The Conservative Party tends to be as secretive as possible about candidate selections. Shortlists are not usually disclosed. This is rather helpful for this site. Often the names leak out and we then publish them. Mark Wallace did a huge amount of work on this last year in the run-up to the General Election. The machinations might be complicated in some cases. Somebody might be on an initial list, but then withdraw, as they are chosen elsewhere, then another name is chosen. Or a constituency association might rebel about the timetable or being restricted in the choices available. We do our best to follow such twists and turns – though we are limited by the information provided to us.
Enthralling as this sport might be, surely it would be more sensible for the Conservative Party to adopt a policy of transparency – a principle that is generally favoured when it comes to Government policy. I can see there are disadvantages. It takes a certain degree of courage to put your name forward for selection. To then be rebuffed is a wounding experience – all the more so if the process is made public. So some might be put off from standing if the level of exposure increased. But should not suitable candidates be robust enough to cope with such an ordeal? The advantage of disclosing the names in advance is not only that vetting is “crowdsourced” – and thus any past scandal more likely to be spotted. It also has a positive aspect. There is a chance to discover more about the different views and experience of the candidates. Scrolling down someone’s tweets gives a reasonable feel for their interests and their outlook on life.
On Friday, a meeting is taking place to choose the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. All Conservative members in the area will be allowed to attend and choose a final choice from a shortlist of three. But the names will not be disclosed in advance. Phones will not be banned at the meeting so once there, people can start trawling the internet, assuming they can get a connection. I suppose they can try and find out about the candidates, while listening to the speeches in the background. All pretty rushed and haphazard.
Chris Howell, a Conservative activist in Cambridge, says:
“The party’s current system of selecting candidates for important and high profile elected positions is unfit for purpose.
“I don’t understand why the party thinks it is sensible to try keeping candidates names secret prior to a selection meeting – we saw in the last parliament how important is is for members to know what candidates really stand for, which requires more scrutiny than is possible in one carefully curated selection meeting.
“In the age of social media, candidates names may leak out, and their entire backgrounds will be carefully scrutinised – surely it would be better for this to happen in a controlled way before the selection.
“Members should know how candidates portray themselves in public, how they communicate their messages publicly and how they respond to criticism.”
An example of why this matters was provided earlier this month with the Extinction Rebellion vandalism at Trinity College, Cambridge. The police refused to intervene to stop the lawn being ripped up and the response from the acting Police and Crime Commissioner was very weak. It is not for the PCC to be involved in operational policing in the sense of ordering the police to arrest particular individuals. But it is for the PCC to set police policy. That policy should be to uphold the law rather than stand passively and watch property being destroyed. I hope whoever is chosen as the Conservative candidate will ensure that is the policy if they are elected as the PCC on May 7th.
Typically those Conservative members sufficiently motivated to attend a selection meeting will be the same people that are relied upon to knock on doors, deliver leaflets, and display posters. It is foolish to antagonise such people by constraining their ability to make a well-informed choice.
If we discover the shortlist before Friday’s meeting we will update this post with that information.