Politics on your Doorstep

When TopOfTheCops covered the difficulties attending the selection of Michael Mates as Conservative PCC candidate in Hampshire, there was a flurry of responses. That flurry was not from Hampshire though, and not from Surrey, which had also been mentioned in passing, but from Sussex. A number of, as far as I can tell, quite independent individuals in Sussex Conservatives were sufficiently bothered by problematic Conservative selection procedures to try to draw my attention to this one.

Being a Northerner, my knowledge of Sussex and its geography is quite limited, so apologies for not picking up on some matters previously. Early on I had been told the selection meeting would be in Brighton on 14 July, and the date turned out to be right, but I didn’t cotton on to the significance of the final selection venue being announced as Burgess Hill. Please keep in mind that my only previous encounter with Burgess Hill is a passing reference in a poem by John Betjeman.

Not so for the winning candidate, Katy Bourne, though. Cllr Bourne represents the Cuckfield ward in Mid-Sussex.  Should you choose to head over to the Election Maps site, choose Mid-Sussex District Council, search for the postcode of the selection venue (RH15 8WA), and then enable the Ward Map layer, (as I imagine most of you will have done a long time ago) you will see that the Triangle Leisure Centre appears to be but a stone’s throw from Cllr Bourne’s ward.

That’s right, with all of Sussex to choose from, an area covered by two County Councils and a Unitary Authority, the Sussex Conservatives Police Authority Organising Committee somehow managed to choose a venue right on the doorstep of one of the three candidates for the nomination. 

I’ve done some sums. By my reckoning, the venue is 4 miles from Cllr Bourne’s home address, but clearly that’s OK, because obviously Sussex Conservatives would go to great lengths to choose a neutral venue for such a contest.

Wouldn’t they?

Well, it turns out that the venue is roughly 40 and 50 miles from the homes of the other two candidates, and therefore from the homes of their most natural supporters, which just goes to emphasise the level of bias inherent in the selection of such a venue.

This is quite important. They didn’t have to search far and wide for Conservative candidates in Sussex. There were 12-14 reported to me. They even didn’t put the Chair of the Police Authority, Steve Waight, on the shortlist, so packed was it with Tories who realised that this is pretty much as close as it gets to a safe seat, and who could be forgiven for thinking that the selection meeting was the real election for this £85,000 post.

I’m told there are something like 11,000 Conservative party members eligible to vote in this election in Sussex. That would have made for a good postal ballot to engage members in advance of the main election. So how many showed up on the day? About 390 apparently, although the number diminished as the day wore on. A batch apparently left when Anthony Kimber was eliminated, perhaps not appreciating that they could vote to choose between the remaining candidates before leaving. And given that he hails from the same area as the other defeated candidate, Peter Jones, it’s possible that the prospect of a 50 mile drive home may have drawn some support away from Jones at a key time, while Cllr Bourne’s near neighbours contemplated the stroll back to their nearby homes.

In the end Cllr Bourne secured what I am told was a slim majority over Cllr Jones, so there is every indication that the bizarre choice of venue had a critical effect on the result, and that a biased sample of less than 200 Conservative party members have chosen the Police and Crime Commissioner for 1.5 million people.

I have met and spoken to Cllr Bourne a few months ago. She seems like a personable and effective young lady, but any candidate favoured by such an unfair advantage finds themselves in an impossible position, even if they get every vote in the hall, which is why a most basic requirement of the selection process is that it should be even-handed to the various candidates.

Of course, I could be wrong about the critically unfair nature of the venue. To demonstrate my error all Sussex Conservatives would have to do is publish the membership and turnout figures for this election from each of the 13 Sussex Conservative Associations I am told could participate in this election. That would tell its own story and be a useful move toward open politics.

For completeness I should tell you that I have also received a number of other serious allegations which are difficult for me to investigate at a distance, but in my view, whoever is Conservative Party Chairman at the end of the week would be best advised to open an investigation into instances where selection procedures appear to have been handled badly, with a view to resolving the issues with a quick, open and thorough investigation. It’s getting beyond a joke.

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12 Responses to Politics on your Doorstep

  1. I lost my selection by 24 postal votes. Being honest, I am still grieving a bit (but hey ho). But at least I know that I lost in a fair voting process where an independent body (ERS) did the counting and all members had an equal chance to express their preferences.

    Well done Sam for highlighting some of the, shall we say, ‘diverse’ methods chosen by the Conservative Party in these matters. What is also surprising is the amount of work that the Lib Dems are engaged in behind closed doors. I have no real idea what is going on in Thames Valley at all other than I have been told a candidate will be selected – but how, where, when etc? No idea.

    Whether all this will make one jot of difference to the public vote – probably unlikely. But it would seem from your coded messages that there are a great number of very unhappy Tories out there at the moment.

  2. jim Knight says:

    To set the record straight Cllr Bourne won by a considerable margin with the 3rd place candidates votes nearly all going to Cllr Bourne in the “vote-off”. Incidentally this third placed candidate was from the same neck of the woods as the 2nd placed candidate, so clearly no partisan demographic voting here. What isn’t mentioned is the level of campaigning across the whole county by Katy which the other candidates either did not do or reacted too late. It is also clear that one of the losing candidates thought it was “in the bag” having turned up to the vote saying “I have a good feeling about this” and his victory speech in his pocket.
    Furthermore the venue for voting was decided long before Cllr Bourne or any of the other candidates were selected.
    Let us congratulate Katy Bourne on a well run campaign, those not so successful be gracious in defeat and move on.

    • samchapman says:

      Choosing the venue before choosing the candidates does not prevent a biased result, but looks like an evasion of responsibility.
      Candidates may not have been selected when the venue was chosen, but they would have been known about.
      If a venue is so clearly favourable to one candidate then the organisers have a responsibility to find a different venue. This cannot be avoided by choosing early and saying ‘hard luck’. Such an attitude undermines the whole process and produces widespread resentment which then impacts on members’ willingness to campaign.
      If the voting figures are as you suggest, why can’t we see the figures I have asked for? Will we all really do better in the dark?
      Messing up the selection process interferes with the ability of party members to recognise a good campaign from a winning candidate – ultimately it does no-one any favours.

      • jim Knight says:

        The argument lacks some merit. It is like saying a councillor got elected because his polling station was next door to him. The fact is that members came to vote from all over the county west to east. Where would you suggest a reasonable venue would have been? After all Burgess Hill is slap bang in the middleof Sussex. You have not considered the level of campaigning that Cllr Bourne undertook which was the reason she got elected. Clear and simple. People look for excuses for their failures in life- lets blame the voting system the venue and so on, rather than ask themselves what lessons can I take from the winning campaign.

      • samchapman says:

        The analogy breaks down because of the low turnout inevitable from insisting that people turn out to one venue from across a whole county. Even in a district ward there will be more than one polling station, and you won’t have to come from the other end of the county to get there.
        We are talking of a turnout of around 4% from some of the people who are most interested in and involved in politics. It is widely acknowledged within the party that if you organise a selection meeting, the turnout will be poor, so why do they keep doing it?
        Some people have been told they were not allowed a postal ballot, or given unconvincing reasons for not having them, when the fact is that they were an option that some areas have used.
        Refusing to listen to grievances is a sure way of driving down the level of involvement in the future.
        I didn’t make up these complaints, or base them on one person’s experience- in fact, this is the sanitised version.

      • jim Knight says:

        I agree the voting system was not ideal but rules are rules and you have to work within them. Katy Bourne ran a succesful widespead campaign across the county with telephone and literature canvassing neither the other parties chose to do so or at least not until the 11th hour when they realised the level of campaigning being conducted by Ms.Bourne. If the venue was elsewhere I know she would have adapted to those circumstances and if it had been one member one vote the same would apply. So please credit where credit is due.

      • samchapman says:

        Thanks Jim,
        I’ve been trying hard to make a point about the system rather than any particular candidate. Bad selection systems prejudice the efforts of good candidates. In many parts of the country the Conservatives had too many good candidates, and so some were always going to lose out.
        From what I hear Katy ran a very busy, thorough and effective campaign which displays an energy and commitment that will stand her in good stead for the election campaign and the challenges of office.
        My article isn’t really about Katy, but about a clear defect in the selection procedure, and I think we achieve more by openness about shortcomings, and displaying a real willingness to address them, than by suppressing concerns.

  3. Steve Knight says:

    I attended the hustings and it was quite obvious that Katy Bourne would be elected as all the mid Sussex associations had by far the highest turnout. This is obvious bearing in mind the venue. The party should have maintained having the hustings in Brighton where it was due to be held intially. This would have prevented the hard feeling in Sussex amongst activists. This is in no way sour grapes as I voted for and still think that Katy Bourne is the best candidate. But I can’t help think that for the sake of the party Katy should allow a rerun. If not it will significantly undermine her at the election. Party members have already complained that the campaign is West Sussex led and that all meetings take place there. This whole election will be about turnout and if Katy is unable to motivate half of the county activists we all could be in for a shock at the election.

  4. Derek Harper says:

    The simple way of addressing this is for all associations within Sussex to disclose the number of members who voted. If there is nothing to hide then it should be done. It’s not the selection that will be the problem but the perceived cover up.

  5. Peter Rylands says:

    I don’t actually live in Sussex but as a retired police officer I have had a keen interest in this policy. Since my retirement I have been an active party member and I cannot believe what I’m reading. If this selection is as flawed as you say. Surely the candidates position is untenable?

  6. ianchisnall says:

    I agree with Sam, as candidates, none of the three people could have possibly had any influence on the process, otherwise they would have been able to influence it in their favour. However there is a real challenge when one of your candidates is leader of a County Council. On that basis (Peter declared his intention early on) and looking at the geography for Peter and Anthony, they were bound to be disadvantaged by anything other than a postal vote. It is shameful with the time taken by the party to organise their selection that they did not follow the Labour party in terms of a postal vote. However that is not the real issue. The real issue is that both Labour and Conservative went against their better instincts and selected candidates when both parties had spoken so positively about wanting Independents to fulfil these roles. Everything else is simply dressing a wart hog up in gentlemans clothes!

  7. Pretty Polly says:

    A belated flurry from Hampshire! It was certainly beyond a joke in Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, given the latest revelations (Michael Crick blog and BBC South Today news – 05/09/2012) about how many Hampshire Tories feel about their candidate, Michael Mates. The selection procedure in July was well beyond a joke where a couple of hundred at Fareham selected candidates about to represent 1.9 MILLION and then biased questionning at the final husting gave Mates the advantage. Complaints were made to the Party Chairman, Area Chairman, et al – and dismissed with the excuse that it had been “a democratic process”.

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