Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Isaby On Grassroots Scrutiny

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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