What are Conservative candidates thinking?

Yesterday saw Conservative Home feature an article on the emerging Police and Crime Commissioner candidates.

It criticised some Conservative candidates for perceived dithering as to whether they were standing or not, and acknowledged that some had been compromised by their opposition to the reform ever happening at all, especially those who were “trying to defend a cosy but ineffective niche they enjoyed in Police Authorities.” It called for “more candidates who have a real belief in the need for police accountability and who are open about standing“, and criticised many of those who were standing for having no web presence or policy-free websites. Read more for the TopOfTheCops response.

The article is spot-on with a number of points. It is certainly the case that the web presence is pitiful, though this is not unique to the Conservatives. Eight months may seem like a long time away but in reality, with massive constituencies to cover, every moment counts. One article in the last week suggested there are only 25 candidates from all parties on Twitter, yet many more have declared openly. Do they just not understand what it is about?

TopOfTheCops has attempted to contact every candidate who has declared, often successfully, but the strange thing is that many are not readily accessible on the Internet. One candidate, who shall remain nameless, asked me for a printout of this website, as they were unable to access it from their council PC. Think about that – they are definitely standing, but their only access to the net was through their censored Council connection – not just failing to put themselves out there, but unable to tell what else is out there, or how their campaign is being taken.

But that doesn’t explain why other candidates are being so shy. If the numbers are to be believed, both Conservatives and Labour have already had many more applications than have even been subject to rumours on this site. It may link into the criticism about policy-free zones. Perhaps candidates are reluctant to face questions on policy, for fear of contradicting thier own party’s policy. At the moment there are no manifestos from the parties, or even indications as to whether such manifestos will exist.

Perhaps this is a real commitment to localism? Perhaps it is a case of leaving things till the last minute? Either way it is a shame, for this year we have a never-to-be-repeated democratic opportunity – a pretty-much national election that is pretty-much just about crime. One of the main potential benefits of this process is to force each party to take different thought-through positions on crime and disorder, but so far they all appear either unprepared or simply reluctant to develop them.

Returning to the Conservatives, there are a number of factors pushing candidates towards temporary anonymity –

1. The party’s selection process is unclear. Applicants initially had to return forms by the end of January, yet in March the party are still advertising for candidates, with no clear end date. One media source tells me that Cheshire conservatives have extended their deadline because they lacked a sufficient choice of candidates, but if you speak to local Conservatives, it is not clear who has the power to do that. Nature and politics abhor a vacuum – where there is no information, it will tend to be filled with speculation. Candidates who don’t know what hurdles they have to clear may be less likely to attract interest as to whether they are in the race.

2. In parliamentary elections local Conservatives have had concerns over A-list candidates favoured by HQ, some local candidates have had difficulty getting on to the parlientary candidates list, and recently that list has been purged, leaving some candidates feeling sore that their years of devoted service have been cast aside. Some have a suspicion, whether justified or not that it is just for Cameroons – and that the more conservative of Conservatives will not fare well, so when they see the unclear process for PCC selection you may appreciate why some are delaying the decision to go public, to save themselves from embarassment.

3. Conservative Home has often featured the cost of being a parliamentary candidate. It is rarely appreciated that many candidates need to put so much of their time into campaigning that they are left with little chance to earn an income, and a life on savings is not sustainable. Police and Crime Commissioners have larger single-member constituencies, a £5,000 entry fee, and uncertainty over whether the party is requiring candidates to fund that fee and their own campaigns, which are estimated to run into the tens of thousands. In that context their reticence to jump into that situation themselves before a few more points are clear may well be understandable.

4. Finally, while many MPs have rolled out a party line of being encouraged by having had hundreds of expressions of interest, there has been no effective counter to the Huffington post article that said the leadership were very disappointed with the quality of people who had applied. In any selection process, there will be people who are made for the job, and also-rans, but which politician wants the idea to get out that they were obviously not good enough, especially if the Party really does have a poor choice of candidates. If the person who gets the nomination isn’t that hot, what does it say about you?

Most of these issues can be resolved by the party providing more information, possibly about decisions that have already been made but are not widely-enough appreciated by candidates on issues such as selection processes, campaign finances and policies. Possibly the list of applicants should be made public as soon as practicable? Until then, you only have to look at the Candidate Statements on this, a website run by a Tory, and wonder why they are all from Labour or Independent candidates.

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