They have spoken to Jim Cooper, Chairman of the West Midlands version of the curiously-named Police Authority Organising Committee that the party established in each police area. He has reportedly said: “One of the candidates appealed and that appeal is being considered”. The party is saying nothing about the investigation, but I understand that the investigation is being taken forward by a senior party official from the East Midlands. If anyone wants to run a process of elimination I would guess that there can’t be many who fit that description.
This will interest Conservative candidates across the country, as at the end of the party’s PCC application form there is a statement that no appeal will be considered. If an appeal is being considered, then this implies the party is admitting its rules were wrong. If, however, the investigation is not part of an appeal, then the statement attributed to Mr Cooper by the Post implies that the person in charge of the process locally did not understand the rules.
Unsuccessful candidates around the country who did not appeal because of the line in the application form will be wondering whether they have been duped by it, and further appeals could therefore follow. Mr Cooper’s statement must mean that the unsuccessful candidate has managed to procure an investigation at the very least, and other people in comparable circumstances will be wondering how, and why they haven’t had the same.
Matt Bennett, the successful candidate, is reported to have said “All I can say is that there have been no allegations against me or any of my supporters.” This additional detail supports the analysis that the complaint is instead, as originally reported, about the party’s administration of the selection procedure.
Labour candidates, whose postal ballot results are readily accessible, may be surprised to learn that the Conservatives have refused to release voting numbers for the selection. It is hard to see how this attitude of secrecy around selection procedures can survive in the modern age, especially when Labour have had no reported problems resulting from publishing the votes each candidate received in each round of voting.
The Birmingham Post article continues with the allegation that the appeal is about registration requirements being ignored in Birmingham, Walsall and Halesowen, but enforced in Solihull, where it is alleged 28 voters were turned away.
As Matt Bennett is a former Birmingham Councillor who has gone on to nominate a Walsall Councillor as his Deputy, and as Joe Tildesley is a Solihull Councillor, it is easy to see how such an allegation is critical as, if true, it would mean a looser approach prevailed in localities where Bennett might be expected to do better, and a tighter approach on Tildesley’s home turf. This is a selection procedure reportedly resulting in a victory by 10 votes, and so it is easy to appreciate why Tildesley may have appealed, and difficult to justify a rule which denied him the opportunity so to do.
Further allegations of administrative irregularities are detailed in the newspaper’s report.
I did not go to the West Midlands events and cannot say what happened there, but I can compare what has been reported with what I am hearing from other parts of the country. Readers will appreciate that I have liaised with many successful and unsuccessful candidates in different parties. While I will not disclose individual concerns raised with me privately by candidates unless and until they are ready, I can say that local geography is a big element of the concerns that are out there but, due perhaps to Labour’s postal ballot, this is only an issue reported by Conservative candidates (and Labour people have not generally held back from complaining about other matters). Whether rules were complied with equally for competing candidates also features as a concern.
When one candidate is seen to be favoured by the choice of venue or the application of rules at certain venues for hustings or selection meetings, the party is only protected from criticism if that candidate loses, and generally that is not happening. As might be expected, such advantages seem only to have helped the candidates whose support base is nearby, which casts a shadow over the result, and discourages not only the unsuccessful candidates, but ordinary party workers who are expected to then campaign on behalf of the winning candidate.
In politics it is often not the mistake but the cover-up that kills you. It is therefore critical that the party is seen to take these concerns seriously.