The leadership election enforced a bit of a hiatus in our coverage of Conservative candidate selections – which we’ll endeavour to catch up on over the next week or so.
There are four bits of candidate-related news of note today which paint a picture of where things stand.
First, Labour have now commenced their selection process in every vacant constituency. The list is extensive, but in 2017 they were able to select swiftly (if not always wisely – cf Jared O’Mara) by centrally deciding the candidate for every constituency, without a protracted contest.
Second, Conservative candidate selections have been accelerating in recent weeks ahead of what must surely be an election sometime soon. A total of 50 constituencies have opened for candidate selection in since mid-August.
Third, this week’s news has opened a series of vacancies in Conservative-held seats. Several MPs – Michael Fallon, Nick Hurd, Caroline Spelman, Keith Simpson and, of course, Jo Johnson – have recently announced that they are voluntarily standing down. And the 21 MPs who lost the Whip are now ineligible to be readopted (assuming that none of them find a path to redemption and reinstatement in some way).
That’s quite an extraordinary opportunity for Tory candidates. Conservative-held seats with big majorities normally only come up rarely, particularly given that the great majority of the Parliamentary Party were first elected within the last decade and would ordinarily be expected to serve out many more years to come. So the competition for these selections will be intense.
What isn’t yet completely clear is what the process will be. In a normal selection, the association executive selects a shortlist of three following interviews with a longlist of applicants, chosen with CCHQ’s “advice” (the strength of that advice varies based on the robustness and attitude of the association), then members pick the winning candidate at a selection meeting. However, there are two possible factors which might undermine that. The first is the ever-present fact that the central machine of the party likes to get its way where possible – and influencing selections in Tory-held seats is as close as you get to directly moulding the Parliamentary Party. The second is that if an election is truly imminent, there will be time pressures on the process.
This latter factor will be key, I understand. If there’s time, they’ll select in the normal way. But if a snap election is secured soon, the Party Board is more likely to opt for some variation of by-election rules, where as seen in 2017 CCHQ and the candidates’ committee may decide shortlists themselves, then allow the associations to choose from them. That would in my view be a serious mistake – the dire 2017 experience showed that over-centralising control over selections leads to poor decisions and damaged morale. Party members excelled themselves in their participation in a contested and pretty open leadership election – their rights to decide candidates, particularly in seats the Conservatives already hold, should be respected.
Fourth, as part of the return of our regular coverage, here is the latest selection news: last night, Dr Luke Evans was selected as candidate for Bosworth (Conservative majority: 18,351), following David Tredinnick’s decision to stand down at the next election. Tredinnick has served as MP for Bosworth since 1987. Dr Evans is a GP and school governor, who contested Birmingham Edgbaston in 2015.