Guido Fawkes reported yesterday claims that in Liverpool the Conservative Party has been reduced to going door-to-door to seek out possible candidates in time for Friday’s nomination deadline. That’s mortifying, if true – as is the idea that those doing the door-knocking are Party employees shipped in from the South East of England to do the task. Liverpool is far from a Tory stronghold, but it still ought to be possible to identify a full slate of candidates in advance.

Liverpool Conservatives strongly dispute Fawkes’s account, it should be noted, and say they already have a full slate of candidates. (Update: It appears the problem is in Knowsley, also on Merseyside, not Liverpool.)

Whether they or Fawkes are correct, I can now exclusively reveal troubling problems in finding Tory local election candidates in two other parts of the country.

In Manchester City Council, where all 96 seats in 32 wards are up for election, the Conservative Party has set itself the modest goal of putting up just one candidate in each ward, not even a full slate. Even then, I’m told by sources acquainted with the local campaign that there are real difficulties in identifying and nominating enough candidates to fulfil that aim.

Local activists and members have been asked to wrack their brains for anyone eligible who might be willing to stand, and central Party staff have been relocated to the area to work on the problem. It appears that in some wards there is a genuine risk that people might find there is no Conservative candidate to vote for.

I also gather that a similar issue has been encountered in Barking and Dagenham, where activists and staffers have had to be drafted in in order to assist with getting candidates signed up and nomination signatures secured in time for the deadline.

It could be that other areas are suffering this problem, too (in which case, please contact me via our form) – it’s certainly the case that various members of the Party’s field campaigning staff have been moved from their assigned areas to help out temporarily in the dash to ensure there are actually Tory candidates on the ballot paper.

Whether the Party manages to identify candidates, and complete their nomination papers, in time through these measures is almost beside the point. What matters – and is deeply concerning – is that these are the symptoms of severe atrophy among local associations, an affliction whose serious and damaging effects we have reported on for some years, including at the 2017 General Election.

If you lack members, you lack activists. If you lack activists, you lack candidates. If you lack candidates, activists, and members, then you will inevitably struggle to win elections. If you have to redeploy your paid staff from other areas to plug even basic gaps like getting nomination forms filled out, this atrophy in one area starts to undermine campaign activity in other areas.

I’ve lost count of the number of times senior Conservatives have expressed their dismay at the lack of any Conservative councillors in major cities like Liverpool and Manchester, or in other city authorities like Barking and Dagenham. Time and again we’re told of the need for a “fightback”, of new city strategies and proposals to regenerate urban conservatism. But here we are, immediately before the local election nomination deadline, and the Conservative Party is struggling to even put up half-complete slates of candidates in major contests – relying on its employees to do at the last minute the job that an organised grassroots movement ought to have been there to do months ago.