Of the 21 former Conservative MPs from whom the whip has been removed, only one has confirmed to date that he will stand in his constituency at the next election: Dominic Grieve. The former Attorney General paid lip service to perhaps standing again as an official Tory candidate, but that door is closed. The local Association has voted that it has no confidence in him, and wouldn’t re-select him as its candidate were he to apply. It is far from clear that he would want to stand as a Conservative, in any event. The local Liberal Democrats have agreed to stand down to enable him more room for manoeuvre as an anti-Brexit independent candidate for the seat.
Beaconsfield has thus become a test case for what the Party centrally and Associations will now do when it comes to finding a Tory candidate.
As Mark Wallace wrote recently on this site, “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”.
He added that “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.”
Beaconsfield has been a very safe Conservative seat indeed since its creation during the 1970s, and will presumably return a Tory MP again when the election comes. But Brexit is bound to muddy the waters.
The constituency itself went Remain in the EU referendum by the narrowest of margins – 51 per cent to 49 per cent. (The local authority, South Bucks, was narrowly leave.) It would clearly make sense to select a Parliamentary candidate as soon as possible, for two main reasons. First, to ensure that Grieve doesn’t have a monopoly on local Parliamentary campaigning and, second, because the Association should have as much choice as possible. And it will have more if it draws up its own shortlist than if the candidates’ committee does so. This site understands that the Association is keen to get a move on.