ConservativeHome’s analysis of the failures of the General Election campaign proposed earlier candidate selection last September, and shortly afterwards the Pickles Review recommended selecting candidates in “battleground seats” by June 2018.
In October, Labour began the process of selecting its candidates for target seats, threatening to gain a head start. Meanwhile, there was no sign of movement towards Pickles’s goal on the Conservative side – and frustrations mounted in various constituencies where activists wanted to get on with selections but were being told nothing by the centre.
Now, at last, I’m told that some progress might be in the offing. The Party Board will soon meet to discuss, -among other things, a report proposing a list of target constituencies in which applications for selections should be opened.
We don’t yet know which seats are on that list, or whether all, some, or none of them will be given the green light. But we can make some educated guesses at how the process works.
For example, it seems likely that some consideration is being given to whether those Conservative MPs who lost their seats last June would like to stand again – perhaps in order to explore whether a swift reselection might be possible. The evidence that hints at this is the fact that in the last ten days Stewart Jackson, Gavin Barwell and Sir Julian Brazier have informed the associations in Peterborough, Croydon Central, and Canterbury respectively that they do not intend to stand again for their former seats. That suggests they have been asked to answer that question one way or the other, and, having declined to re-stand, have now cleared the way for new candidates to be considered. (It also implies that perhaps some other former MPs might yet put themselves forward to fight their former constituencies again, but we don’t yet know who, if any.)
Beyond the questions of which seats are set to open for early selections, and which former MPs might be hoping to stand again, there are two other issues raised by the news of the report going before the Board.
First, to what extent is the candidates list ready for a selection process? I understand that in some cases those who were rushed onto the list through emergency PABs, the pared down version of the normal assessment process, are yet to get the chance to undergo a full PAB and thereby secure a permanent place on the list. And, of course, there has been little if any opportunity for any new candidates to join the list since the General Election.
Second, to what extent has the new leadership of the Party had a chance to influence this early selection plan? It’s only a week and a half since the reshuffle, in which we gained a new Party Chairman, a new Deputy Chairman, and a host of new Vice Chairmen, including a Vice Chairman specifically in charge of candidates, Kemi Badenoch. That’s a very short period of time for any of them to have had the opportunity to learn about the state of the candidates list, assess the past performance of the selection process, commission and then assess analysis of which seats ought to be considered targets, and so on.
News of some sort of action will be welcomed by many activists – but plenty will be watching to make sure that it is co-ordinated and informed, not rushed to make up for lost time.