Welsh Conservative activist has refused to resign or to accept his sacking from a senior party position after publishing an article explaining why he’s cast his postal vote for the Brexit party in Thursday’s European elections.

Steven Holmes, who’s the chair of the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Conservative Association, wrote on the Conservative Home website that he felt compelled to use his postal vote for Nigel Farage’s new party "because of this Government’s destructive Brexit policy and leadership".

He wrote that despite his respect for the four Conservative MEP candidates, "I feel that I have been let down by the Party at a national level which has failed on every promise made so far".

Following publication of his article, Mr Holmes says he was contacted by the party’s chairman in Wales, Byron Davies who asked him to resign. He refused but was told in an email from Mr Davies that he had lost his post.

I confirm that as you are Chair of Carmarthen East & Dinefŵr Conservatives, and a result of your publIc declaration of support for the Brexit Party in the forthcoming EU election, in accordance with Party policy,, I have to inform you that you are relieved of your office as Chair. This does not affect your membership of the Conservative Party.

– Welsh Conservative Chair Byron Davies

But Steven Holmes refused to accept the removal and has written to the party’s overall chairman Brandon Lewis.

I write in response to my communication with Byron Davies, Chairman of the Welsh Conservatives, which I am told was directed by you. As I made clear to Mr Davies on the telephone call earlier, I am not willing to resign my post, and subsequent to the email ... I am not willing to be relieved of my office as Chair of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Conservative Association.

– Steven Holmes

In the letter he defends his decision to speak out about his reasons for voting the way that he did and insists that he hasn’t encouraged any other members to vote in a similar way.

He wrote that "never in any of my previous places of work has bullying ever been tolerated and this has certainly plunged to new depths of a misguided, dictatorial and unjust system of bullying".

He says he’s refusing to accept being removed from post because he was elected by local Tory members and says that he still has the full support of those members.

There’s no official comment from the Conservatives although they’re standing by the decision to relieve Steven Holmes of his post because they say his act of speaking out clearly breaches party rules.

However I detect an olive branch to Mr Holmes. I gather there’ll be no further moves against him until after the European elections at which time he says he’ll be campaigning for Conservative parliamentary and other candidates as full-throatedly as before. I suspect that means that party chiefs are hoping the row will blow over and he’ll remain in position having never (as he sees it) actually left it.

There are big problems for the party though and Steve Holmes isn’t alone. One long-term activist who told me they were born blue and will die blue sent me this message after yesterday’s speech by Theresa May:

I was going to vote Conservative on Thursday as I thought there is more to a party than its leader. But after that speech that the government could facilitate a second referendum has now changed my mind. I might vote for the Brexit party or spoil my ballot paper

– Conservative activist

When I spoke to Steven Holmes he was eager to spell out how difficult this position is for him. He’s Conservative through and through, he said and only used his postal vote in that way out of "despair and anger", not just at the continued Brexit chaos but at a feeling which he said is shared my many others that party members are just not being listened to.

If that’s so it could cause lasting damage. The unpaid volunteers are often described as "the beating heart of the party". The beat is slowing but they hope their party will resuscitate it after the nightmare of the European elections are over. Otherwise the collective coronary they seem to be experiencing could prove fatal.