And so it begins again: I can exclusively reveal that the Conservative candidates’ list have today been invited to apply for the first tranche of target seat selections.

Applications are open from today until noon on Monday 9th July in the following four seats:

Stroud (Labour majority: 687)

Warwick and Leamington (Labour majority: 1,206)

Oxford West and Abingdon (Liberal Democrat majority: 816)

Crewe and Nantwich (Labour majority: 48)

None of these is a surprise as a top Conservative target seat – each has a relatively small Labour or Lib Dem majority, ranging from 0.08 per cent to 2.2 per cent, and each was a Conservative loss the in the 2017 General Election. They have all been Tory targets in the last decade, too – Stroud, Warwick & Leamington, and Oxford West & Abingdon were all Conservative gains in 2010, while Crewe & Nantwich was a Conservative gain in the 2008 by-election.

This is welcome news – one of ConservativeHome’s 12 proposals for reform in the aftermath of last year’s election campaign was that:

‘Earlier candidate selection gives focus to an association’s efforts, and gives the candidate the benefit of far greater name recognition when election day comes round. There should be a general presumption in favour of selecting much earlier.’

Eric Pickles’ review of the Party’s structures and performance recommended that ‘Parliamentary candidates should be in place in battleground seats by June 2018′. Opening the first tranche of selections by that date means that the Party is obviously running behind Pickles’ proposal – that is partly because the reshuffle at the top of CCHQ interrupted the early stages of the job of choosing target seats, and partially because the new Party Chairman decided he wanted to wait until local election data was available to feed into the process.

The delay frustrated some members, but at least the ball is now rolling. Later than Pickles wanted is still a lot sooner than the Party selected before 2015, and wildly better than the last-minute panic induced by calling last year’s snap election without a single candidate in place – although Labour are still well ahead, having opened selections last October. ConservativeHome will, of course, bring you all the news about who is shortlisted and eventually selected.