Sunday, 2 February 2014

Local Government Candidate Selections

Several years ago CCHQ published a new set of Mandatory Selection Rules governing Local Government Selections. In my view they were clear, precise, detailed and simple. Far better than the hotch-potch of local traditions which they replaced. In one local authority I know well, incumbent councillors were (and I suspect still are) given automatic reselection, with no performance related assessment or peer review, whilst in the neighbouring constituency every councillor is interviewed and must then reapply for his or her seat, with local members deciding if they should be re-selected to fight again. I know which system I support!

The one thing I insist upon whenever a new Association joins the West Kent Group is that these rules are followed to the letter. Inevitably during my time I have had to manage a few messy selection contests, but I take satisfaction that decisions I have made or advice I have given has never been found wanting or overturned on appeal.

Ultimately, the new CCHQ procedures are transparent and ensure fair treatment for incumbent councillors and new applicants. Here is a summary of the process we use in West Kent:

1. At the first Executive following the AGM a Local Government Committee (or Candidate Committee) is elected. This consists of the three principal Association Officers, the leader(s) of the local Council(s) (or nominate representative) and (x) additional members elected by the Executive Council. In T&M and C&A there is a rule that the additional elected members must not be councillors, this is to ensure councillors do not dominate the Local Government Committee, turning it into a sub committee of the Group. 

2. About 12 months before an election, I write to all incumbent councillors requesting they declare if they intend to seek re-election, and at the same time send them a standard CCHQ "Incumbent Councillor's Re-Application Form" which must be returned by a given date. The application form also includes a separate sheet asking councillors to list their campaign activity to ensure they are meeting their obligations to the Association's campaign objectives.  This is taken into account as part of the re-approval process.

3. Once all the forms are submitted, the Local Government Committee interviews each incumbent councillor, using an assessment form to ensure consistency of questioning and scoring.  Candidates must score a minimum of 50% over the entire interview AND pass all five KPIs to be put back on the Approved List.  Here is a copy of the FORM

4. Once approved, candidates are then placed back "Approved List" along with any new applicants who have come forward for approval over the year. Applicants must be on the "Approved List" before they can apply for selection in any ward.

5. Once the Local Government Committee is satisfied that everyone who wishes to be interviewed has been seen, vacancies are advertised in tranches. We work from the safest seats downwards (based on vote share). We do this as if the least safe seats and opposition-held are advertised first, few will apply as they will all be holding back for the safer seats. I suspect councillors talk about which seats they are applying for between themselves. Equally, if a new applicants asks for advice, I am open and honest; for example if a popular, hard working and respected councillor is seeking re-selection there is little to be gained by a new applicant causing a challenge.  I am, however, open about any advice I give and ensure I cc the Chairman of the LGC into the email so my comments on the record. 

6. Once the application deadline has passed the *Branch Chairman and Secretary are informed of the name(s) of applicants.  If there are more applicants than vacancies a Selection Meeting is organised to which all paid-up and qualifying members of that branch are invited to attend and vote (nb, to vote they must also be resident in the ward. This often causes bad feeling, especially in a case where long serving committee members live just over the ward boundary. As unfortunate as this is, and I do sympathise with people excluded in this way, it is also fair. Allowing non-residents to vote in ward selections can encourage gerrymandering, with a poorly performing councillor bussing-in friends and family to ensure their survival, often against the wishes of the local members who have to live with the consequences). 

* nb If there is no active branch, or if the branch does not have sufficient paid-up members to handle its own selection, the selection contest is handled by the Local Government Committee. Whenever the LGC acts in this way, the views of the local members are canvassed and taken into consideration. If the selection is contested, all local qualifying members are invited to attend the LGC meeting and are encouraged to ask questions and express their reference. Although their votes cannot be counted, the LGC members take note of local views when reaching their decision. 

The above process is fair, open and transparent. In reality, councillors tend to agree between themselves which seats they apply for and I have seen no evidence of rat running. Equally, through open and honest dialogue, new applicants seldom challenge a popular incumbent, preferring to put themselves forward for open seats thus avoiding a bruising contest which they have little chance of winning.  That being said, there have been cases in all three Associations where a poorly performing councillor is removed from the Approved List and cases where incumbent councillors have been challenged and defeated. 

Have the various votes always produced the right outcome ?  That's not for me to say! But running the process openly and democratically and giving paid-up members the right to choose who represents them is a far better and more democratic process than groups of friends with vested interests arranging jobs for for each other in smoke filled rooms. 

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