The West Kent Group covers (in whole or in part) six district councils and five "political" town councils. Of the six districts, two elect in thirds the other four are "all out". This has resulted in us having to identify, interview and select 124 district council candidates and a further 60 town council candidates. Simply managing 184 applications is a major undertaking, and we have followed due process to the letter in every case. Apart from one or two exceptional circumstances (typically branch-run contested selections) we are now ahead of the game. Four Associations have completed the process and with the exception of one ward we will have a full slate in place by January. My thanks go to the various Local Government Committees who have worked long hours to interview incumbent councillors and new applicants.
As with any selection process there were disappointed people. Some new applicants did not make it onto the Approved List for a whole variety of reasons, usually a lack of experience or complete misunderstanding about the role of a councillor. Almost without exception they were let down gently, encouraged to find out more and to re-apply next time. We have had a number of contested selections, which again resulted is disappointment for some. And yes, in two or three cases incumbent councillors were not re-approved. It is this last group who understandably are most vocal and angry.
Now we are nearing the end of the process I thought it would be worth explaining in general terms how the system works and also slaying a few of the myths.
Firstly the composition of the Local Government Committee. This is not some secret or self appointed clan. Its constitution and membership is laid down in the rules. Although there are small variations, Local Government Committees comprise the Officers of the Association (Chairman, two Deputy Chairmen and Treasurer - all of whom are elected by the membership). It also includes the Leader and other representatives of each local council in the Association area and additional lay members elected at the Association AGM. Election to the LGC is advertised openly within the AGM notice (sent to all members) and any member can seek nomination or nominate someone else to serve on it. It's an open and transparent process.
But don't the people at the top of the Association decide who is elected? Yes they can have influence, but in each Association the number of people nominated for the LGC was fewer than the number of spaces available. If any Officer (or indeed the Agent) wanted to stack the committee to promote a predetermined outcome, then leaving most of the positions unfilled is an odd way to achieve it.
Who decides which councillors should be called in for interview? As part of the interview and assessment process a wide range of people are consulted by the Local Government Committee including the Council Group Leader (to comment on the contribution to the work of the Council), the Group Whip (who advises on attendance and discipline), the Association Chairman/Branch Chairman (regarding contribution to the life of the Association), the DC Political (who advises on campaigning) and the Agent (who confirms their Party membership and CCA subscriptions are up to date and have been paid throughout the term of office). For a councillor to be invited for interview at least three of the above people would have needed to raise a point of concern. No councillor would have been called-in for interview on the say-so of just one individual.
The interview process was aggressive and like a "star chamber". Any interview where the perceived weaknesses of an applicant are being openly discussed is bound to be uncomfortable. For a candidate to be removed from the Approved List the decision of the LGC had to be unanimous.
In conclusion: It must be incredibly distressing for any candidate to go through this process and the committee making these difficult decisions did not have a particularly nice time of it either. However, looking back, I have no doubt that the LGCs acted fairly in all their dealings and deliberations.
One of the problems is too many councillors see themselves solely as elected representatives and forget their commitment and obligations to the Association and Party. In fairness, these obligations were set-out in the Candidates' Agreement which they all signed as part of their application and interview process in 2011. A councillor is rightfully first and foremost a community champion, but they are also elected party politicians and members of a political movement which relies on the support of its members to retain its power and influence. Conservative councillors are elected using the Party's name, branding, organisation, expertise and resources. It is not unreasonable for the Party to expect something back in return.