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Last Wednesday, the day Theresa May became Prime Minister, a letter went out to every Conservative MP. It was co-signed by John Penrose (then the Minister for Constitutional Reform) and Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and proposed new rules for how to manage the reselection of MPs affected by the boundary reforms.

The Boundary Review, begun by the Coalition but delayed by the Liberal Democrats, is still trundling along with the aim of reducing the number of Parliamentary constituencies by 50 to 600. While the Conservative Party as a whole supports the aim as a step towards more equal seats, some MPs are understandably nervous about what might become of them if their seats are abolished or merged.

Cameron sought to reassure them by issuing a “no Tory left behind” pledge, promising that every colleague who wanted to stay in the Commons would be guaranteed a seat. Quite how such a guarantee would work in practice, given that the power to select candidates rests ultimately with local associations, was never made fully clear.

Evidently the discussion about the practicalities continues. The letter, which we publish in full below, was prompted by a discussion “at the 1922 Committee meeting…[including] concerns about how the reselection process should apply to current Conservative MPs”, particularly “concerns the current rules could create tensions between neighbours”.

Penrose and Brady’s proposed solution is a beefing up of the existing incumbency protections offered to sitting MPs in the case of a boundary change. Previously, any MP had the automatic right to “go to a final round selection without anyone else being allowed to apply”, as long as the new constituency included any part of their old seat, no matter how small. The draft rules suggest instead that the priority ought to go to any MP whose old seat makes up two thirds or more of the new seat – they would in effect be treated as an incumbent, only needing the approval of the Association executive.

If the old constituency makes up between half and two thirds of the new constituency, then that MP would also get to be treated as the incumbent – so long as there is no other MP who can lay claim to a quarter or more of the new seat.

For seats where there is either a contest between one MP with between half and two thirds of the seat and another with more than a quarter, the final selection list would be limited to those MPs only. Similarly, if there are several MPs whose old constituencies all have territory incorporated in a new seat, but none has over half of it, then all of them (regardless of how small their share of the new seat may be) would go into the final round of selection, with no other candidates.

As a final fall-back, those MPs who haven’t secured a new seat under those procedures would still be allowed to apply for other seats in the meantime, and as a last resort would be guaranteed inclusion by CCHQ on the short-lists for “last-minute retirement seats” just before the next General Election.

These are, it must be stressed, only proposals at this stage. Not only is the ’22 yet to agree the rules but Penrose is no longer Constitutional Reform Minister, having lost his job in the reshuffle, and of course we have a new Government, a new Party Leader and a new Party Chairman, all of whom may have different ideas on the matter.

It’s nonetheless interesting to see how this tussle is playing out. It’s a thorny issue; with a small majority, the Party must keep its MPs on board, successfully implement the boundary changes and, all the while, try to maintain the rights of Conservative Associations to choose their own candidates. A blanket guarantee that all MPs would still have seats after the boundaries were redrawn wasn’t really in Cameron’s power to grant – it falls to his successors to work out how it might be fulfilled without breaching the basic principles of Party democracy.

Full text of the 1922 Committee Letter

‘Dear Colleagues,

As we discussed at the 1922 Committee meeting earlier today, we have been listening to concerns about how the reselection process should apply to current Conservative MPs once the new boundary proposals are known. There are concerns the current rules could create tensions between neighbours, so the 1922 Executive issued a survey asking for views and we have tried to reflect the consensus in the new proposals below.

Please consider these proposals carefully and, if you have any concerns, let either of us know promptly.

Many thanks.

Yours sincerely

John Penrose

Graham Brady

Draft Conservative MP Reselection Rules

The Current Rules

Broadly, the current rules allow any sitting Conservative MP to apply to become the Party’s candidate in any new constituency which overlaps with their existing one in any way. If two or more apply for the same seat there’s a limited contest, where they all go to a final round selection without anyone else being allowed to apply.

Anyone left without a seat (‘displaced’) has a right to apply to become the Party’s candidate in any other seats in their sub-region (as defined by the Boundary Commission) and to skip straight to the final round in the selection process, or to apply to any other seat in their region (where they skip straight to the Executive round of the process), or to apply to any other seat elsewhere in the country, where they are guaranteed an interview.

The Proposed New Rules

The details of the proposed new rules are shown below. They build on the existing rules, but with extra protection for any current Conservative MP whose existing seat makes up most of a new constituency, so they can’t be challenged by a neighbour with only a tiny percentage.

Where two or more current MPs represent seats which form relatively equal shares of a new constituency, and both want to apply for it, there will be a limited contest where they go into a final round selection process without other people applying as well.

For the very small number of current MPs who end up being displaced and looking for a new seat elsewhere, we have significantly upgraded the rules so people can make a stronger case for becoming the Party’s candidate in alternative constituencies elsewhere, before the end of the Parliament.

The details of these new proposals are:

1. Reselection as the incumbent

a) Where an incumbent wants to continue as an MP and their existing seat makes up more than 2/3 of a new constituency, they are reselected as the incumbent by Executive Council vote in the usual way.

b) Where an incumbent’s constituency makes up between half and 2/3 of a new seat and no other current Tory MP has more than ¼, they are also reselected as the incumbent by Executive Council vote.

2. Limited Contests

a) Where an incumbent has less than 2/3 of a seat and another current Tory MP has more than ¼, they both go to a final round selection with no other candidates

b) Where an incumbent has less than half of a seat and other current Tory MPs have any share of it, any of them can apply and go into a final round selection with no other candidates

3. Retirement Seats

Where an incumbent Tory MP is standing down, any other current Tory MP whose existing constituency makes up any proportion of the new seat can apply to be treated as the incumbent. If more than 1 do so, they all go to a final round selection with no other candidates.

4. Displaced MPs

a) Where a current Tory MP wishes to continue but is displaced, either because they don’t qualify as an incumbent under the rules above, or because they have lost a contest, or because their seat has become unwinnable, then the existing rules on displaced MP re-election will continue to apply.

b) Displaced Tory MPs who have still not been selected as the Party’s candidate to contest a seat near the end of the Parliament will be included on the short-lists of candidates supplied by CCHQ under the existing truncated selection rules for last-minute retirement seats.

5. Other Items

All the other, existing reselection rules (about local Associations rights to refer back etc) will continue to apply as before.’

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