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Archive for the ‘selection’ Category

I wish Jonathan Isaby had written something like this a while ago. It’s the first really sensible article on the subject of grassroots Conservative frustrations about the limits placed on their role in the selection of PPCs, which has been highlighted by the recent Liz Truss affair, that’s been written. As I said before, I have absolutely nothing against Miss Truss and wish her well in her fight in Norfolk, so I agree with Isaby’s first sentiment. But David Cameron, among others, should read what comes after that very carefully.

I am glad that Liz Truss’s status as Conservative candidate for South West Norfolk has been confirmed and trust that this draws a line under the matter.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this whole sorry saga, however. What we have witnessed in the constituency is indicative of a wider malaise and frustration in many local parties about the way the candidate selection process has been changed to restrict the choice of local associations.

Conservative HQ allows just six candidates from a likely field of about 200 in a “safe” seat to be shortlisted for the nomination and would prefer if all six went through to a final selection meeting.

In days gone by, the process would have meant a field of 20 shortlisted candidates whittled down to three or four over a period of weeks, encompassing several interviews. This gave local parties ample opportunity to get to know the people aspiring to represent the constituency in Parliament as well as allowing would-be candidates to establish whether they had “clicked” with the association.

For constituencies selecting a candidate in a seat where an incumbent Conservative MP is standing down, a relationship is beginning that might well last for decades. It is essential that local parties do not feel short-changed when it comes to making that choice.

What is especially disturbing to many at the grass roots is the proposal that in any seat where a sitting Conservative MP announces their retirement after January 1, the association will be given a centrally-imposed shortlist of only three names from which to choose.

Such a step will only breed further dissatisfaction and frustration among the activist base and should be reconsidered.

Furthermore, every sitting Conservative MP should make their intentions clear before Christmas to avoid the scenario where the members who have loyally worked for them over the years have that restrictive shortlist foisted upon them.

There’s that phrase “foisted upon them” again. It’s slightly disappointing that Isaby does not mention open caucuses (though that is a separate issue, I suppose), but his main points and explanations about an ever-more centralised system of selection that runs a real risk of riding roughshod over the wishes of local associations and their membership and general supporters are powerful and, I submit, should be addressed.

Some kind of reassurance from the almighty Central Office at the very least would be nice.

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…Looks like Liz Truss’s failed to open, given her impact on the Conservatives (and others) in the Norfolk consituency that didn’t choose her as a PPC. “Lead balloon” springs to mind.

At all times, candidates for Member of Parliament should be local people. I would have thought that was blindingly obvious to all but Iain Dale, who’s banging on about it in yet another pretty bitchy little post today (you have to wonder whether his personal ambitions in the direction of parliament have coloured his judgment on this), Conservative Party Central Office – and, oh yeah, the Labour Party. I doubt if Dale would be in the running for MP anywhere were it not for the prospect of the helpful parachute. Mind you, it looks like he might have given up after coming third in Bracknell. Don’t get me wrong, however, I wish neither him nor Miss Truss any ill will. I just don’t like candidates foisted on people. It’s a stitch-up, it’s patronising, it takes the electorate for granted and it should never be tolerated. To put it another way, there should be a law against it.

Conservative policy on this really does need to be clarified, as the excellent DT commentary from Melanie McDonagh (see link above) states. To say there are mixed signals coming from the Tory high command on localism is a major understatement. Pickles’ presence, no less, is required.

==Update==
Iain Dale (I had no idea he read this little blog – maybe he has staff to do it for him) believes that the shortlist system helps to stop the “parachute effect” from ever happening, although he didn’t put it quite like that (see comments). I’m not convinced, frankly, although I concede that the picture is more complex than the one I painted in my slightly bilious initial remarks. It does not, for instance, answer the question that is being put by Swaffham’s Conservative Association: how much influence does, can and should Central Office bring to bear on local Associations in the selection of candidates? A better argument for universal open primaries (or open caucuses, to be precise) I have yet to hear. Mr Dale himself came a dignified cropper because of this excellent innovation as the people of the constituency for which he had hoped to stand opted for someone who, in terms of the crowded clusters of towns and villages in the south east of England at least, qualifies as a local man.

Interesting, that, and, I think, goes some way to proving my point. In the case of Elisabeth Truss, David Cameron on the radio just now said that he thought she would be an excellent candidate and that he hopes she is selected. I am sure he is absolutely right – she would most likely be an effective MP. But given that he sounds like he’s otherwise washed his hands of the whole affair, it seems she’s on her own, and we haven’t been given the policy clarification on MPs’ independence, localism and the relationship between constituency and party that is clearly needed.

We haven’t forgotten about the expenses scandal yet. Does David Cameron (and, perhaps, Mr Dale) really need to be reminded just who MPs are elected to serve: constituency, parliament and party in that order?

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