In fairness, my day job extends into most evenings and weekends, and as a consequence I have little time to help the Rochester and Strood Constituency Conservative Association, where I live and where I pay my membership subscription. I was therefore pleased to accept an invitation from their Executive Council to be one of a five-strong panel charged with interviewing and approving incumbent councillors seeking re-election for May 2015.
As I have previously blogged, I am a strong supporter of the Mandatory Selection Guidelines, which give real power to Associations to control their Approved List and ensures local branches, where properly constituted, have the right to select their candidates. Associations and branches must have a sanction against non-performing councillors, and ensuring all incumbents are interviewed and assessed against agreed Key Performance Indicators is a marked improvement on the old system of nods and winks.
Rochester and Strood is one of the South East's most politically astute Associations, and the performance standards agreed by the Executive Council were appropriately rigorous. Each incumbent was interviewed and assessed against five performance indicators:
(a) Motivation and experience
(b) Council record and achievements
(c) Campaigning and communication skills
(d) Community involvement
(e) Branch development and supporting the Association's wider goals
To be re-approved, each incumbent had to attain a certain score and pass each of the five KPIs. It was a tough process, and I am sure I was not alone in feeling a degree of sadness when I found myself giving a low mark which I suspected might contribute to an incumbents removal from the Approved List, but we all had a duty to be honest.
Many might say that such a demanding process might be unduly harsh and would deter people from being councillors, but it appears the reverse is true. The day previously (Saturday) a different selection panel had interviewed new applicants, and amazingly fourteen new prospective candidates were added to the Approved List. As a consequence, there are probably three applicants chasing each vacancy. How many Associations (outside London) could claim such political activism? How many associations would love the opportunity for open and fair competition? It is to Rochester and Strood's credit that they have such a politically active and motivated Association.
It was a long day - we started at 9.30am and finished at 5pm; but it was worth it. I was asked by the Association Chairman to say a few words at the start of the meeting, and this is what I said,
"Local participatory democracy is a tripartite process. It is right that the Conservative Association controls the quality of people who are on the Approved List. It is right that local branches, where qualified to do so, choose the best people from that list to be their local candidates. And it is right that ultimately the voters elect the person they want to represent them in the Council Chamber. The right to select candidates goes to the heart of why people join political parties; and today's meeting is one of the most important any of us could attend at Association level. By ensuring we have the best possible pool of talent available we ultimately ensure the best possible Conservative councillors are elected."Many Associations could learn a thing or two from Rochester and Strood's example.