The very well connected blogger, Watlington, has an exclusive on Tory plans to select the party’s candidate for London Mayor by October this year – eighteen months ahead of the 2008 contest.  This is what he writes on the Social Affairs Unit blog:

"The intention is that the contest will begin with candidates applying at the end of May. The next stage will be a series of Primaries in which members of the public who register as Conservative supporters will be able to attend and have voting rights. Throughout June and July there will be a series of "rolling hustings" with the first ballot taking place some time in September, with a second ballot taking place in the same month if no candidate gets over 50%. Voting will either be by text or on the Internet. The cost of the Primaries is expected to reach close to £500,000 but it is hoped that this will be recouped through donations and possibly charging people to vote by text."

Watlington raises three main objections to CCHQ’s plans:

  1. Holding the election over the summer will make it difficult for many holidaying Tories to participate.
  2. "It is understood that candidates are expected to be asked to guarantee to raise their own money for the election campaign against Livingstone (expected to cost between £1 and £2 million). This means that the only candidates who can stand are either very rich or have very rich friends."
  3. "Critics of these proposals believe that the reason that the selection process is being rushed through is to favour potential moderniser candidates. It is hoped that if there is a quick contest, then other strong candidates from different sections of the party will not have time to gather the necessary forces to win."

Editor’s comment: "ConservativeHome has long been a supporter of open primary elections.  They are an exciting way of introducing new people to the Conservative Party and they are a way of recognising that the age of mass membership political parties is being replaced by an age of mass connections politics.  Giving Londoners a decisive say in the Tory candidate for Mayor will reconnect the party with tens of thousands of people and could be a huge source of new revenue.  ConservativeHome is concerned about the timetable, however.  It appears far too rushed.  The Party Board – which has yet to approve the plan – should ensure there is more time for alternative candidates to emerge.  Watlington mentions a number of possible runners and riders and some of the more promising candidates probably need more time to challenge the likes of Steve Norris.  June and July is too soon for hustings to take place.  An election early next year would still give the chosen candidate a full year to oppose Mayor Livingstone."