David is Chairman of Crosby Conservative Association
Is David Cameron’s laudable intention to reform the candidate list having the opposite effect? Will the temporary suspension of candidate selection leave the party vulnerable later in the year?
Following his election as leader, Cameron put all new candidate selections on hold. He instigated an analysis of the selection process. A new chairman of the selection committee has been appointed. Reviews are now taking place to include more women and ethnic minorities among the candidates.
However, there is not yet a new list of target seats for the next general election. Constituencies can not start the selection process. The new “A” list of candidates has not been finalised; indeed the parameters for putting candidates onto the list are still being discussed.
Amazingly there are thought to be over 400 constituencies without a Conservative candidate in place for the next general election. This is a really scary number. Maybe it would not matter too much if the next election is in 2009, as many expect. But what if it comes sooner? What if it’s later this year?
Cameron himself has said in the last few days: “"Gordon Brown is running out of money. He's running out of ideas. And he's running out of time. Don't assume we have three years or more until the next election. We must be prepared for Gordon Brown to cut and run. So we must not only show that the changes we're making are built to last. We must make those changes fast. Don't tell me I'm going too quickly. Press me and the Conservative team to work harder, to move faster, to make the changes we need."
If there were to be an autumn election, could those 400 constituencies select their candidates in time? Or would we lose a potentially golden electoral opportunity? The party also acknowledges it does not have enough agents. But the training of new agents is not going ahead fast enough to meet the expected demand ahead of the next election.
Another factor slowing things down is the party flirting with using US-style primary selections. These were introduced selectively in a handful of constituencies before the 2005 election. There has however been no detailed review of those selections; information available about the outcomes is anecdotal. Chairmen of Constituency Associations are presently being asked to consider using this method for the next candidate selection, but have virtually no information to base their decisions on. No doubt this can all be resolved over time... but do we have time?
These are not “sexy” topics; unlike policy and presentation issues; but we have to get our logistics right if we are to be successful at the ballot box. So candidate selection needs to get back on track, and quickly. The party can not afford to be caught with its trousers down in the event of a snap election. And we certainly can’t let analysis become paralysis.