Article I wrote for Conservative Home website on candidate selection issues at the General Election which they have chosen not to run.
The party that wins the next election will be the one that most quickly learns the lessons of the 8th June. Given the possibility of an election in the next year we need to start learning those lessons now. The one advantage we have is that we feel we lost the election despite winning it and should be more open to making fundamental changes. Labour will feel that they won the campaign and will stick to what they did before but with a better idea of our weaknesses.
So, let’s start with candidates. We went into this election with not enough candidates for all 650 seats so we wasted time at the beginning of the campaign finding, selecting and allocating candidates to seats. I am aware of at least one non-target seat only getting a candidate three days before the deadline, I am sure there are others. PAB’s were conducted by Skype at the last minute. But we know that the Liberal Democrats had candidates selected in advance. Candidates then had to spend time learning about their new seats, where the boundaries were, who the key contacts are etc. All wasted time which meant they started the campaign behind.
We need to have candidates ready for every seat, working as soon as possible. For seats held by Conservative MP’s we should have a pool of reserve candidates identified should anything happen to that MP.
We then expected candidates who have made enormous sacrifices in time and money to not even work in their new seats but to campaign elsewhere. They were cannon fodder used to supplement a party which does not have enough campaigning members in target seats. That is a very expensive strategy and I fear it will be harder to motivate them next time. And please can we treat them as adults, some of the stories I have heard of micro-management are deeply concerning but local candidates will know better than CCHQ local conditions and issues.
I know of a candidate currently a Councillor elsewhere. She hoped to be the candidate in her constituency (it was not a target seat) which would have helped her get re-elected next May. But instead she was sent to another non-target seat which she did not know but was then told to spend all her time in a 3rd (target) seat. We need to find a better way of finding and allocating help.
But some of those target seats saw huge increases in Labour majorities but we were told to go there through poor intelligence, over confidence and hubris. The risk now is that CCHQ instructions are so mis-trusted that they are increasingly ignored or cut out of communications, something that has already happened. But that leaves us in the worst possible situation, a fragmented campaign with no central awareness of what is happening.
We also need to be more careful about candidate selection, we naturally focussed on finding candidates who can win elections or who fit a desired profile but we also need candidates who can keep marginal seats safe in 5 and 10 year’s time through their local reputation. I know some who did not have that ability which also harmed us.
Which raises a critical issue, we need local candidates wherever possible who can keep working in target seats between now and the next election, again something the Lib Dems did. In non-target seats the main criteria for candidate selection should be local issues, many of us have local elections in May 2018 and might have wanted to use 2017 GE campaign literature to highlight local election candidates or issues.
But then as non-target seat CCHQ expected us to do no local campaigning. But that is not sustainable. Not every member had the time nor inclination to travel to the nearest target seat. And we could not afford to give our opponents a free reign but even so we received complaints that people had not seen our leaflets but had seen our opponents and we have a Council election next year.
But in target seats given how close the winning / losing margin was, local candidates personal links, name awareness and connections may be enough to tip the balance in any future election. In really safe seats we can take a greater risk and select outstanding candidates from elsewhere who are most likely to add strength to the Parliamentary Party. Local candidates will also know the lay of the land, where to find support, even the best leaflet delivery routes. These are all advantages that a new candidate from outside has to spend time learning.
That does not mean keeping every candidate we selected for the 8th June, we do have a little time to review and re-allocate candidates. But by the autumn we should have candidates selected who have started work whether the election is in 2017, 2018 or 2022.
We are a Party that does not like theory very much but can I suggest that we look at Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop theory. observe, orient, decide, and act. You can defeat an opponent basically by thinking and acting faster than they do, getting inside their decision cycle and we need to start now if we are to win next time.