Rumours are rife that David Cameron has over-ruled Francis Maude and ordered a six month postponement of the London Mayoral process if a big-hitter candidate does not come forward before today’s 5pm deadline. It was predictable and predicted that CCHQ’s rushed timetable would be unlikely to yield an adequate field of candidates.
Unfortunately it’s only the latest example of a failure of CCHQ to deliver the kind of political operation that David Cameron deserves. There remain central weaknesses in CCHQ:
- We know best attitude. This was summed up in last year’s post-election plans to change the constitution of the party (which had to be abandoned) and anti-democratic plans to abolish grassroots members’ right to vote in the leadership election (which failed to win the required level of support).
- Candidate selection. The A-list has been beset by a wide range of difficulties. CCHQ unsuccessfully attempted to keep the names of A-listers secret… many of the 35 seats that CCHQ decided should select candidates first had not been consulted and decided not to select… more non A-listers are being selected than women A-listers… and only this week ‘B-listers’ haven’t even received the courtesy of a letter telling them that they are not on the top-up… ConservativeHome has been highlighting the huge hurdles facing lower income candidates since the start of the year but the drive for a representative party has not begun to address this key issue of social justice.
- By-elections. The campaign in Bromley & Chislehurst fell far short of the Liberal Democrat effort.
- Centralisation. The party’s poor performance in northern England demands a radical response but there are no clear plans for a serious decentralisation of campaigning power to Yorkshire or Lancashire, for example, although the major cities are now twinned with shadow ministers.
- Wastefulness. Anyone who has ever worked at CCHQ knows the level of wastefulness that characterises operations – particularly at election times. At this year’s local elections Conservative councillors all over Britain who had ordered bespoke pledge letters received the wrong material – with all of their letters addressed to residents of one ward in Manchester. The ‘Built to Last’ referendum is a waste of party resources given its uncontroversial and motherhood-and-apple-pie content.
- Rush, rush, rush. Important issues are not developed properly and policy announcements are rushed out. In the last few days Association officers all across Britain are being invited to consultation meetings about the party’s rebranding exercise. People are being given two weeks’ notice in the middle of August to present their views. I’m reminded of Inigo Wilson’s definition of "consultation" in his excellent Lefty Lexicon: "A formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time".
There are some excellent individuals in CCHQ and a series of recent appointments are designed to address some of the above weaknesses. There should be no shying away, however, from the continuing failure of CCHQ to be the campaigning force that the party needs.