Good news on candidate selection rules

A welcome update to my post from earlier this week: the decision banning candidates from calling on members during the Merton & Wandsworth GLA selection has been reversed. Candidates may now call on members.

In the thread on the earlier post Matthew Green, one of the selection committee members, explained his reasoning:

Well, I was part of the selection committee that made the rule. There was a wide range of views expressed at the committee, from more liberal to more restrictive. We were mainly guided by precedent – the RO’s previous seat (Greenwich & Lewisham, I think) having very similar restrictions.

There are some things to remember. Quite a few members don’t like being harassed on selection contests. Doorstepping is very time-consuming, especially with the membership of 350 dispersed across 5 parliamentary constituencies. This advantages the time-rich. Restriction on mailing limits the cash-rich. The time available for campaigning is very limited. Personally I would rather candidates spent less of their time and money on primary contests and more on the real campaigning.

As I said in response in that thread:

Thanks for sharing your reasoning Matthew. I think there is a fallacy lurking in your final sentence, as putting candidates through their paces in a selection is not a distraction from public campaigning but rather a key step towards having more and better public campaigning. That is because putting people through their paces means candidates get better at campaigning by learning, members get better informed about who to vote for and members who feel more involved in a selection are more willing to help the winner.

Indeed, given that being a good campaigner is one of the key characteristics of good candidates, I’m not sure how party members can sensibly choose between candidates unless the candidates have a good chance to demonstrate their own campaigning strengths and weaknesses. Anyone can write on a manifesto “I’m a great campaigner” after all. Moreover, unless people can demonstrate by doing, the system can end up very biased against new people – who don’t have a previous set of elections they have stood in to point to.

In fact, each time I’ve been impressed by the campaigning ability shown by a newcomer in an internal selection, subsequent events and experience has shown that to be fully justified by their ability. We should be giving people more scope to impress members, not less.

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11 Comments

  • Grammar Police 28th Sep '11 - 8:17am

    The membership figure is presumably those entitled to vote in the selection (ie with more than one year’s continuous membership) rather than the entire membership!

  • Mick Taylor 28th Sep '11 - 8:34am

    Mark makes some good points. However, he misses one important reason why canvassing MUST be allowed. In most selections postal votes are allowed. If this is the case then the only contact postal voters will have with the candidates is through face to face canvassing. (OK telephone canvassing may let them talk)

  • Grammar Police 28th Sep '11 - 8:39am

    Just to come back on the comment from the selection panel member:

    “Quite a few members don’t like being harassed on selection contests.”

    Is this likely to be the case any more than “quite a few” electors don’t like visits from campaigners? Because of that do we say we won’t ever knock on a door? No, instead we filter out those people who tell us not to darken their doorstep, and we take it on the chin when someone is putting the kids to bed, making dinner, watching the football etc and is far too busy to talk to us. The selectorate are given an opportunity to opt out of mailings or emails from the candidates, they should be able to opt out of visits too.

    “Doorstepping is very time-consuming, especially with the membership of 350 dispersed across 5 parliamentary constituencies. This advantages the time-rich. Restriction on mailing limits the cash-rich. The time available for campaigning is very limited.”

    Has either candidate claimed this would be an unfairness to them? It’s fair enough that the number of mailings should be restricted, but time constraints and geographical distance are issues the candidate is going to have to face at some point. Being heavily involved in politics is time-consuming. Doorstepping is also much more effective than sending someone a leaflet – again, which is why you wouldn’t expect to win an actual election by simply sending out one letter a month before the election.

    “Personally I would rather candidates spent less of their time and money on primary contests and more on the real campaigning.”

    The selection is part of real campaigning. The candidate that can inspire most members to vote for him/her is likely to be able to inspire the most helpers, and inspire the most voters to vote for them. Selections are a great opportunity to talk to our memberships (particularly the inactive bits), to find out what they care about, and if they could help.

  • Matthew, as someone who has been through a number of selections, I have always called on members – in both urban and rural areas, in England and Wales. Of course some people will find it a pain in the neck, and many have forgotten said process is going on. Many don’t understand the concept of “internal selection”, and will tell you they will vote for you “if you are a Lib Dem”! But as has been said, you as a candidate should be given an opportunity to overcome that feeling of rejection of doorsteppers. Canvassing is a test of your ability to make an immediate appeal, without which later rejection at the ballot box is almost inevitable.

  • I still have great concerns about this. Firstly, to counter the point on being “time poor” before selection, in a lot of cases – especially where the seat is winnable – you’re going to get candidates who are currently employed, but may be willing to resign (or take a career break, or whatever) in order to fight the seat. Would we really be expecting the candidate to resign his paid employment (or use holiday allowance which might be more useful to build up for the election) before he even knows if he is the candidate?

    Secondly, there’s clearly a cost in it. Someone with a car, who can afford the petrol and the printing costs, is clearly at an advantage to someone who can’t. Likewise, someone who’s been on all the party’s DTP courses and can produce a leaflet will be at an advantage to someone who can barely produce something on MS Word – and not all candidates or even current MPs can do this!

    Finally, I stood in a selection contest recently with one other candidate. I did no canvassing, no leafletting, and did nothing over and above what was sent out with the ballot paper. The other candidate called every member, knocked on doors, and made sure his face was in the local paper.

    I won.

  • Grammar Police 28th Sep '11 - 9:42pm

    With respect KL, the fact that you won a selection without speaking to a single member in the area is by-the-by.

    Clearly not all candidates can design amazing leaflets, but if a candidate recognises that as a weakness they need to be able to find someone to do it for them (finding other people to do things for you is in fact a key skill of being a political candidate). Truth be told the same applies for finding people who will knock on doors or phone people up.

    Given there is no requirement to visit any members, let alone all of them, it’s hyperbole to talk about candidates being expected to give up their jobs to fight selection campaigns. You don’t even think it’s an advantage to visit members, so why on earth would you want to ban other people from doing so during a selection campaign?

    Perhaps we should trust in our candidates to do what is reasonable in the circumstances, for themselves and the seat.

  • I have a friend who lives in a “black whole area” and who was once visited by ??Sharon Bowles?? seeking her support for the internal party Euro slate election. My friend was very excited that someone could be bothered to visit her, have a cup of tea with her etc. Result: one enthused member…

    Well said Mark – with an electorate of 350, we are talking perhaps 250 addresses. You don’t have to give up your job to get to a good number of those, just some evenings and weekends. At 6p a pop you can ring them all for about £20. Is that too much to ask?

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Sep '11 - 7:08am

    Matthew,

    I think the change of heart is the right answer, and the key is getting out the postal vote – of the 350 eligible, I’d be surprised if we get 50 to the hustings. (Indeed, I’m going to be away). If a candidate is prepared to put in the hard yards, we should welcome and encourage that. And we have two good candidates, so it should be interesting.

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