As I reported during the campaign, the recent election was not a happy experience for a lot of Conservative candidates – even some weeks before John Curtice delivered the news of his exit poll.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that CCHQ’s ability to torture would-be MPs ended there. On 14th June, less than a week after the election, an email went out to the whole candidates’ list informing them that the whole process of reviewing who was and wasn’t an approved candidate was starting again immediately:
“At its first meeting since the General Election the Candidates Committee have agreed to invite all those candidates on the old Parliamentary List to apply to be considered for the new Approved Parliamentary List.
As in previous years, the Approved List ceases to exist after Polling Day and everyone who was previously included, and who wishes to apply for seats during the new Parliament, is required to apply for admission to the new List. All applications will be considered on their individual merits and we will take into account your activities during the General Election Campaign and your conduct whilst on the List. As we only carried out a full review of the List last year we are not proposing to re-list applicants wishing to return, although we do reserve the right to re-list applicants in some cases.
Please inform me if you wish to be considered for the new List as soon as you can, but by no later than 10 July 2017 by emailing [ADDRESS REDACTED]…”
Given that the members of the list had all either survived a similar review in 2015, or been added to the list after an Assessment Board in the two short years since, the news that everyone was up for scrutiny once more was not received with unanimous joy. However, candidates know that this is part of the slog to perhaps one day get selected and elected.
Most therefore dutifully responded that they were willing to remain on the list, and awaited judgement.
Six days later, on 20th June, came another missive:
“Thank you for all your hard work during the General Election campaign. We would like to invite you to the Candidates’ Network Summer Reception which is taking place on Tuesday 11th July 2017…there will be a small charge of £ 10 which includes wine and canapes.”
It might perhaps seem a little graceless to thank candidates for their efforts by charging them for the privilege of being thanked. More surprising, though, is that the invitation came with no news about whether the recipient had retained his or her place on the list. In the fevered world of candidates used to trying to guess the often inexplicable logic of CCHQ, this was open to all sorts of interpretations. Was it a good sign to be invited, or was it irrelevant? Assuming that the assessment of each candidate’s performance was yet to be carried out, might attendance be an opportunity to press one’s case? For that matter, might absence be frowned upon?
Having opened up these questions, and still with no news about each candidate’s fate, another email followed on 23rd June. Headed by the ominous subject line “Your subscription to Conservative and Unionist Party has been cancelled”, it was a Direct Debit notification, informing recipients that:
“Your subscription…to [the] Conservative and Unionist Party for Candidates Subscription has been cancelled.”
Readers can imagine what that implied to those who received it: this is it, we’ve assessed you and found you wanting, you aren’t on the list anymore, goodbye. Hearts sank as ambitions appeared to be crushed.
Belatedly realising how this would have come across, two hours later the candidates department sent out a corrective:
You will have received an email today notifying you of your Direct Debit cancellation.
This is routine and does not reflect your place on the Candidates List. As you know, we have invited you to come back on to the List – this will be confirmed at the next Candidates Committee meeting on the 11th July and we will therefore set up another Direct Debit from the beginning of August.
Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.
So in fact nothing had changed at all, and members of the candidates’ list are still awaiting the news about their futures. After an election campaign in which many of them felt badly treated, followed by election results which left them – like the rest of us – crestfallen and frustrated, this is just another episode in the ongoing saga of CCHQ’s mismanagement of an essential resource – the people whom it believes will make up the future Parliamentary Conservative Party. It ought to treat them rather better.