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James Wharton: Getting selected

Jw1_1 James has been selected as the Conservative candidate for Stockton South.

When I was asked to write something for CF Diary “about getting selected” I jumped at the chance and took them up on the offer.  On giving it further thought, however, I am not entirely sure what to write about. It has been such a huge experience that any attempt to go into detail could end with a novelette, yet to focus on any one key area alone would miss so many of the points that I would like to make.

Given that this is for the CF part of ConHome I am going to try to hone in on those particular hurdles which arose because of my age, in the framework of a brief canter through the actual process that leads up to selection. 

The Parliamentary Selection process is a long and complex one, starting with a Regional Director interview, application form and CV submission, Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB), applying for seats… and that is before you are ever asked to actually attend a constituency selection process.

The first thing that will strike any CFer hoping to apply is that lots of people will say things like “people will think you are too young, I know you aren’t but ‘they’ don’t know you like I do”, “They wont let you apply, they’ll say you are too young”.  Note that it is nearly always an ill defined ‘they’ who will hold your age against you, it is rarely the enunciated view of the kindly advice giver.

If you hear such wisdom you would do well to ignore it.  That said if someone directly tells you that they think you are too inexperienced their comments should not be dismissed out of hand.  When it comes down to it only you can know whether you feel you are ready for it or not.  If you do, then give it a go.  I would suggest that a strong background in the workings of the party, in your local association and in campaigning on the ground is a must, but don’t let the somewhat irrelevant figure that denotes your age hold you back.  Throughout the selection process my age was never an issue to anyone but myself, causing me to question not whether I was ready, but whether the Party would be biased against me.  When I actually did attend the PAB my relative youth proved anything but a disadvantage; I actually felt better able to relate to one of my interviewers who commented that I reminded him of his son!

Once the PAB and “getting on the list” stage is over it is time to apply for seats.  Now that the A list is all but dead and buried all candidates on the approved list are invited to apply for pretty much all seats.  A new CV form has to be filled in and here it is important to highlight any local links or particular reasons that you are interested in the seat for which you are applying.  If your CV cuts the mustard you are invited for interview and this is where concerns may arise once more.  The blue rinse brigade stereotype pervades even amongst some of those on the candidates list, and the thought of applying as anything but a white, middle class, middle aged, family man can be somewhat intimidating at first.  Naturally all local parties are different and I can only comment on those selections I have seen, it is notable however that in my experience the old stereotypes really do not hold true.  Whilst the party is on the whole somewhat older than the public at large, I have found the members to be open minded and warm towards applicant candidates. 

Once in the interview, no matter how prepared you are, luck will always play its part. In my own experience I know that I performed far better in the final than the first round.  It was simply a matter of having had a good day, having been asked the right questions and hitting the right notes, as one Conservative MP put it when I was being interviewed for the list “being on song”.

Finally, make sure you can handle rejection.  I was fortunate in that my home seat have selected me as candidate.  A number of friends warned me that it would be difficult if I were rejected by people with whom I had worked for so many years.  They were right in that it would have been a blow, but I know that I would have moved on and feel confident enough in myself that it would not have been a terminal setback. It is important not to be fragile.  You will not always get your way and, unless you are William Hague, it is unlikely that every last one of the members will be convinced by your performance.

With all of this borne in mind I would certainly encourage younger members who feel they have something to contribute to give it a go.  The Party is receptive to younger people and the public at large are keen to see a new and fresh generation getting involved with politics.

For me the real work starts now.  It has been a rollercoaster ride so far and I do not regret a moment of it.


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