The decision by David Cameron to introduce all women shortlists (AWS) - a move he described as a "step too far" just three years ago - is the latest in a long line of decisions taken by the Tory leadership to control the selection of Tory candidates and has, in the process, eroded key conservative principles.
It all began with the A-list. The candidates on the A-list (particularly the female candidates) performed less well in previous election campaigns than the men. 22 of the original A-listers achieved swings above the national average swing of 2.21% and 46 achieved below-average swings. Getting on to the A-list was not a rigorous process with candidates revealing that they faced very different interview processes. Some even had second chances.
Given that 70% of approved candidates are men (and the number of women applying to be Tory candidates was actually falling at one point) there was always an unfairness in half-women shortlists (HWS) - an unfairness that boiled over into rebellion at Dudley North. ConservativeHome warned that HWSs could have a perverse effect. We wrote this in August 2006: "Any attempt to impose half-women shortlists may backfire. Associations may, perversely, think that any woman in the final round is there to make up a quota rather than because of her intrinsic merits." That is exactly what has happened. The proportion of women selected has fallen since HWSs became compulsory.
If Associations refused to accept HWSs they lost the right for all local members to have the final say in candidate selection.
Also under David Cameron's watch ordinary party members lost the right to deselect sitting MEPs. If they had not lost that right we might have seen Edward McMillan-Scott MEP deselected before he caused such trouble for the party since.
Another subversion of democracy was the decision to put women at the top of regional MEP lists even if they received fewer votes than men.
CCHQ expects volunteer activists to devote years of fundraising and envelope-stuffing to the party but they no longer trust them to choose their parliamentary candidates or their MEPs.
We need more women MPs. We need them on grounds of fairness but also because a debate involving women is richer than one without. We also need more people from public sector backgrounds and people with experience of the voluntary and poverty-fighting sectors. I do not think it is helpful that quite so many Tory MPs are from the City, law, the south and from private schools. True diversity is about more than more women. If diversity was a key aim the criteria for the A-list were too superficial. ConservativeHome's own campaign to help lower income candidates has been consistently overlooked by CCHQ.
CCHQ tried to keep the A-list secret (something ConHome corrected) but the lesson on transparency was not learnt. CCHQ suppressed the data on membership numbers and turnout during last year's vote on non-incumbent MEP candidates.
In all of the above the idea that local institutions are instinctively trusted by Team Cameron has been comprehensively trashed.
Throughout the whole process there has been a lack of courtesy to the candidates seeking a seat. They all make enormous sacrifices for the party and pay an annual fee to be on the candidates list but were not informed if they did not get on to second waves of the A-list. A ConHome straw poll found that candidates had to ring CCHQ at least three times before getting their phone calls returned.
CCHQ will justify AWS on the basis that they are necessary to correct an historical wrong. The same arguments have been used for all ethnic minority work contracts in the USA. Are the Conservatives now willing to support such contracts? They have surrendered any principled opposition to them with this decision on AWS.