Yesterday I reported that in some parts of the country CCHQ has had to deploy paid campaign staff just to try to secure enough candidates and nomination signatures to put up a full slate in the forthcoming local elections.
The scale of that eleventh-hour push is further illuminated by an email sent yesterday afternoon – just a day before the nomination deadline – to Conservative Party members in Wales, which ConservativeHome publishes exclusively today.
Sent out from the Welsh Conservatives’ official email address, and under their branding, it reads:
‘All our activists are campaigning hard across the NW to secure victory in the local elections in May. The deadline for nominating candidates is 4pm Friday. We are aiming to field a full slate of candidates across the Region but still have vacancies in Knowlsey and Manchester (where we have 96 vacancies).
Can you help us? Do you know anybody who lives, works or owns property in Manchester or Knowsley that will be willing to put their name on the ballot paper? We are not expecting anyone to collect nomination forms, all is required is that they sign a candidates consent form. A member of the team can visit them later today or tomorrow and that will be all that is required.’
The email ends by giving the names and contact details of two of the Party’s campaign managers, one respectively for Manchester and Knowsley.
What to make of this?
First, it demonstrates that ConservativeHome’s sources were right about this last-minute dash to try to find candidates – extending, it seems, to accepting anyone with some sort of local link, which seems a risky way to pick candidates. The fact that the search has extended at such a late stage to appealing to members across Wales, on the off chance they might know someone eligible to fight a ward in two English council elections, suggests things really have got quite desperate.
Second, the question of quite how bad things are in the Manchester City Council nominations remains unclear. As I reported yesterday, reliable sources tell ConservativeHome that the local Party’s goal is to stand one candidate in each of the 32 wards (out of a possible three in each ward). Following the publication of that article, some Conservative members in Manchester assured me that there would be a “full slate” in the city. But the Welsh email, also from yesterday, claims there are “96 vacancies” in Manchester – which would mean they lack any candidates at all. That seems implausible; perhaps the text of the appeal was agreed some time before it was sent out, and therefore exaggerates the scale of the problem. Either way, there is evidently a serious shortage, underscoring the atrophy suffered by the local party in the city.
Finally, the news of a similarly dire situation in Knowsley is significant. Since Guido Fawkes first reported Party employees being sent to Liverpool to try to find candidates, on Wednesday, Liverpool Conservatives have hotly denied that they have any shortage of candidates whatsoever. Knowsley might be the answer – we do not know who Fawkes’s sources were, but if they were from outside the North West, perhaps in London or the South East, it’s possible they said “Liverpool” when they meant “Merseyside”, ie they have been drafted in to help find candidates for Knowsley Borough Council, where we now know there is a problem, not Liverpool City Council, where the local party denies there’s any issue at all. That might explain the dispute.