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2017 was a snap election. 2019 was at least a sort-of snap election. One consequence is that it’s been a while since would-be candidates underwent a full Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB), and CCHQ are currently calling people in to get re-listed.

Charlotte Gill has already examined the party’s decision to incorporate psychometric testing into selections. But what does the rest of the process look like?

CCHQ obviously don’t hand out cheat sheets. But would-be candidates looking to find out what it’s up to may be aware of College Green Group’s ‘Becoming a Conservative MP’ package.

To which end, I did a two-hour workshop to find out what it believes awaits anyone looking to run the PAB gauntlet – both the online and in-person sections.

Before continuing, two things to note. First, the tests below are not the actual PAB. They are exercises that CGG believe will best prepare candidates for the PAB, based on their experiences preparing people (including some now-elected as MPs) for the old one.

Second, CGG very kindly offered to let me actually do the training. But it is geared towards people who actually want to be MPs and have been living their lives with that goal in mind and I, dear reader, have not. So we discussed the programme instead.

In-person assessment

The very first thing the trainer tries to sort out is why an applicant wants to be an MP. You’d think that would be simple enough, but apparently the question throws people, especially if they think it’s simply the next step in the political life-cycle after being a councillor or similar.

Preparing for the in-person test involves finding a good answer to that question. If you’re already a successful business leader or council leader, why are you trading in real power and a huge budget to become a backbench MP? Why do you think you could do more good in the House of Commons than wherever you are now? If not, what skills or experience are you bringing to the green benches that other candidates are not?

Once you’ve worked out why you’re there, the next step is teasing out which parts of your CV and backstory best support your case. A bare list of achievements is probably not enough – lots of able and accomplished people want to be MPs. Instead, the trainer helps applicants embed proof of key skills and attributes in stories that will hook the assessors’ attention, and help them stand out when the latter compare notes at the end of what was probably a long day.

At CGG, they run you though what looks like quite a comprehensive list of questions intended to illustrate qualities such as leadership, resilience and drive, relating to people, and communication skills, as well as probing your Conservative principles. There is also a section intended to highlight stand-out episodes from one’s personal, professional, and political life.

Online assessment

The online part of the process is divided into two parts: a ‘situational judgement test’, and the aforementioned psychometric test.

In the former, the applicant is presented with a variety of scenarios and then a list of possible responses, and asked to rank these from ‘most likely’ to ‘least likely’ to do. These include constituents approaching you with problems, a young activist joining the party and wanting to meet, allegations of impropriety against colleagues, and so on.

For the latter, CCHQ haven’t publicised which test they’re using but after talking to HR professionals, CGG think that the Party is using the Hogan Assessment Series. This consists of:

  • Hogan Personality Inventory – Highlights your positive attitudes
  • Hogan Development Survey – Unearths any negative traits
  • Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory – Tests whether an applicant is a ‘good fit’ with an organisation

These tests work by firing a lot of questions at you in a short space of time, with controls thrown in to highlight if you’re answering at random or dishonestly. Whilst they’re hard to prepare for, one can pay to sit the Hogan tests independently if one wishes to.

Conclusions

There can surely be few who have had the privilege of working on the parliamentary estate not of the view that all parties could do with a more rigorous procedure for selecting their parliamentary candidates, for a variety of reasons, and it is good to see CCHQ taking the time to overhaul the process.

However, as with any instance of professionalisation in politics, there is a danger that it ends up producing homogenisation. Selecting people fit to represent the nation in Parliament is not the same as choosing an individual to fit into a well-defined role in a commercial organisation.

Given that, it would be regrettable if CCHQ placed too much weight on the online part of the process. If psychometric testing can filter out obviously unfit applicants who might have slipped through the net (and that’s a very big if), then that’s all to the good. But it can’t be allowed to reach the point where perfectly suitable but unorthodox applicants run into a wall of ‘computer says no’.

On the question of teamwork, specifically, the trainer noted that the Party seem to have abandoned the ‘group exercise’ from the old PAB. This saw a group of candidates assigned roles as MPs or candidates for constituencies affected by a common problem (such as a new road) and tasked with working together to find a solution. It would certainly be more time-consuming than just sitting a Hogan test, but it would probably do a much better job of weeding out shrinking violets and bullies.