What plans does CCHQ now have for the candidates' list and candidate selection? The short answer is that we do not yet know, and more to the point, nor do any of the 1,000 or so people who were on the candidates' list prior to the general election.
Those who unsuccessfully contested seats at the election received a letter of commiseration and thanks from the former Party Chairman, Eric Pickles, and a follow-up message from Alistair Burt, who had been in the Whips' Office and was responsible for liaising with candidates.
But those who did not get selected for a seat have not heard a peep from CCHQ or the Candidates' Department since the election and even those who fought seats have had no communication about their status going forward. Some to whom I have spoken have actively (and successfully) sought meetings with the Candidates Department, whilst others have had debriefing sessions with area campaign directors. But more than that, there has been a wall of silence about what will happen now.
Before considering the candidate selection process, it should be borne in mind that, assuming the relevant legislation passes, the next general election will not take place until 2015; we will not know the electoral system under which it will be fought until after a referendum; but that whether it is conducted under First Past The Post or Alternative Vote, the plan is for the number of constituencies to be reduced by about 10% (ie around 65 MPs). This is going to require a comprehensive boundary review which I gather would not be expected to report for two years (and even that's far quicker than usual), all of which means that it will not be until the second half of 2012 at the earliest (and more likely 2013) before candidates can start to be selected for the next general election.
But how many seats can be expected to be up for grabs for new candidates anyway? The number of Conservative MPs standing down is likely to be relatively low, given the disproportionately large number of retirements prior to the 2010 general election. But the reduction in the size of the Commons could well pit sitting MPs against each other for the "best" seats after the boundary changes as few, if any, existing seats will be left intact by the Boundary Commission. This in turn may mean some other sitting MPs potentially having to shift to less (electorally) attractive seats. As a result, the number of available, winnable seats on the notional Conservative target list will be considerably smaller than at recent elections. This all leads me to predict that after one of the historically largest new intakes of Conservative MPs at this general election, the next election will most likely see one of of the smallest.
But for the time being, mystery surrounds what will happen next in terms of candidates and I am getting mixed messages from a variety of sources as to what may occur and when.
Clearly much rests in the hands of the new party co-chairmen, Baroness Warsi and Andrew Feldman, who are in discussion with a variety of figures before the relevant decisions are made.
Here are some of the questions which they will need to answer:
- How will the performance of existing candidates be evaluated?
- Will the existing candidates' list remain as it is for the moment (save those voluntarily seeking to remove themselves from it) with those thousand or so people continuing to pay their £80 a year to the Candidates' Association? Will the list be selectively culled? Or will the existing list be torn up and everyone be expected to re-apply?
- Will a new Party Deputy Chairman (Candidates) be appointed and what will be the role of the Board's Candidates Committee?
- How will the candidates' list be updated in the mean time and, in terms of diversifying the pool of candidates, what moves will the party make to widen the base in terms of socio-economic background and take account of the considerable costs of being a candidate?
- Baroness Warsi has already indicated a dislike for quotas based on gender or ethnicity, so will such quotas play no role in the future selection of candidates?
- What will be the procedure for selections when they happen? Will selections for new seats currently represented in part by more than one sitting MP be contested by those individuals alone or be open contests? Will new seats represented in whole or in part by just one sitting MP automatically be contested by that person or will they be open to a challenge? What will be the criteria for deciding where to hold an open primary?
One usually reliable source tells me that all will become clear about many of these matters "sooner rather than later"; however, a well-placed CCHQ insider tells me that patience will be required as these decisions will need to be handled sensitively and carefully, and that no announcements are imminent. Watch this space...
At 10.06am this morning, the following email went out to unsuccessful candidates at the general election from Baroness Warsi:
Thank you again for all your hard work during the General Election campaign.
Though unsuccessful in your own campaign, your efforts contributed to an overall result we can all be proud of. Gaining nearly 100 extra MPs, winning more seats than any election since 1931 and becoming the party of Government once again are certainly reasons to be proud.
Putting yourself forward to fight a campaign requires making huge sacrifices. Balancing many competing priorities including family, friends and work life is never easy, but doing so while maintaining a spirited campaign is something for which we are truly grateful.
Though the next election is a long way off, now is the time to look back at the last campaign, at what we did well and what we could have done better. We would therefore like to hear your own experience and the lessons you learned during your campaign so that we can improve how we do things in the future.
I would be delighted if you could therefore join George Osborne, Stephen Gilbert and I for a thank you reception and campaign debrief from 12.30pm – 4pm on Wednesday 14th July at a central London venue. Full venue details will be confirmed nearer the time.
I look forward to seeing you and thanking you personally then.
The Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party