Sunday, May 14, 2006

My 'A' List Article in the Sunday Times

The Sunday Times has published an article by me on the 'A' List today. You can read the original (non published) version of the article HERE and the heavily edited and much shorter version which appeared in the paper HERE. There's also an excellent piece by new 'A' Lister and novelist Louise Bagshaw HERE as well as a detailed interview with and profile of Adam Rickett on the Independent on Sunday HERE.

UPDATE: 3.30pm Several people, including Louise Bagshawe, have emailed me to say I should put the entire text of the unedited version of the Sunday Times article on the blog. Here goes...

It wasn’t a political academic this week who told the Conservative Party the scale of the challenge facing it, it was its leader. David Cameron said: “We need to win over 120 seats; wipe out a third of the LibDems; win back seats in Scotland. It’s a big task.”He’s right. But in little more than five months he has transformed the Party’s electoral prospects and many of us believe that we can for the first time in ten years see an electoral victory on the horizon. That in itself is a major step forward. But to do that the Party has got to ensure that its cadre of Parliamentary Candidates is enthused, and then given the tools and support they will need to finish the job. There is little doubt that the 550 people on the Party’s list of approved candidates – in effect, the Party’s ‘Shock Troops’ - who worked so hard to ensure that the Party achieved its superb local election results on 5 May are enthused and relishing the battles ahead. Or at least, we ought to be.But on Wednesday those 500 people (of which I was one) received a letter which told us whether we had made it onto the ‘A’ List of 104 Candidates who are more or less guaranteed selection in a winnable seat. By applying to get onto that list we all accepted the rules and I make absolutely no complaint that I was not among the chosen few. I abide by the referees decision and certainly won’t be launching a Tottenham Hotspur type appeal claiming I had eaten the wrong type of lasagne on the day of my interview. Having seen some of the outstanding names, including some high fliers close to David Cameron, who haven’t made it onto the ‘A’ List, who am I to complain?At the age of 43 I now have a big decision to make, and my decision is one which more than four hundred of my colleagues are also wrestling with. Do we read the writing on the wall and walk away from a political career, or do we stay on the Candidate’s List and work even harder to ensure that the powers that be will see the merits of our case when they come to top up the ‘A’ List in July? Some made an instant decision and immediately resigned from the Approved List. As well as huge disappointment there is undoubtedly an understandable feeling of betrayal and bitterness. On my blog I’ve had so many messages of commiseration that at times it has felt like I’ve attended my own political funeral. I’ve had candidates on the phone to me who have been in tears. They question why they worked their guts out, invested thousand of hours of their time and thousand of pounds of their money in a Party which appears to cast them aside. Such emotion is natural and I am sure that Bernard Jenkin, the Party’s Vice Chairman in charge of candidates will understand it.The worrying thing for everyone is the number of younger, thirty-something candidates I know of who are considering walking away. There are some very bruised egos and I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had this week urging my younger colleagues not to give up. The fact is, they have several more electoral chances ahead of them, whereas people of my age and older have (or had) only one. Those thinking of walking away should have a very close look at the first tranche of 35 seats which the ‘A’ List will be applying for. It is not quite what it seems. Many of the seats are ones which people on the ‘A’ List fought last time and quite rightly will be encouraged to fight again – George Freeman in Stevenage, Ali Miraj in Watford, Hannah Hall in Luton North, Mark Menzies in Selby, Mark Coote in Hastings & Nick Boles in Hove are all candidates who fall into this category. Many of the more attractive marginal seats will come in the second tranche. What unites everyone in the Party is the desire to see more women candidates selected – and selected in winnable seats. But is the ‘A’ List the right way to achieve this laudable aim? In the short term is may be, but in some ways it’s attacking the problem from the wrong end. We will only ever come close to achieve parity and equality between men and women when we encourage enough women to come forward as candidates to ensure equality of numbers of the wider Approved list of 600 people. David Cameron will really know he’s achieved something when he has recruited 300 women onto the main list. At the last election we had 1150 people on the Approved List with only 150 women. It is a wonder, with that ratio, that as many as 17% of our selected candidates were women. What we need now is a professional headhunting approach, and that’s why Anne Jenkins’ WomenToWin initiative is to be welcomed. If women don’t come forward voluntarily we need people who will go around tapping them on the shoulder and encouraging them to think about a career in politics.Let’s face it, if you put 100 different people in a room and asked them to come up with an ‘A’ List of 100 star candidates, each of them would come up with a different list. But we should be open and transparent about who’s on it and why they’re on it. If the Party wants to reinforce its ‘Change Agenda’ it should publish the hundred names. Indeed, it should be shouting about them from the rooftops.The influential ConservativeHome.com website has already published fifty of them within 48 hours. Far better for the Party to do it themselves and demonstrate to the world the breadth and range of people on the list. But it’s not all about getting more women candidates. We need an ‘A’ List of northern candidates, of Scottish and Welsh candidates, who can help rejuvenate the Party in our cities. We want to see more people with public service and public sector backgrounds making it. By necessity this means that new people, who sometimes have no background at all in the Party - and may only have been members for a matter of months - edge aside those who have given much of their adult lives to serving a Party they love. It’s easy to pick on actors and environmentalists but it’s missing the point. Any Party that is seeking to renew itself needs an injection of fresh talent. My only worry is that the ‘newbies’ are totally aware of what they are letting themselves in for. It takes a huge commitment to be a candidate three years out from an election – in terms of both time and money. It’s a very hard slog, totally without glamour albeit with a huge reward for success at the end of it. To those who have been given the chance to reap that reward, I wish them all the best. To those who haven’t, I say ‘keep at it’. In the end we all want the same thing – to see David Cameron on the doorsteps of Number Ten.

31 comments:

Jonathan Sheppard said...

Great article Iain - think you are right about the hard choices many of us will have to face.

Simon said...

It's a very balanced article Iain. If it's what you really want, you should still go for it!

Michael Hoskin said...

Hannah Parker in Luton North?

Hannah Hall, surely?

nadders said...

Its good to see Fony Tony playing more and more into Dave's hands, regardless of the A list.

As mandleson is back on the secnes all the recent spin is now even clearer.
In the last few days we have Blair & Brown "agree" pension deal in 2012! Govt press release, laeds the news, no story, just to demo solidarity!
Today, "leak" of Blairs letter on Human Rights Act to try and show DC's opposition to it is late in the day!
Today's comments that Blairs going tosign a petition relating to animal testing! He's the PM, why's he writing to himself
Today's article in the Observer by DPM! As we all know DPM cannot speak, let alone write, another piece of spin.

The really sad thing is the papers & TV news report all this cr@p as real news, rather than ripping it to shreds as they should be

Iain Dale said...

Mikey, Thanks for pointing that out. I have now made the correction.

Umbongo said...

An incredibly balanced and restrained article (I've only read the published article). I think though you did both yourself and the party a disservice. The "A" list - as far as I know since I'm not privy to the full list - is another part of DC's slavish attraction to the outdated and now discredited strategy and tactics brilliantly applied by Blair and his friends. It's the Blair Babes all over again. Dump intelligent dedicated Conservatives (wrong colour, wrong sex, wrong age) and spin your way into getting the air-head tendency most likely to appeal to whom exactly? And, tragically, do this just as the country is beginning to see through this kind of vacuous politicking. Jeff Randall writes a convincing and deeply worrying portrait of our new leader in the second section of this column http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=M3&xml=/money/2006/05/12/ccjeff12.xml

I admire your loyalty to DC, my loyalty such as it was has now snapped. My apologies for quoting an anti-DC column on your blog: I hope you don't feel this is an abuse of your hospitality.

Sabretache said...

nadders - spot on.

Amazing just how gullible the media can be; or should that be sycophantic; or perhaps just plain lazy.

Blairs new found attachment to dealing with animal rights terrorism is so so touching too. These are the self-same people - almost to a man/woman - that the hunting community have had to put up with for a decades. We have most of their names on file so if Tony really wants to know who they are, he's only got to ask. In their guise as violent balaclavad self-styled 'saboteurs' he pandered to them. Now he thinks he sees a vote or two in it he's signing petitions to himself about how nasty and threatening they are - and telling the world about it. Huh! - tell me about it.

Christ the man makes me puke.

Sabretache said...

Iain

I forgot my manners - oh dear - only excuse is the content of my previous post does bite very very deep,

The article is good, very good; but I'm afraid I too tend to the umbongo view. It may work, but will be a telling confirmation of the utter banality of the 21st century UK electorate if it does.

Best of luck anyway. It's clear you do have something substantive to offer.

david kendrick said...

The tory posters and host underestimate how badly damaged is the tory brand. It is a huge negative, which could cost the party winning the next GE, even against an incompetent and unpopular govt.

DC is working assiduously to repair the brand, in this case with an A list. Fellow travellers will sympathetically note that some people (such as ID) are 'collateral damage'. It may slightly dilute the quality on the tory backbenches. There may be a fractionally lower number of volunteer party workers.

But the big picture is brand re-building. Anything that increases the probability of being shot of this awful govt has to be a price worth paying.

Griswold said...

An excellent article and an excellent advertisement for yourself. LB did herself great credit as well. Iain,I wager you will be on the next list. Nadders is spot on 'Blair writing to himself' - another sign that he is completely deranged. Where was he when HLS executives were getting assaulted and RBS chickened out.

Gregor said...

If you want to get on that top-up list Iain, I think this is the best way to go about it, and even if you don't, adversity tests loyalties to the fullest, and you haven't been found wanting. Good stuff.

Neil Craig said...

I would have no respect for anybody who walks away from any party because they didn't get on the A-list (this clearly isn't you Iain). Anybody not willing to be a soldier has no right to expect to be an officer. As an ex-LibDem I can assure you that virtually nobody is guaranteed a safe seat.

If you think Cameron is turning the party into something you don't believe in that is a different matter but he was voted in (but would anybody like that seek A-listing).

Biodun said...

The picture the Sunday Times used for you is awful.
I've seen you in real life and on TV, and you don't look anything like that.

Next time submit your own picture!

Pulsar said...

Someone called Jean Serle(?) on World This Weekend on Radio 4-talked a lot of good Yorkshire sense on the A list subject-strikes me she'd make a good Party chairman
Tombstone followed-oh dear!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rigger Mortice said...

'Anybody not willing to be a soldier has no right to expect to be an officer.'
That's it though Neil,some of these people haven't been a soldier.Has Goldsmith ever canvassed for us?I also think it's a bit naieve in the extreme to think that all the 'gutted' are going to give up as much time as they would have done otherwise.

Do the math.659 seats.198 Tory Mps.104 on the A-list.300 seats at least are totally unwinnable.

While Lousie bagshawe looks and sounds good there are one or two on that list who quite simply shouldn't be there when you see some who aren't and no amount of blind loyalty is going to change that.This is positive discrimination of the worst sort.

Pulsar said...

Spot on Rigger-what a wonderful opportunity for an A list man like Goldsmith in Bl.Gwent at the bye election to get his knees black if not brown- and he gets to hug a slag heap!

YORKSHIRELAD said...

Iain - A very good article indeed.

Pulsar - I've just listened to that programme using RadioPlayer and it was interesting, as someone who has met both Jean Searle and Francis Maude, to hear their comments. I agree that Jean's talking sense - we need some good local candidates who understand the local issues up here. But that said, if a top-notch candidate from the A-list wants to fight a seat in Leeds, they shouldn't be barred from doing so just because they were born south of Sheffield. Like her I'm not keen on the A-list idea, but I accept it has to be done, and Francis Maude in my opinion articulated the situation well. He's doing well to keep pushing this issue bearing in mind the amount of flak he seems to get from some sections of the party.

The TaxCutter said...

How does Louise Bagshawe get on the list given that she joined Labour in the mid-90s?

There were lots of us right-wingers disaffected by Major's poor leadership and ERM, but none of us ever thought the solution was joining the Pro-euro Labour Party. Very flaky....

Ellee Seymour said...

Does this quote from Adam Rickett in the Independent on Sunday make you cringe:

"I think when you're born, your soul is split into two and given to your perfect partner. When you see each other you'll be with each other for ever."

Is he going to be tough enough for what lies ahead?

Ellee Seymour said...

What about candidates who were fast tracked, like Robert Halfon standing in Harlow? They are not on the A list, how many others have been fast tracked too?

The TaxCutter said...

I noted Ricketts' comment on having his soul split. Its almost as daft as Cameron and crew thinking that tax cuts deter rather than encourage voters.

Is it right that a 26 year old should be on the A list, sounds too young to me unless they are truly exceptional? Fast Track candidates can be found under PPCs on the Conservative Party website.

Tracey said...

Enough with the Tottenham Hotspur jibes please. You know we woz robbed.

Great article.

call me Dave said...

Iain,

I have never done any serious work for the party and I now realise that it's no impediment to my political traction.

I am young, good-looking, educated and feel like a change of career.

Is it not rather revolting that people like me seem to have a better chance of selection that people like you - and other far more deserving candidates?

Rigger Mortice said...

ellee,that's a very good point.

there's 22 on the website.
198+22+104=324.

If they rigorously apply the A-list then most/all of the winnable seats have gone.

I for one thinks it's imperative that they publish the list so we can see who's on it.Conservative Home has 67 listed.I'm beginning to get a little worried.

Anonymous said...

Rigger - you forget another 20+ which have already selected and are all marginals (Solihull, Taunton, Westmorland, Torbay etc). The individuals selected did not need to apply for the A list as they got in before the drawbridge came up. This further supports your point that it is bleak for those who are not on the list.

Steven Simpson said...

My enduring memory of the last General Election, visting Sheringham on a Saturday, was having the Liberal Democrat canvasser bounce off my elbow in his enthusiasm to thrust a leaflet into my hand and then to see, on the marketplace, a huddle of Conservative Party canvassers standing around talking to eachother, looking the passersby up-and-down, wondering who to 'sell' to. No wonder Norman Lamb's winning margin was so large. It is a hard choice for you Iain; do us all a favour and pack it in.

Anonymous said...

Ian,
Stop burying your head in the sand and come over to the 'U' list.
UKIP won't dump on you like Cameron has.

Anonymous said...

Steven, as a Lib Dem who did a little bit in the area (actually, might have been me bouncing off your elbow - the bruise is still there!), I think that is a bit harsh on Iain. A slightly wilting group of diehards outside the Little Theatre is not the thing of which landslide defeats are made - I am sure some of Lamb's team had moments of fatigue too!

I suspect on all the measurables - leaflets delivered, voters spoken to, posters posted etc - and some of the immeasurables like literature quality and candidate credibility, Iain did well compared to most Tory winners. To me, the result says infinitely more about Lamb than Dale.

Lagwolf said...

That was a good piece Iain and well put.

Anonymous said...

What's this about "winnable" seats? Doesn't anyone aspire to their very own "Portillo moment", as they unseat a huge majority and become the defining moment of a broad electoral shift. It could well happen. People think they can predict too much!

Anonymous said...

"What's this about "winnable" seats? Doesn't anyone aspire to their very own "Portillo moment", as they unseat a huge majority and become the defining moment of a broad electoral shift."

Of course, the chap who had the original Portillo moment was himself unseated last May.

More seriously, of course people aspire to it but you have to plan your life based on a sober assessment of the odds. There is more to life than slogging your guts out for a 2% chance quite frankly. If you are not on the A-list and pushing on well past forty the chances are that you are never going to make it as a Tory MP and although some people quite enjoy riding into battle against all odds, there is actually no shame in calling it a day and pursuing other interests. Being a Tory MP is hardly the only thing in the world worth doing - indeed some of us would put it fairly low on any such list!