High on the agenda for the Conservative-UUP joint committee announced earlier this month is to agree on how to go about selecting candidates.
And there are some early pointers as to how this is going to be done in an interview given by Owen Paterson, shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and Marion Little, the Conservatives' "UK Battleground Director", to Mick Fealty on Slugger O'Toole over the weekend.
Mick Fealty reports that those seeking to become candidates for Ulster's 18 Westminster seats will be subject to a Parliamentary Assessment Board - presumably along similar lines to that which already exists for Conservative candidates in England, Wales and Scotland. He goes on to state that the party is especially keen not only to get more women standing in the province, but also to demonstrate its embracing of a new kind of politics by recruiting candidates from the Catholic community as well.
Marion Little emphasised this to Fealty, setting it in the context of the aim to change politics in Northern Ireland, which will not happen overnight.
“This is not about one election. We need candidates who will speak to all parts of society. We’ve seen success in England come over two election cycles from candidates who were prepared to get down and connect with people outside traditional Conservative voting communities”.
In other words, the party does not want to over-egg expectations for the election that will take place within 18 months. However, there would seem to be an unspoken understanding that those looking to stand at the next election will be expected to stick at it for the election after that, which could well mean a commitment to be a candidate for five or even six years.