Following THIS story a couple of days ago, the comments section was heated to say the least. When that happens a blogger normally knows he is on to something. A reader has alerted me to an editorial in a recent issue of LIBERATOR magazine. It's all about LibDem candidate selection...
The session for key seats representatives at September’s Liberal Democrat conference was proceeding uneventfully until the party’s campaigns director Paul Rainger told them that, to retain this status, a constituency must have a candidate in place by December. Angry protests followed, to the effect that constituencies would be happy to select a candidate were the English Candidates Committee to make this possible (it seems a lesser issue in Scotland and Wales).
Hardly anyone agrees on what has caused the inordinate delay in selections. It is perhaps just as well that the idea of a snap general election appears to be a figment of party fundraisers’ imagination. From the campaigns side, and from approved candidates, come complaints that the candidates committee sees the approval and selection bureaucracy as an end in itself. There are also complaints that, on top of the long-standing and tortuous complications involved, rules aimed at securing diversity have served only to ensure that no-one, of any colour or gender, has been selected for most seats. Tales abound of constituencies that have received only one application but have been barred from adopting the candidate concerned, of regions with too few returning officers having to borrow them from elsewhere in a beggar-my-neighbour process, and of too few selection committee members having completed the obligatory training because there is no-one to train them.
From the candidates committee side comes the response that conference told it to rewrite the rules and it had to wait until after the general election to do that, and that if the party wants greater diversity in its candidates the processes must be in place. Its members also dispute claims that returning officers and trainers are thin on the ground, and are confident that candidates will be in place in good time.
The Parliamentary Candidates Association, which represents approved candidates, thinks it has a solution to this impasse, but it is one likely to infuriate most party members. Its chair Gary Lawson wrote in July to Menzies Campbell to say that only 18 English PPCs had at that point been selected (a number which has since presumably risen) and that the average selection was taking 88 days. The PCA’s solution was to suggest that Campbell should “personally appoint a small central team to identify out 40 to 60 most winnable constituencies and manage the selection process in these seats”. In those seats, the normal selection process would be set aside and replaced by the method used for parliamentary by-elections, where a very short list is approved centrally for local members’ decision. The central team would ‘resolve’ any appeals, while Campbell himself would have the pleasure of writing to all party members to explain the reason for ditching the normal process.
PCA executive members “debated the pros and cons” of identifying a top tier of candidates, similar to the Tories so-called A list, but decided that “the appointment of a central team to manage selections in these winnable seats, as with by-elections, will allow both highly qualified local candidates to apply and enable shortlists to be drafted that clearly demonstrate the party’s commitment to candidate diversity”. How that might be done solely from among candidates already approved was unclear. The ‘accelerated’ process has caused rows in local parties at by-elections, where candidates with strong local support have been excluded.
The application of this process to all winnable seats would be certain to cause uproar among aggrieved applicants and their supporters, particularly if local party members were effectively presented with only one option. Even more startlingly, the PCA believes “in the longer term… there is a case for ‘headhunting’ of suitable candidates within and outside the party, e.g. among students at universities and colleges.” Yes, you read that right. The body that represents the party’s parliamentary candidates believes that people who do not belong to the party should be approached to stand as candidates for it in general elections. The PCA said it looked forward to Campbell’s comments. But, since no change has been made to the selection rules, they were presumably unfavourable. Perhaps Campbell feels that people who wish to be Lib Dem candidates should at least first take the trouble to join the party.
Makes the Conservative 'A' List dilemmas look rather pedestrian, doesn't it? Do check back later. I've just been emailed some very interesting information related to this story, which I want to share with you but it needs careful wording...