Today’s Independent carries a report warning that the “Conservatives lag behind in selecting candidates for marginal seats in 2015 election“.
It’s advisable not to take the story entirely at face value. While it doesn’t say who carried out the “new analysis” on which it’s based, whoever it was certainly got some quite basic facts wrong.
For example, the article declares that “the party has also, so far, not selected a single candidate in Scotland.” That simply isn’t true – two Scottish constituencies (West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, and Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) have already selected their candidates by Open Primary.
The researchers may have relied on the list of candidates on the official Conservative website as their sole source – an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless, as that list isn’t up to date. Had they googled or come to ConservativeHome they would have found that out – as it is, their data is incomplete, so there is good reason to doubt their findings.
It also blurs the concepts of marginal seats and target seats, using the two terms interchangeably when in fact they have very different meanings. A marginal seat is one in which the vote was close in 2010, while a target seat is one the Conservative leadership has identified as offering a good chance of victory and is therefore sending greater resources to.
In the past our marginals were often automatically targets – but ever since the announcement of the 40/40 strategy, CCHQ has emphasised that they are now picking target seats based on more complex factors than simply the 2010 election result, such as demographic changes, the local political situation and so on.
So not only is the data used in the Indie’s “new analysis” apparently incomplete or inaccurate, its interpretation rests on a misunderstanding of the type of seat which is being picked as an attack target for 2015.
That said, there are some reasons to be concerned about the pace of selections ahead of the General Election.
It’s good that the 40 attack seats have all apparently selected candidates, but that is not a reason to delay selection elsewhere. It’s certainly the case that there are hundreds of seats still to select, despite there being just over a year until the election. The delays apply to three types of seat:
1) Marginals which aren’t targets. Seats like Great Grimsby or Edgbaston may not be on the official target list of 40, but they are still marginals, which means a Tory candidate there would still be in with a shot (albeit without the resources allocated to a target seat). There is no good reason why a seat should not select early just because it isn’t an official target – having such candidates in place doesn’t detract from the effort put into the 40/40 attack seats, and for obvious reasons the longer run a candidate has at a seat the bigger their chance of winning.
2) Conservative seats where the MP is standing down. Several seats in which the incumbent Tory MP is leaving Parliament still haven’t selected – some, like Thirsk and Malton or South Suffolk, obviously have issues within the local association which may explain the delay, but others like South Ribble are taking an inexplicable amount of time to sort things out.
3) “Hopeless” seats. Those seats where Labour or the Lib Dems have a large majority often select later than targets and marginals, for obvious reasons. However, I’m told that some associations in these seats, which would usually select around now, have been told to wait until the Autumn. These seats may not hold out great prospects for victory, but it seems like a mistake to pass up the chance to press our opponents on their home turf, and a missed opportunity to give greener candidates some valuable experience of running a General Election campaign.
This is a serious issue – even with the best message and manifesto in the world, you need a good machine around the country in order to win an election. Without candidates in place local campaigns inevitably lack focus, and the later a PPC is picked the more difficult they find it to win. The Independent‘s report is rather confused, but there is a genuine problem underlying it.