David Cooper was until last week a member of the executive of the South Staffordshire Conservative association (when his three years as a branch chairman came to an end). He writes entirely in a personal capacity.
Anyone familiar with The Apprentice will recall the stage when every last syllable of the contestants’ CVs comes under the most painstaking scrutiny from Sir Alan’s henchmen. The sheer horror felt by many an aspiring candidate when their carefully crafted life stories are found to have been embellished, exaggerated or (perish the thought) fabricated only adds to the viewers’ delight.
How might the interview round from The Apprentice be compared with the process of selecting a Conservative PPC for a notionally safe seat? The officious bystander might think that the candidates undergo a similar process at the hands of the local associations, who will in all probability be recruiting on a “once in a generation” basis, and bestowing the gift of 20 years or more in Parliament.
And yet although that same bystander might think that the associations ought to have a similar relationship with CCHQ as a company interviewing panel has with its headhunters – you recommend, but we choose – reality suggests the associations have so little real power in practice that they might as well simply be told to find out which shortlisted candidate can best imitate a reverse pterodactyl.
On 1st December 2009, Sir Patrick Cormack unexpectedly announced his retirement. The South Staffordshire constituency officers promptly called an executive meeting for 10 December, when an area representative of the party attended to explain PPC selection procedure. The executive met again on the 18th and chose a six member selection sub-committee to undertake a preliminary sift of the applicants’ CVs and pick their own six-strong shortlist to put to CCHQ. In the meantime, approved candidates had to apply by the 14th.
Might Christmas have been thought ideal for the locals to study the applications in detail? Wrong. The CVs evidently only reached the sub-committee on 2nd January. Not much time for their own exercise prior to the London summons on the 14th to meet Eric Pickles and John Maples. The applicant whom the sub-committee favoured for shortlisting in particular – Nigel Hastilow - was not to the liking of the hierarchy but that is a side issue here.
The association executive were informed - via circular email from the constituency office - of the chosen candidates on 15th January, just the six names, and reminded of a meeting on 21st January when all six candidates would address the executive and answer ten unseen questions in turn. I stress that again: just the six names. Three men, three women, none of them household names to local Conservatives, all with little or no recognition factor to anyone other than dedicated followers of stories about candidate selection nationwide. One executive member asked whether the executive would be sent copies of the candidates’ CVs prior to the meeting, and if not, why not. His email was not answered and the CVs were not provided.