As ever, competition to be selected in one of the seats vacated by a Conservative MP who is standing down is particularly heated. Due to the special rules implemented for the snap election, CCHQ exerts much more power than normal over who makes the shortlist and is therefore in with a chance. As we highlighted on Thursday, this obviously risks some clashes with local associations, who not unreasonably want a choice of their preferred candidates.
One such row appears to have blown up in Aldershot, where Sir Gerald Howarth (right) is retiring, leaving a juicy 14,901 vote majority. I’m told by local sources that, when invited to express a view, the Aldershot Conservative Association told CCHQ unequivocally that they wanted Daniel Hannan, MEP for South East England. When the chosen shortlist of three was passed down to them, however, his name was not on it.
Now things could get rather messy. Under the rules, CCHQ has the power to insist that the Aldershot association holds a meeting of its executive council to approve the nominated three to go before a selection meeting of the full association membership. But the executive council has the right in that meeting to refuse to approve them – effectively telling CCHQ to think again. I’m told that they are minded to do exactly that, holding out for the candidate they originally said they wanted.
This ping-pong has risks for all involved. If the Association was to drag a dispute on right up to the deadline for nominations, then the rules allow for the Party Chairman to simply appoint a candidate over their heads on the 9th or 10th of May. If CCHQ insists that the Association officers meet to consider the three they have suggested, and the Aldershot executive rejects them, then it might be too late for those candidates to be put forward for other target seats. If CCHQ does then continue trying to insist on still other candidates, then they could swiftly find themselves with a real rift between the central and local party, in a safe seat, right before a General Election.
To head off those complications, there could be a brief window of opportunity for CCHQ to take into account its commitments to consult with associations and reconsider the shortlist.
From ConservativeHome’s point of view, it is crucial that candidate selections should be done with the democratic consent of a local association – that is a long-standing principle, which we have always campaigned to defend, and it is local members who will then slog it out on the doorstep to support the candidate. On the personal front, Hannan, our columnist, would of course make a fine MP – though where should always be for local associations to decide.