On the GoldList blog this morning, ConservativeHome publishes the names of some of the men and women who have been accepted on to the party’s priority list of parliamentary candidates. The Conservative Party wants to keep the list secret. ConservativeHome believes that the party membership deserves to see who its flagship candidates are. These candidates, and the A-list top-ups to follow, are the people who will form a third to a half of the Conservative parliamentary party if we are successful in winning power after the next General Election. Conservative members – kept in the dark about so many aspects of how their party is run, funded and staffed – have a right to inspect this list and assess its quality and true diversity. Does it, for example, include the kind of northern Britons who can help us win in Lancashire and Yorkshire? The same people who tried to disenfranchise rank-and-file members in last year’s leadership election are still showing insufficient respect for members.
So what should we make of the list as it currently stands?
I don’t know many of the names that appear on the list but some I know to be of exceptional quality. Karen Bradley, Fiona Bruce, Margot James, Julia Manning, Hannah Parker and Philippa Stroud, for example, are women who are as conservative as they are compassionate – as media-friendly as they are serious and principled.
I am personally delighted to see Howard Flight on the list. He was treated very harshly by Michael Howard last year and should still be the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs today (although Nick Herbert couldn’t have been a better replacement).
I would also highlight Nicholas Boles, George Freeman and Mel Stride. These are the kind of serious thinkers that a future Tory government will need to flourish.
But if the A-list has strengths the process that has led to its formation has had significant downsides. Many candidates have testified to the uneven nature and rigour of the interview process they faced. Some candidates learnt if they were on the list – or excluded from it – from a face-to-face meeting with Francis Maude or a telephone call from Theresa May. Others were tipped off by their MPs. Others had to wait for the letters to arrive yesterday. There has not been equal treatment.
Some of the decisions have baffled me and readers of Iain Dale’s blog were clearly disappointed at his ‘you may get on in the next round’ letter. I received a steady stream of phone calls yesterday about different friends and contacts being ‘on’ or ‘off’. The news that surprised me most was CCHQ’s decision not to put Dominic Schofield on the list. Not yet anyway – all candidates have been told that they might be promoted to the A-list later in the year. Dominic achieved a 6.7% swing from Labour to the Tories in Battersea, at the last General Election. He reduced the Labour majority to just 163. I campaigned a little there myself with Dominic and he was an exceptional vote-winner. The 2005 campaign and its heavy core vote message was not designed for the average Battersea voter and Dominic’s result was all the more impressive in that light.
People with no track record of working for the party may deserve to be on the A-list if they are exceptional prospects for the future. I can understand that although their loyalty should probably have been tested over a couple of years. What I cannot understand, however, is why proven vote-winners, who have stuck with the party over the last difficult decade, are dropped in favour of people who have not achieved at the ballot box. A little more transparency from CCHQ on the criteria they have used would be helpful.
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