I wrote recently about the battle in some parts of the country to find and nominate enough Conservative candidates ahead of the local elections. Some of those efforts have been successful (such as in Manchester, where there is a full slate of Tories up for election, to the credit of those who worked hard to make that happen), while others fell short (such as in Knowsley, where only nine of 15 wards have a Conservative candidate).
The national figures, however, look healthy overall. I can reveal that the Conservative Party has nominated candidates for 4,400 of the 4,413 seats up for election this time – a success rate of 99.71 per cent. By contrast, in 2014 (the equivalent last election for most of these seats) there were Conservative candidates for 97.26 per cent of the seats that were up for grabs.
That figure includes a full slate in London, 1,833 in total, which is the first time that the capital has had a 100 per cent complement of Conservative candidates since its local government was rejigged in 1986.
Regionally, the East Midlands, West Midlands, North East and South West, are also successfully contesting every seat. There are small gaps in the East of England (one seat not contested, 99.76 per cent contested), South East (one seat not contested, 99.8 per cent contested), Yorkshire and the Humber (two seats not contested, 99.45 per cent contested).
Even in the North West, where those serious challenges were experienced, there are in the end only nine seats without a Conservative candidate – and the 98.59 per cent contested rate is both up on the proportion of seats with a Conservative candidate in 2014 (93.06 per cent) and ahead of Labour (98.12 per cent).
In fact, in most regions, Labour are contesting fewer seats than the Conservatives – only drawing level in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East. Nowhere does Jeremy Corbyn have a more complete slate of candidates than the Conservatives.
That’s good news, and a reflection on the hard work of many activists and campaign staff around the country. The number of candidates does matter, even in ‘hopeless’ seats – voters deserve a proper choice at election time, the media of course reports national vote shares even in local elections, and wards that are not very promising at the local elections are still important come General Election time.
Of course, number of candidates isn’t the full picture of a campaign’s health, either. We don’t know how many of these candidates represent an active campaign, and how many are ‘paper’ candidates – or, for that matter, how many might have been last minute recruits to get the numbers up. Being able to find and nominate a candidate is a minimum requirement for a healthy local Party, not a conclusive sign of being entirely hale and hearty. It’s undoubtedly good news that the challenges in nomination have been overcome so effectively – the question of how to prevent such issues recurring in future, of course, still stands.