When I applied for Bracknell I made much of the fact that I hadn't applied for other constituencies. None of the other candidates were able to say that. A fat lot of good it did me! It also meant that when the next batch of constituencies were advertised (Esher, Gosport, Devizes & Central Suffolk among them), I felt I couldn't in all conscience apply for any of them while I was still in for Bracknell, as the deadline was a week before the Bracknell final.
Others took a different approach. Rory Stewart was in for Penrith while Bracknell was going on, and Katy Lindsay was in for Woking and Sleaford. For Rory it worked out, for Katy it didn't (but she WILL be a great MP for a very lucky constituency!).
I still don't know whether I was (or am) right to do one at a time. All I know is that I can only apply for constituencies which I feel I can connect with, and which I have some affinity with. However, some commenters on here seem to think that unless you can prove you have lived somewhere all your life you should be excluded from applying. Rubbish. Was Margaret Thatcher a bad MP for Finchley? Is Nick Clegg a bad constituency MP because he doesn't come from Sheffield? Does anyone think
David Ed Miliband can't represent Doncaster properly because he isn't a local?
And anyway, what constitutes local? Phillip Lee lived 10 miles from Bracknell and so had a claim to be a local, yet living 5 miles outside Henley was enough to bar him from applying to be the candidate there in the by-election - not local enough, you see.
I live twenty minutes from Beckenham and Orpington. Does that make me a local or an outsider? Is that really the main criteria by which we should be judging a candidate? Shouldn't we be picking candidates who can do the best job in representing a constituency and who would make the best parliamentarians? That person may or may not be local to the area at the time of selection.
Meanwhile, I have just finished reading one of the more ridiculous posts on ConservativeHome I have read in many a month. Its readers have submitted twenty ideas to help get more women selected. While some have some merit, others are positively patronising and wrong-headed. I feel in the mood for a light fisk... My comments are in green.
- End strong arm tactics: "Strong arm tactics can backfire and probably will in some areas". Another said: "CCO have interfered so much that every Association is suspicious women aren't there on merit. Stop all positive discimination and go back to a level playing field." It's got to the stage where people think some of the men aren't there on merit either. Six is too many for a final selection. Associations should be given the power to kick out one man and one woman before the final takes place, leaving a final of 2+2.
- Promotional video: Make a YouTube video featuring Priti Patel and Philippa Stroud and our other impressive female candidates. They could explain how they succeeded in becoming candidates. Fair enough, but why restrict it to women. Many men have succeeded against the odds too.
- Headhunt from female-dominated backgrounds: "More women attracted onto the Candidates List from careers where women dominate, including teaching and healthcare" plus "Targeting the public sector and small businesses to encourage more women to come forward who are not Westminster centric in their backgrounds." Exactly. The key to this is to get more women to come forward in the first place. If there are 30% on the candidates list, don't be surprised that 30% are being selected. So yes, headhunting and tapping on shoulders is a good idea.
- A more balanced candidates list: CHQ putting more women and less men on the approved list in the firstplace. I agree with this. The key thing to do would be to ensure a 50-50 candidates list, alongside 50-50 final selections. At the moment the issue is being tackled from the wrong end.
- Tackle the financial handicap facing women candidates: "Bursaries for full time mothers who otherwise might not afford the process of candidate selection", "Setting up a scheme to give financial help to PPCs on moderate incomes with child care needs" and "More support for selected candidates in fighting elections so that all candidates can balance family, childcare and the cost of the campaign." I suggested a bursary scheme for people who find affording being a candidate difficult back in 2005. But this should apply to all candidates, not just women.
- Force rich candidates to declare special help: Make candidates declare whether they have had specialist coaching. Many rich men have paid for special help. Associations should know this. Utter bollocks. I've never paid for any form of coaching and never will, but to suggest that it should be declared is ridiculous. Most of the time it's perfectly obvious who has been coached and who hasn't.
- Reduce the burdens on candidates: Many female candidates are put off by the endless Association events and the requirement to attend every by election. Allow them to focus on the essential. And, er, how is this different for men? A decent candidate comes to an accomodation with his or her association over what is appropriate. A candidate who lets themselves be steamrollered is perhaps in the wrong job.
- A more family-friendly House of Commons: Better childminding facilities in House of Commons and more family friendly hours. Yes to the first. And a limited yes to the second. I am more interested in hours which get the job done. Being an MP is not a 9-5, 5 day a week job and never can be. Deal with it.
- More protection from the media for MPs and their families: A party leadership that protects MPs when the media mob goes after them. Any mother will have noted that Cameron threw his MPs to the wolves.Rubbish and an idiotic interpretation of what has happened. The outside world will never know how much the party leadership and whips do to help people in difficulties with the media. It's not the sort of thing they shout about, strangely enough.
- Shadow cabinet mentoring: Every shadow cabinet minister should adopt a female candidate and be encouraged to help her get selected. I have no problem with mentoring, but for a shadow cabinet to "help get her selected" would surely be wrong, depending on what that help entails. No one objects to a CV endorsement - we all have them. But it is difficult to see what this proposal means beyond that.
- Move to open primary ballots: It was not an accident that a woman won in Totnes when it was tried. And who will pay for them, exactly? In Totnes two of the three candidates were women. I'd like to see some more of these pure open primaries and then we can draw some proper lessons from them.
- Independent guidance for Associations: At the start of every selection meeting a professional headhunter should talk to the Association about the value of female candidates. If this person is a professional and not a CCHQ functionary they will get a hearing. No, a headhunter should talk about what an local association should be looking for in a good candidate, be they male or female.
- 'Blind sifting': At sift stage no indication given as to age, sex background etc of candidate. An interesting proposal. Age isn't included on the CV anyway, so we can rule that out. Nor is marital status. How on earth is an Association to choose if they aren't allowed to know about the background of a candidate. Are you saying names should be taken out too?
- A less macho selection process: No speeches in selection contests. They favour men. Use sofa style interviews. One respondent wrote: "A selection method that involves more than just the ability to "perform" to a large audience. This is why women don't do well. The entire process is geared up to assess only the ability to perform in a "question time" style arena. Ability to influence legislation, work in committee and connect to constituents is entirely absent from the final stages of the assessment. It is no wonder that we end up with MPs who lack integrity and ability, since they've only been assessed on a single dimension - the ability to charm an audience - which is directly correlated with the ability to manipulate, and almost entirely unconnected with the ability to add real value. We select "talking heads" not good decision makers. It depends whether you want MPs who are good at talking or good at doing. We get the former, but not the latter." Another wrote: "Less focus on just the big meeting. Women are often very good on the doorstep and in chairing, participating in meetings - not just a few gags in a big meeting. As a candidate, the doorstep and meeting side is so very important." This really gets to me. Does anyone seriously suggest that women aren't just as capable as men of making speeches? Making speeches is a pretty vital part of being an MP and a parliamentarian. Some are better at it than others. There are plenty of men who can't make a speech to save their lives. The Open Primary system, with the interview, reduces the importance of speeches, but surely we should expect a politician to be able to stand on their hind legs and string a few words together? Obviously the job entails far more than speechmaking, but much of the other things mentioned above are tested in the day long course which you have to do to get on the candidates list in the first place.
- Punishment of sexism: Expulsion of any Tory member who asks sexist questions. No questions of a sexist nature or regarding a candidate's family are allowed at a selection.
- ConHome should "bless" "sound" candidates: Too many women candidates are newly recruited and we don't know if they are true conservatives. The grassroots trust ConHome and its blessing would carry weight. You what?! Since when was ConservativeHome the arbiter of what makes a true Conservative?! Possibly the most outrageous suggestion of all. And one I hope Tim Montgomerie will give short shrift to. The Conservative Party is a coalition. The fact that Dan Hannan and Ken Clarke are both true Conservatives should be a cuase for celebration in our party, not a matter for division.
- Pooled selections: Multiple selections - people may be more willing to pick a mixture if they have to pick more than one. I have no idea what this means.
- Require constituency selection panels to be balanced: Require the selection panel to be balanced by age and gender and allow them to choose from any number of males and females on a shortlist. Most constituencies do this anyway in my experience. The A List is dead for all intents and purposes. So a constituency gets to pick from all applicants, although admittedly the number on the shortlist is now 6 - 3 men and 3 women.
- Executive committee selection: Revert to selection by constituency executive committee, thus cutting out the large numbers of older women heavily prejudiced against women candidates and especially opposed to women candidates with children. No. Open Primaries reduce the risk of this, assuming that the risk still exists. I would say selection by a constituency executive would be counterproductive. I just don't buy this line that nowadays it's the women who scupper the women. It might have been true in the past, but not now. Or am I wrong?
- Patience: The number of women candidates has grown a lot in last few years. It will grow again with time. Rushing the issue will lead to inferior women candidates getting selected. Much progress has been made. We should never be afraid of adopting new initiatives, but not for their own sake. I think going from 9% to 30% women candidates is not bad progress. To expect it to go to 40% or 50% in one leap was never realistic.
So, what other ideas would readers of this blog come up with for helping the Conservative Party along the way to choosing more diverse candidates. I could never support the concept of all minority shortlists for reasons I have explained before. But it is clear that there is still some way to go in persuading some constituencies of the benefits of selecting a woman - and not just in the Conservative Party. Those who think the Conservatives have some way to go in this area just need to look at the record of the LibDems in selecting woman and ethnic minorities in winnable seats. At least the Conservatives are taking action.