By Tim Montgomerie
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In one of his first big decisions as the new Party Chairman, Grant Shapps has just told ConservativeHome that the party will start selecting candidates immediately after November's police commissioner elections for the party's target seats and, significantly, will be doing so on the basis of EXISTING constituency boundaries. This was something ConHome recommended one month ago.
This will be taken by observers as acceptance by the Tory leadership that new boundaries will not get through the Commons. Mr Shapps insists, however, that neither he nor Number 10 Downing Street have given up on delivering equal-sized seats. Shapps points out that the decision still must come to the floor of the House for a vote, but that since this won’t happen for over year, it simply isn’t practical to do nothing in the meantime. Procedures will be put in place which will decide how adopted candidates are re-allocated to new seats if the new boundaries are eventually passed. All candidates seeking selection on existing boundaries will be expected to sign up, unconditionally, to these procedures.
With Labour and the Liberal Democrats already committed to choosing candidates on existing constituency boundaries the Conservative Party would have put itself at a disadvantage if it hadn't done the same. Not selecting until after the boundary reforms were either rejected or accepted was not an option for the new Chairman. He has long been an advocate of early selection. After he became an MP in 2005 Grant Shapps conducted a fascinating analysis with David Burrowes studying all seats that achieved at least twice the national swing to Conservatives. They concluded that the number one reason for success was "early selection & previous candidate experience". Other factors included a long term campaign approach, "extreme localism", residency in constituency, being at the centre of community issues; putting person over party on election literature and professional campaign support.
Grant Shapps told ConHome:
“Constituencies of equal size are a matter of basic democratic fairness and anything else is an abuse of the electoral system. The Coalition agreement commits us to voting on the new boundaries, but that vote won’t take place for another year. In the meantime I’m absolutely determined to ensure that we get first-class candidates out and about, working for their communities and becoming known for their drive and passion.”
More details are expected in the next few days about the target seats programme. The party's majority strategy is based on holding forty marginals and winning forty more. Eighty new graduates are being recruited and trained to oversee campaigns in those eighty seats over the next six months. Last night's Carlton Dinner is thought to have raised £400,000 for the party's efforts in the battleground seats.