Friday, 16 May 2008

The brutal truth about Lib Dem candidate selections

I've had an anonymous comment, taking issue with the Lib Dem candidate selection in Crewe & Nantwich, and arguing against my own comments on Iain Dale's article.

(It's actually posted off-topic under my David Icke thread - I hadn't blogged about the by-elections myself until now - but I thought I'd reply by starting a new post. No point in having a discussion about the by-elections buried under a thread about lizard men taking over the world.)

Anyway, this is what Anonymous thinks:

With regard to your comment on Iain Dale. It is not standard practice to reopen selections after a by-election is called; the Tories don't do it (hence E. Timpson in Crewe).

The Libs do it, not out of any principle (this is the Libs! "Having no principles here"), but out of a cynical-and if C&N goes right, touch wood, completely unsuccessful-attempt to hoodwink the voters with a "name" or local somebody. Doesn't detract from it being completely nauseating though.

I thought you were meant to be the non-political party for local people? So what happens to the hard-working PPC who's got on first-name terms with the council officers and knows the place like the back of their hand? Tough - we can get a few more inches in the papers with a "face" who gets elected and then can't find his way round Westminster or his constituency in the next 2 years before the election.

And that's all that matters to the Libs - stuff the residents, if we can get our man in and do down the Tories, all to the good.

Sorry but it's still sick-making.

I've got to hold up my hands here, and apologise. I got it wrong when I said that re-opening selections was standard practice in all parties when a by-election is called. Apparently, it's just us. To be fair, I posted a follow-up comment on Iain Dale, acknowledging the error.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that it's standard practice in the Lib Dems, and has been for years. I think Iain's point was that re-opening the selections in C&N and Henley was a short-term and cynical political move, based on the circumstances of the time. I only wanted to point out that it was entirely normal Lib Dem procedure.

I disagree with Anonymous that there is some sort of anti-Tory conspiracy going on. I think the truth is a lot more mundane. The Lib Dems are a relatively small party who can't afford to fight every seat properly in a general election - we haven't got the money, and we haven't got 600 really top notch willing candidates to go around at any one time. (And if we do, they're generally not too keen on being paper candidates in seats where we're not campaigning properly.) The entire strategy revolves around putting the resources and the best candidates into the key marginal seats. I'm not saying that's a good thing; it's just part of the political reality.

All that changes when a by-election is called. A normally unwinnable seat like C&N or Henley suddenly becomes important because there's only one constituency to put the entire party's resources into. At the same time, we can go on a fundraising drive specificially for the by-election, and match the other parties' spending more closely. It also means that our candidate will come under far more national scrutiny than a normal Lib Dem candidate in a no-hoper of a seat in the middle of a general election. Consequently, we have to be careful to run a much more stringent selection process and hopefully get a better candidate than we normally would for such a seat.

On that basis, I think it makes sense for a party like the Lib Dems to re-open selections whenever there's a by-election. I don't think it has anything to do with hoodwinking the voters, it's just a question of trying to get the best out of limited resources.

If that sounds cynical to you, why not try supporting a change in the voting system? Surely getting rid of first-past-the-post is the answer ...

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Wit and wisdom said...

'Anonymous' is clearly an idiotic Tory if s/he believes we're supposed to be the 'non-political party of the people' or whatever form of words gushed from their fundament.

As far as I'm concerned we're better than the other two precisely because we are political, because we have a clear philosophy and because - shock horror - we want to win elections!

I hate Tories and if there isn't an anti-Tory conspiracy, I bloody well wish there was one. If there is one, where do I sign up.

Alix said...

Not sure anon knows quite what point s/he's trying to make.

"cynical...attempt to hoodwink the voters with a "name""

With the greatest respect to Elizabeth and Stephen, if either of them are household names then I haven't been reading Closer enough. So quite how this constitutes hoodwinking the voters with a name I've no idea.

It therefore appears that Anon objects to the fact that we try and get the right person in for the job. Which would indeed be objectionable if it makes your own candidate's coronation that much harder, I suppose.

Jonny Wright said...

Wit and Wisdom said: I hate Tories and if there isn't an anti-Tory conspiracy, I bloody well wish there was one. If there is one, where do I sign up.

See, that's actually the kind of attitude that really winds me up. I can't imagine hating anyone because of their political party allegiance. (Well, within reason ... I'm talking about mainstream parties here, obviously. If anyone joined the BNP on a point of principle, as opposed to just being deluded as to the true nature of the party, I'd have to make an exception...)

Anyway, I have a lot of very close friends who are Tories or Labour supporters - and the fact that I disagree with them on 90% of issues doesn't change that, so long as they respect my views and debate in a friendly and productive way. Most people who join political parties do so because they're motivated by the common good, even if they have very different ideas about how to achieve it.

That aside, the whole "beat the Tories at any costs" attitude is really bad tactics for the Lib Dems. It gives people the impression that we're a party of the left, prepared to cosy up to Labour if it means we can beat the Tories. Surely we oppose Labour and the Tories equally? Surely we're a liberal party campaigning against two authoritarian parties that are equally bad, in their own different ways?

Anonymous said...

Firstly, we should take no lectures from Tories about sick-making gestures and behaviour. It's very much like being told you have no friends by Gordon Brown, or that you have no substance by David Cameron.

Secondly, there's a kind of "how dare they interrupt our battle with Labour" tone to the comment. I grant that is the thematic thread running through virtually all Tory attacks on the Lib Dems, but it seemed especially pungent there.

The Burbler said...

I agree with your posting Jonny. Mr Dale gets terribly over-wrought sometimes.

As an aside, we are consistent in that the same which applies to candidates also applies to agents. Existing agents often get quietly put on the sidelines while another agent is brought in. Brutal but as you have said and many people have said, a by-election is very very different from general elections, and perhaps the reason why we are so good at them is because we realise this and have the very procedures we do.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with this post, and as a resident of Bromley and Chislehurst (rock solid Tory seat we came within 633 votes of winning in 2006) the very same thing happended there; previous PPC was excluded from the shortlist when members came to select.

Our slightly odd byelection procedure was highlighted in Michael Crick's piece about Crewe and Nantwich on Newsnight last night, and its pretty difficult to defend as Mr Clegg found out.

I support the party and all of our byelection candidates and recognise how incredibly different a byelection is to a general election particularly in a seat like mine which wouldn't normally get a mention.

However would there be support to slightly alter our consitution to still re-select a candidate when a byelection crops up, but also to guarantee the sitting PPC a place on the short list, so as not to leave anyone out on a limb and drive good and hard-working candidates out of the party when they get denied a big chance like fighting a byelection?

This could surely be done quite easily and then atleast you are giving members a 'real' choice when they select a byelection candidate between the various top-draw candidates and the local and existing PPC.

What do people think?

Wit and wisdom said...

Jonny, to clarify: I have a strong dislike of America but I will always be perfectly friendly and welcoming to Americans. Indeed my boss is an American and we regularly divide over that fair country without coming to blows.

Similarly, my detestation of the missionary zeal and arrogance of Manchester United does not mean I hate the fans - even the ones from down south...

I too have many Tory friends and we spend hours going hammer and tongs at each others' beliefs. What I hate is the self assurance and certainty that Many Tories have - which us navel gazing and ever-so-fair LDs can never be accused of. The Tory view that if you're not one of them there must be something wrong with you makes me angry.

So to conclude, it is not really the individuals I hate, it is their collective mindset of certitude and disdain for others.

Norfolk Blogger said...

Jonny. The answer is to make candidate vetting better. Anyone who qualifies ought to be good enough for any seat.

Personally I think these re-selections have not helped us at all.

it seems to me it is a throw back to a problem the party had in the 1980's when in some seats the SDP had already selected and in others the Liberals had selected.

Anonymous said...

Well I guess list PR in particular does effectively make the quality of candidates so utterly irrelevant that it would suit a party that can't put up quality candidates across the board...buyt maybe that wasn't quite what you meant?

Anonymous said...

I (as the original commenter, or "idiotic Tory" if you must) have to protest. I wasn't claiming there was an anti-Tory conspiracy, though clearly some Lib Dem members would like there to be - including Elizabeth Shenton given her graceless speech at the declaration. Have you not read your Orange Books like good laissez fairies!

The point was the hypocrisy in painting yourselves as the exponents of community and pavement politics, the local choices, the people who know the troubles with bin collections and broken lampposts in X-town - and then to dump an in-place PPC who has been doing these things in favour of some anodyne inoffensive gurning outsider (see Teather, Dunn, Davies, Shenton et al passim) just because their fresh face on the front of a Focus might win a few extra votes.

Sure you will have a better chance of electing a Lib Dem MP (though perhaps not on the C&N showing!) but that MP will be no good at the job Lib Dems expect of them.

So, I asked myself, why do it? The obvious answer that presented itself was that to Lib Dems winning is all, getting a poke of momentum from another by-election victory in order to keep you in the game at a GE, to be a gadfly distraction from serious issues of government, and not even doing the community politics you claim.

This has even been seen by the (now-ex) PPCs for C&N and Henley, who have both resigned from the party having had such thanks for their work on the ground before lights! cameras! publicity! big orange diamonds everywhere! visits from Nick Clegg! looked like occuring in their constituencies.

Erlend said...

The reality is that a candidate who is available to do a GE is not automatically the right one for a byelection.

Imagine if my friend and ex employer the Mp for Teignbridge had fallen under a bus 2 and a half years ago. Would it have been sensible to let Boris's dad stand. If they were to have done so more fool CCO. Stanley Johnson must be what, mid sixties at least and not viable in a bye.