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Candidates, Target Seats and Winning Elections 30 May 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.

I read with interest news today of the publication by David BurrowesBig Ben Tower MP of Pick ‘em local and Pick ‘em early. Whilst I’d rather it be titled something more sensible that didn’t shorten words with apostrophises or refer to candidates as “’em” – maybe Thoughts on Candidate Selection – it does have several worthy comments and suggestions. The use of local candidates, with good local name recognition, and repeat candidature (keep coming back despite losing), are all key to target seats and above average swings. Experience on the council – providing it popular – also boosts the swing.

The idea that we can parachute insubstantial and untested candidates with little knowledge of the local scene into key seats to win the confidence of people they seek to represent is the bizarre theory of people who spend too much time with the pseuds and posers of London’s chichi set and not enough time in normal Britain – an unwelcome rant by John Hayes MP

Whilst we are all keen to see highlighted good candidates not lucky enough to be in a Tory territory seeking a new candidate, the A-list has been fairly disappointing, even to David Cameron. As an example, 68 A-listers were already candidates at the 2005 general election (admittedly most not in target seats). Of these, 46 achieved below average swings, compared to 22 above. This however has caveats attached, see Conservative Home.

Based on my informal ‘market research’ the celebrity A-listers such as Adam Rickitt and Zac Goldsmith have also gone down badly among my non-party friends. I would have rather stuck with a single approved list, but maybe had candidates highlighted as 'CCO Top Picks' or even given scores by a panel. It also seems the A-listers are avoiding tougher seats according to the Telegraph.

A problem we are going to face at the next general election is certainly going to be entrenched Liberal Democrats in once traditional Conservative seats. They have used local candidates and repeat candidature to serious effect, and these seats will be a serious roadblock to a future Conservative government unless they are won back. For example, Lewes had a Conservative MP for 123 years. It was won with a majority of over 12,000 in 1992 but a repeat candidature of Norman Baker saw him win in 1997 with a 1,300 majority, increasing it to 9,710 in 2001. Currently it is 8,474; mostly due to a Green candidate winning 1,071 votes.

I hope the party has some form of tactics for dealing with Lib Dems, where normal campaigning doesn’t seem to work. One theory I stand by is that Lib Dems are popular local campaigners as MP’s, and most people are happy to have just that alone – basically not get tangled up in government. They are a kind of anti-politics option, almost a none of the above. This seems to fit, a recent poll put them at 17% but just 8% wanted a Lib Dem government (meaning less than half Lib Dem voters want them to win, which seems strange).


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