During the Tonbridge & Malling selection in November 2013, both the Association Officers and I as the Agent received many plaudits for the open and accessible way we conducted the process. Being a "fallow" time of the electoral cycle I was able to speak to any candidate who phoned or visited, and we kept everyone informed of the process through regular updates on the Association's website, the special "Open Primary" website we launched and via this blog. It is fair to say that managing the T&M Open Primary was probably a full time job for the four preceding weeks.
Unfortunately, with the parliamentary and local elections just 100 days away, along with a change in my working pattern (we now manage five Associations from the West Kent Office, rather than the three we looked after in November 2013) we simply do not have the time or resources available to offer the same.
For the sake of transparency I am publishing below the email I have sent to applicants seeking a meeting. As I have written in the penultimate paragraph "I am sorry if this sounds unhelpful as it is not in my nature to decline any request for help. I do hope you understand." If I met or briefed one applicant, I would have to offer the same service to all, and I could not do so without jeopardising our campaign plans and placing an unfair burden on my already-overworked colleagues.
I hope all applicants will understand, whilst accepting my assurance that I will work closely with the Association Chairman and officers to ensure the process is open and transparent and, of course, I will keep all applicants informed of developments promptly and courteously throughout.
Thank you for your email and for your interest in Faversham & Mid Kent. However I must - with regret - decline your request for a personal briefing or meeting. Please allow me to explain why.
During the Tonbridge & Malling selection in 2013 we made a decision to be open and accessible to all potential applicants. I happily briefed any who phoned and had a prepared script to ensure all callers received the same information and detail. I also prepared a written briefing paper which was sent to all applicants, and I spent time with any applicant who requested a face to face meeting. Our openness throughout the process was commended by CCHQ and the applicants alike, and I take some pride that our guide on how to run an Open Primary has been used throughout the country.
Since then my role has changed and expanded. The West Kent Group now covers five constituencies and, unlike the T&M selection in November 2013, we are now just weeks away from the election. We have 5 parliamentary campaigns and 180 district council campaigns to manage as well as the routine business of managing five large and active Associations. Our small team (me plus our Office Manager and a p/t intern) are already working 10 hours per day to manage the campaigns and meet print and design deadlines. If I were to brief one applicant I would be honour-bound to offer the same service to all, and I am afraid that I simply do not have the time to do so. By way of example, I have already received over 60 calls and emails from candidates requesting meetings or briefing by phone. Half an hour spent with each would equate to almost a week of working time.
I can inform you that CCHQ will be advertising the vacancy on Wednesday (28th January 2015) and I understand the deadline for receipt of applications will be 9th February, with a target to complete the selection at a General Meeting of members by the end of February. The precise date and process subject to approval by the Association's Executive Council.
I am sorry if this sounds unhelpful as it is not in my nature to decline any request for help. I do hope you understand.
Good luck with your application and I hope to meet you during the process.
With best wishes