Notably, they’ve gone beyond the standard by-election process of the Party imposing a shortlist of three candidates in every seat. That approach will apply in those constituencies where a Tory MP has chosen to leave Parliament, in marginals and in target seats, but controversially in non-target seats there will be a CCHQ-imposed single candidate.
That delivers the shift of power to the centre that we expected, allowing swift selections as well as giving May greater opportunity to remodel the Parliamentary Party in her own image, but the scale of the powers may well upset some local associations, who understandably like the principle of a local party selecting the candidate it then has to fight for.
Whether we hear many complaints about that shift will be an interesting test of the extent of the Prime Minister’s personal authority – is the opportunity to win a sizeable majority, and her commitment to delivering Brexit, enough to encourage normally recalcitrant local parties to swallow the medicine without complaint?
Furthermore, there’s an attendant risk of a system which implicitly identifies some seats as hopeless. Readers may recall that at the last election a CCHQ cock-up allowed opposition bloggers to identify 101 constituencies that the Conservative Party itself considered “non-target”, which caused a fair bit of annoyance for activists and some embarrassment for candidates. That happened due to an error on the Party website, but these new rules mean that seats which CCHQ does not expect to win will be even more easily identified, by simply noting which of them don’t hold a contested selection process. That could store up some awkward headlines for candidates who already have enough on their plate.
It seems the Party’s senior officers are alive to the possibility of local objections that I mentioned above. Rob Semple, the Chairman of the National Convention, has issued a statement:
“Given the shortened timeframe we have worked hard to ensure that Associations and their members are given a choice of candidates where possible. The senior volunteers have been and will continue to be fully engaged throughout the process – and ultimately must agree any shortlist given to Associations. We have also made sure that Associations who wish to reselect their 2015 candidate can do so as quickly as possible so we can get out and fight the election, and help deliver the strong, stable Government our country needs.”
That’s fine, but I’m not sure the involvement of the “senior volunteers” – ie the officers of the National Convention – will necessarily be enough to reassure members. While Association Chairs and area and regional officers sit on the Convention, most Party members have very little if any contact with or involvement in its workings or elections at all, so it isn’t inherently a representative outfit.