I understand from a variety of sources that the Conservative London Mayoral Selection is threatened by technical problems relating to VoteSource, the CCHQ membership database.
On the evening of Thursday 3rd September, CCHQ officials emailed representatives of all the London Conservative Associations with the following message:
Following recent discussions with the London Area Team regarding registration of Party Members for the London Mayoral Primary, please find attached a file of members who have been sent a letter with their registration access code.
The file is password protected so please call 020 7XXX XXXX to receive the password from Compliance at any time.
To ensure that all London electors who are Party Members receive an access code, we would be grateful if you can compare this list with your Association’s membership records.
If there are any of your members who are eligible to vote in the ballot but have not been sent an access code, please complete their details in the second attached spreadsheet. We will then upload their membership information directly into VoteSource and facilitate the sending of an access code to each member.
It is therefore crucial that you complete the spreadsheet as accurately and as fully as possible.
Each member will need to appear on the spreadsheet as they appear on the electoral roll to enable us to match each Member to their elector record.
If possible, please return this information to LondonPrimary@conservatives.com by 5pm on Friday and at the very latest, Monday at noon, for us to be able to contact your Members in time.
If you need any assistance with completing this spreadsheet please get in touch with me.’
CCHQ had begun to fear that the membership list to which they were sending access codes for voting on the mayoral candidate was incomplete. They were therefore forced to ask Association officers to manually double-check the list generated centrally against their local membership lists.
On examination of the spreadsheets that they had been sent, numerous Associations found that there were indeed serious problems with the data. Scores of members were missing from each list, and were thus at risk of missing out on the chance to vote.
What had gone wrong? To judge from the tone of the above email, which carefully doesn’t acknowledge that there is a problem at all, one might conclude that Associations were being accused of failing to enter their full membership lists onto VoteSource. Some Associations have been accused of doing so in the past, either due to inefficiency or an attempt to retain members’ full subs for themselves, and CCHQ’s offer to ‘upload their [the missing members’] membership information directly into VoteSource’ reads as a generous offer to rectify the failings of Associations who are behind on their paperwork.
Except that isn’t so. Several Associations have checked and confirmed that they have input all their members’ details into the system already. Instead of a local failing, it seems that for some reason CCHQ is struggling to extract complete membership lists from VoteSource.
This is deeply troubling, if not entirely surprising. In my post-election analysis of the campaign, I recounted the technical problems that repeatedly plagued the system – and Paul Abbott recently recommended scrapping it as a lost cause. Now it seems that it is threatening the integrity of a crucial ballot, one which the Conservative Party has proudly proclaimed as an exercise in confident direct democracy.
Although the problem with the London database was spotted over a week ago, it still persists. Some Association officers have given up their time to check their data in full, others have refused (understandably offended by the fact that the email appeared to blame them for a problem not of their making), and others are struggling to do so in the short time available given that they are all volunteers. Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Conservative members have not yet received the access codes required to vote, and are now unlikely to be able to register in time to do so.
At least one Association Executive is apparently considering a vote of no confidence in the selection process, unless CCHQ delays the selection to ensure the missing voters are included. Furthermore, Cllr Paul Canal, the Area Chairman for London North East, has asked CCHQ to extend the registration deadline. Cllr Canal says:
“The massive interest in the Open Primary is very welcome, but it is essential that every party member who is qualified to vote is able to take part. A further seven days would allow CCHQ IT and the stalwarts on the Vote Source help desk enough time to ensure that all those who wanted to take part could take part.”
I am told that the issue was also raised at Wednesday evening’s weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee, and that MPs have written to the Party Chairman in similar terms to Cllr Canal.
Registration to vote in the selection process closes on Monday 14th September, and it is worrying that with the deadline so close the process is in chaos. This is a clear threat to the validity and credibility of the selection. We only need to look at the criticism and doubt which has beset Labour’s leadership election to see the risks of such serious flaws in a selection process.
The Conservative leadership has, rightly, made direct democracy a key element of our Party’s future. But direct democracy rests on competent and functioning systems. It is bad enough that these internal problems have occurred, and that Party members are at risk of being disenfranchised – if the issues also affect the members of the public who have paid to take part then it will escalate further. VoteSource, already under heavy criticism give its past failings, is in even more trouble than before.