Yesterday, two more Conservative Associations picked the final four for their Open Primary selection meetings.
North East Hampshire, is holding its primary this afternoon, and whittled down its longlist last night. The final four hoping to take over when James Arbuthnot steps down in 2015 are:
- Vicky Atkins. A criminal prosecutor, specialising in fraud and other complex cases, she stood to be the Gloucestershire PCC a year ago. Having won the first round, she was defeated on preferences in the second round by an Independent candidate. Her website emphasises the practical campaigning experience she gained from the process, and her continued work in the voluntary party including serving as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum’s Justice and Home Affairs Group. She made the final four at the recent Tonbridge and Malling Open Primary, and is also in the final four for Mid Worcestershire (see below).
- Ranil Jayawardena. As a councillor in Basingstoke, Jayawardena is a local candidate. An LSE graduate with a background in financial services, he is the Deputy Leader of Basingstoke Borough Council so should be quite well known to members in the area. He lists his interests as local history and shooting, and sits on the South West Trains Passengers’ Panel.
- Dr Spencer Pitfield. As National Voluntary Director of the Conservative Policy Forum (on which he reports to ConservativeHome), Pitfield is a musician and music teacher in his professional life. Having stood against Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam in 2005, he stood in Penistone and Stocksbridge in 2010, where he increased the Conservative vote share by 7.5 percentage points. His work with the CPF has brought him into contact with large tracts of the party membership, as well as CCHQ. On Friday we reported that he was also on the longlist for Mid Worcestershire.
- Helen Whately. A management consultant, Whately stood against Ed Davey in Kingston and Surbiton in 2010, where she increased the Tory vote share by 3.5 percentage points. Having worked at PwC among other firms, she helped launch the first online film service int he UK for AOL, and advised the Conservatives in Opposition on Media policy.
While the interviews were underway in North East Hampshire, candidates were also being grilled in Mid Worcestershire, in advance of their Open Primary next Saturday. Several candidates had made the longlist for both, leading to a mad dash to get from one to the other.
Notably, the final four seeking to succeed Peter Luff in 2015 have all appeared in recent selections elsewhere. They are:
- Vicky Atkins. A criminal prosecutor, specialising in fraud and other complex cases, she stood to be the Gloucestershire PCC a year ago. Having won the first round, she was defeated on preferences in the second round by an Independent candidate. Her website emphasises the practical campaigning experience she gained from the process, and her continued work in the voluntary party including serving as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum’s Justice and Home Affairs Group. She made the final four at the recent Tonbridge and Malling Open Primary, and is also in the final four for North East Hampshire (see above).
- Edward Argar. A Westminster councillor and Cabinet member for City Management, Transport and Environment, he fought the Lib/Lab marginal constituency of Oxford East at the 2010 General Election, where he increased the Conservative vote share by 1.5 percentage points. Before moving to a career in the private sector, he worked for Michael Ancram when he was Shadow Foreign Secretary. Argar reached the final four in both Newark and Tonbridge and Malling in the last few weeks.
- Nusrat Ghani. Over recent years, Ghani has held a number of high profile roles in the public affairs industry, having worked for the BBC World Service, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and Age Concern among others. She joined the Conservative Party in 2009, in response to Cameron’s call for would-be candidates, and stepped into the breach when the PPC in Birmingham Ladywood stood down only 100 days before the 2010 election. Despite the short campaign, the Conservative vote share increased by 3.5 percentage points. She is another familiar face, having made the longlist of 15 in Croydon South.
- Nigel Huddleston. As the Conservative candidate in Luton South at the last election, Huddleston halved the Labour majority and had the unexpected experience of Esther Rantzen entering the race as an Independent. Currently the Industry Head for Travel at Google, he is a long-standing member of the Tory Reform Group and has had a taste of US politics, too, volunteering in the recall campaign which saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become Governor of California. In recent weeks he has made the Croydon South longlist, and the final four in Newark.
There are two main implications of the repeated appearance of several candidates.
First, it’s evident that these individuals are consistently performing well in a variety of seats – there’s hot competition on the candidates’ list for seats where sitting Conservative MPs are sitting down, so to serially make it through to longlists and shortlists suggests they are doing something right.
Second, the skills involved in winning an Open Primary are quite different to those involved in a traditional selection meeting (as Peter Franklin recounted here). Experience can only be a good thing, and it will be interesting to see if helps Vicky Atkins and Ed Argar, who are both going into the Primaries with the experience of Tonbridge and Malling under their belt.
I gather that after the success of the Tonbridge and Malling experience, a lot more Associations are clamouring to go down the Open Primary route, so we can expect to see a lot more over the next few months.