ConHome Diary: The Conservative Party Should Obey David Cameron's Maxim That "Sunlight is the Best Form of Disinfectant"
5 May 2017 at 11:13
Like most of you I have been following Mark Wallace’s tweets on candidate selections with massive interest. This site originally made its name, back in 2004, in blowing the lid off the secrecy behind Conservative candidate selections. Thirteen years on CCHQ is still shrouded in secrecy and does its best to prevent anyone from finding out who is standing for selection in particular seats. David Cameron used to say that transparency is the best form of disinfectant. He was right then, and he’s right now. The actions of CCHQ over the past three weeks have been ridiculous and totally counter-productive. I’ve always taken the view that the party should be proud of its candidates and should have no issues in telling party members who’s standing for selection in various seats. There should be nothing confidential or secretive about it at all. As soon as the shortlist has been drawn up CCHQ should press release it. There was one seat recently where party members were told that they wouldn’t be told who was on the shortlist until they turned up at the selection meeting. It was only through ConHome that they were able to find out who in advance they were expected to choose from. A whole succession of party chairmen and heads of the Candidates Committee have failed to address this issue over the years, and collectively they should hang their heads in shame. No one has ever explained to me why this should all be so secretive. Maybe they’re afraid people will use Google to find out the candidates’ past achievements and failures. I mean, heaven forfend. We live in a society where we no longer have to doff our caps to the political elites. We no longer have to believe what we are told. We question authority. We question those who tell us what we are ‘allowed’ to know. We live in an era where if people try to keep something secret, we question their motives. CCHQ needs to take a long hard look at its candidate selection procedures after the election, and the secrecy part of it needs to be near the top of the list for change.
I don’t know if Mark Wallace has been totting up the number of female candidates being selected in safe or winnable seats, but Women2Win certainly ought to have their tales up, if that’s not an inappropriate expression. When Parliament was dissolved there were 68 female Tory MPs, compared to 99 Labour – 21% compared to 43%. If the polls are right and there’s going to be a reasonably big Tory majority it’s entirely possible the Conservative total will go above Labour’s, maybe even in percentage terms too. And let’s remember, it was Anne Jenkin and Theresa May who formed Women2Win with exactly this aim in mind. If Anne hadn’t already got a peerage, I’d suggest she should be awarded one!
The selection of Kemi Badenoch in Saffron Walden is yet another indication that Tory Party members are not the dusty old colonels the media delights in depicting them as. If I had predicted on my blog ten years ago that a female Asian candidate and a female black candidate had been selected in two safe Essex seats I’d have been written off as a lunatic. And the thing is, Kemi and Priti Patel are not alone. I can think of a whole host of non white candidates who now sit in the House of Commons in safe Tory seats. Perhaps the media might take a bit more notice of this. We’ve come a long way since John Taylor’s problems in Cheltenham in the early 1990s.
Political commentators are having to rapidly revise their opinions of Theresa May. The narrative has always been that she’s very cautious and not a natural risk take. Well, having taken us all surprise by calling a general election, and on Wednesday appearing in Downing Street launching a nuclear missile at the European Commission, I think it’s safe to say that the word ‘audacious’ can be used about her in future. I do wish she’s loosen up a bit and stop the sloganizing during the campaign, but you have to say she hasn’t put a foot wrong so far. The Juncker episode has added at least five seats onto the Tory total, and Diane Abbott another ten, I’d have thought. And there are still five weeks to go.
Theresa May isn’t the most natural politician to adopt the cult of personality, but it is entirely right that this is the Tory strategy in this election campaign. She is the party’s biggest asset and in a campaign you put your biggest asset front and centre. The word Conservative seems to be relegated to an afterthought. Believe me, I hear time and time again on my radio show the words: “I’ve always voted Labour, but I like Theresa May…” People often can’t quite explain why, but she seems to instil confidence in them. I did a talk to journalism students at City University last Friday and had another example of this. A more mature black student put his hand up in the Q&A and said that he was a habitual Labour voter but he would be voting for Theresa May (note, for Theresa May, not the Conservatives) because he felt she was speaking to him. He couldn’t articulate any other reason. I kept asking him what it was in particular and he kept saying “I don’t know, I just like her.” It took me back to an episode in my German class at school, when I uttered a particularly complicated German sentence and the teacher asked me why I had used the word order that I had. I meekly replied: “I don’t know, Sir.” And back came the reply: “That’s excellent, it means you’re becoming fluent.” So when a voter can’t articulate the reason why they want to vote for Theresa May it doesn’t matter. It means they’re becoming Conservative without realising it. And we all know, once you’ve voted for a party once, it becomes much easier to do it again and again. That was Tony Blair’s biggest strength. He appealed to people outside the Labour Party’s natural areas of support. It’s a great gift in a politician and Theresa May has it in spades.
Today at noon I start a new weekly TV show on CNN International called CNN Talk. Every Friday Max Foster will host a half hour show discussing political issues of the week with a panel which includes me, economics commentator Liam Halligan and former Labour Spad Ayesha Hazirika. I hope you’ll tune in, wherever in the world you are!