Very sadly, on a rare weekend off I actually attended a Conservative Party meeting, but for once I was not putting out the chairs and ticking off names - I was sitting in the body of the meeting as a member. The meeting in question was a local government selection meeting for the branch where I live (and pay my subscription); Rochester West in the Rochester & Strood Association.
Like Tonbridge & Malling and Tunbridge Wells, Rochester & Strood do these things by the book. Every incumbent councillor must re-apply and is re-interviewed. If re-approved (and three incumbents were not) their names go onto the " approved list". Next, new applicants are interviewed, and if deemed suitable, their names also go onto the "approved list". Each ward then selects its candidates. If the local membership is sufficiently large (ie 2% of the previous Conservative vote) the branch members select their own candidate at a special general meeting. If the membership does not qualify, the Executive Council selects. Anyone on the "approved list" may apply for any seat. Simple. Transparent. Democratic.
Today's selection originally saw EIGHT candidates competing for two seats. (Let me repeat that - EIGHT candidates competing for two seats). For those who don't like the new selection rules or open contests, ask yourself when any branch in your Association had eight applicants for two seats. However, from those eight, by the time we had reached today's selection meeting, two had been selected for other wards and two had withdrawn; leaving a contest between four (including one incumbent, the other incumbent having been removed from the "approved list" at an earlier stage).
The applicants drew lots and each had five minutes to speak and a further five minutes to answer questions. The thing which struck me was how seriously each applicants took the process and the effort they had all put into their presentations. The other remarkable factor was despite the meeting being 4pm on a Sunday (and at the same time as the Wimbledon final) 24 members of the branch turned up to participate and vote (that's over 50% of the branch membership).
At the end of the process, and after two ballots, the incumbent councillor and another councillor from a neighbouring ward who has chosen not to re-contest his seat but move closer to home, were selected. I am pleased to report that all four candidates acquitted themselves well and each drew considerable support. It was also interesting (and gratifying) to see Mark Reckless MP at the meeting; but he was not at the top table as a "guest" but sitting quietly in the audience with the other members and participating in the process (he lives in the ward and was excercising his right as any other paid-up member - and why not?)
So congratulations to Kelly Tolhurst and Chris Irvine on their selection. But more importantly, congratulations to Rochester and Strood Constituency Conservative Association for running an open and democratic process and for allowing me, as a paid-up member, a real choice in who should be my local Conservative candidate. Just as it should be done.
|Officers from the Rochester and Strood Association |
at the Rochester West Ward selection contest.