Pamela Hall: Why I’m seeking election as Chairman of the National Conservative Convention

24 Jul

Pamela Hall OBE is a former President and Vice President of the National Conservative Convention and now Candidate for Chairman. She is currently President of the North West Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO).

For Conservatives to win elections right across the country we need a strong, active, and vibrant voluntary party with the right professional support from CCHQ. I’m seeking election as Chairman of the National Conservative Convention, which is the link between being the voice of the voluntary members, to the party leadership and CCHQ.

Voting opened earlier this week and I’ve been asked a lot – what does the National Convention do?

There are five volunteers elected as officers of the National Convention and these become members of the party board. The officers represent associations and their members on committees such as membership, finances, candidates, disciplinary procedures and much more.

They also take responsibility for different regions and, having been elected to roles for three years, I have travelled the UK attending conferences, beach cleans, campaign days, quiz nights other events to meet volunteers and area and regional teams to listen and understand their different needs. “Zooming” around the UK over the past year made it even easier to maintain those vital links, though nothing beats meeting together in person.

The Convention roles shape how the voluntary party works and over recent years have brought about the revival of CPF led by Andrew Sharpe. I further developed the Association Incentive Scheme as a way of connecting volunteers with CCHQ, sharing ideas and support, as well as valued rewards and competition. The Convention officers also host events, training webinars and most importantly make sure the voluntary party’s needs, concerns and frustrations are voiced and heard within CCHQ and our party’s leadership.

The electorate for the National Convention is All Association Chairmen, Area and Regional Chairman and the CWO National and Regional Officers.

I’ve also been asked – what’s the main issue in this election?

The only way to completely ensure we build back better is to win the next general election and all other local elections before then. If elected I will work with CCHQ and our members to support the right campaigning resources in the right places, across the UK – I have already made inroads previously working closely with chairmen and area teams when, as vice president, we rolled out the original Campaign Manager programme in 2017. There is no doubt we need more resources everywhere, and that is my priority.

And then the next question – what will you do?

It’s vital we bring more people in the party together, members must feel included, involved and appreciated and have opportunities to use their skills – as a voluntary organisation we need them all alongside the following:

  • The right policies from Government which align to our values and our manifesto, ensuring the CPF is at the heart of future policy making.
  • The right support from CCHQ for campaigning – against any opposition, right across the country, involving and including local councillors, candidates and associations as we develop messaging and policies.
  • More training for chairmen and more teams to share ideas, tips and successes.
  • Continuous support for the CWO, YCs and CPF representation in all our association, area and regional officer teams.

I understand our party’s structures, with three year’s experience on the National Convention. Having successfully served our party over the past 25 years, from YC chairman, association, area and regional officer to councillor and parliamentary candidate, I know our volunteers, and how to get things done.

I’m standing as it’s an opportunity to do the right thing for the voluntary party – and Convention roles are absolutely the best roles in the politics! The vice president roles weren’t contested at all this year and that needs to change in the future – everyone needs to know about all the different opportunities to get involved in politics at all levels.

I have spoken at many CWO and Association Scheme events, encouraging others to get involved, developing mentoring schemes around the country, and I would do much more of this to support more women, more young people, and everyone to look for opportunities in our party.

If elected, I and the other board members along with the regional and area teams need to be much more visible and accessible to associations. Future Convention elections need a level playing field for people to stand on. These roles take a lot of time, shoe leather and petrol to do well, but it’s fabulous to meet so many other people passionate about politics and help them find roles to thrive and enjoy.

Our party must do more to connect with all members and all voters if we are to continue to win and get our values and messages across all over the UK. If you have a vote, please vote for me to improve those connections, enable more resources in the right places, so we can all have opportunities to win together.

Please contact me to discuss further or for more information: pamelahall.uk

What to prepare for if you want to become a Conservative MP

10 Jul

2017 was a snap election. 2019 was at least a sort-of snap election. One consequence is that it’s been a while since would-be candidates underwent a full Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB), and CCHQ are currently calling people in to get re-listed.

Charlotte Gill has already examined the party’s decision to incorporate psychometric testing into selections. But what does the rest of the process look like?

CCHQ obviously don’t hand out cheat sheets. But would-be candidates looking to find out what it’s up to may be aware of College Green Group’s ‘Becoming a Conservative MP’ package.

To which end, I did a two-hour workshop to find out what it believes awaits anyone looking to run the PAB gauntlet – both the online and in-person sections.

Before continuing, two things to note. First, the tests below are not the actual PAB. They are exercises that CGG believe will best prepare candidates for the PAB, based on their experiences preparing people (including some now-elected as MPs) for the old one.

Second, CGG very kindly offered to let me actually do the training. But it is geared towards people who actually want to be MPs and have been living their lives with that goal in mind and I, dear reader, have not. So we discussed the programme instead.

In-person assessment

The very first thing the trainer tries to sort out is why an applicant wants to be an MP. You’d think that would be simple enough, but apparently the question throws people, especially if they think it’s simply the next step in the political life-cycle after being a councillor or similar.

Preparing for the in-person test involves finding a good answer to that question. If you’re already a successful business leader or council leader, why are you trading in real power and a huge budget to become a backbench MP? Why do you think you could do more good in the House of Commons than wherever you are now? If not, what skills or experience are you bringing to the green benches that other candidates are not?

Once you’ve worked out why you’re there, the next step is teasing out which parts of your CV and backstory best support your case. A bare list of achievements is probably not enough – lots of able and accomplished people want to be MPs. Instead, the trainer helps applicants embed proof of key skills and attributes in stories that will hook the assessors’ attention, and help them stand out when the latter compare notes at the end of what was probably a long day.

At CGG, they run you though what looks like quite a comprehensive list of questions intended to illustrate qualities such as leadership, resilience and drive, relating to people, and communication skills, as well as probing your Conservative principles. There is also a section intended to highlight stand-out episodes from one’s personal, professional, and political life.

Online assessment

The online part of the process is divided into two parts: a ‘situational judgement test’, and the aforementioned psychometric test.

In the former, the applicant is presented with a variety of scenarios and then a list of possible responses, and asked to rank these from ‘most likely’ to ‘least likely’ to do. These include constituents approaching you with problems, a young activist joining the party and wanting to meet, allegations of impropriety against colleagues, and so on.

For the latter, CCHQ haven’t publicised which test they’re using but after talking to HR professionals, CGG think that the Party is using the Hogan Assessment Series. This consists of:

  • Hogan Personality Inventory – Highlights your positive attitudes
  • Hogan Development Survey – Unearths any negative traits
  • Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory – Tests whether an applicant is a ‘good fit’ with an organisation

These tests work by firing a lot of questions at you in a short space of time, with controls thrown in to highlight if you’re answering at random or dishonestly. Whilst they’re hard to prepare for, one can pay to sit the Hogan tests independently if one wishes to.

Conclusions

There can surely be few who have had the privilege of working on the parliamentary estate not of the view that all parties could do with a more rigorous procedure for selecting their parliamentary candidates, for a variety of reasons, and it is good to see CCHQ taking the time to overhaul the process.

However, as with any instance of professionalisation in politics, there is a danger that it ends up producing homogenisation. Selecting people fit to represent the nation in Parliament is not the same as choosing an individual to fit into a well-defined role in a commercial organisation.

Given that, it would be regrettable if CCHQ placed too much weight on the online part of the process. If psychometric testing can filter out obviously unfit applicants who might have slipped through the net (and that’s a very big if), then that’s all to the good. But it can’t be allowed to reach the point where perfectly suitable but unorthodox applicants run into a wall of ‘computer says no’.

On the question of teamwork, specifically, the trainer noted that the Party seem to have abandoned the ‘group exercise’ from the old PAB. This saw a group of candidates assigned roles as MPs or candidates for constituencies affected by a common problem (such as a new road) and tasked with working together to find a solution. It would certainly be more time-consuming than just sitting a Hogan test, but it would probably do a much better job of weeding out shrinking violets and bullies.

Amanda Milling: How we’re going to ensure that everyone is welcome in the Conservative Party

6 Jul

Amanda Milling is the Member of Parliament for Cannock Chase and co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Six weeks ago, Professor Swaran Singh’s investigation into racism and discrimination within the Conservative Party was published.

While the report found no evidence of institutionalised racism, it set out the need for the Conservative Party to overhaul its complaints process so it was more transparent, and to simplify our Code of Conduct to ensure members have a fuller understanding of the standards expected of them.

The report set out 27 recommendations for the party to accept so we can begin to tackle these issues.

The first step in this process is the publication of an Action Plan setting out how we will implement the recommendations. Today we are publishing this plan – which you can read in full here.

The Conservative Party has always been a trailblazer when it comes to breaking through barriers, and it is core to our identity as a party that no one should be held back or discriminated against for any reason.

Regardless of race, background, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or anything else, everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, and everyone should be welcome in the Conservative Party.

As Co-Chairman of the Party I am determined to fix the problems that the Singh investigation shone a light on because, for me, one case of discrimination is one too many.

This Action Plan is the first stepping stone in tackling where we have fallen short and ensuring we put things right.

This Action Plan sets out how over the next year we will update our Code of Conduct so everyone is aware of the behaviour we expect of them. We will be improving our communication to members and training our Party officers to enable them to investigate and address issues effectively. And we will be clarifying how the complaints process works and what actions we will be taking at every step of that process.

Within the same timeframe as publishing the Action Plan the recommendations required us to review and clarify our Social Media Complaints Rules – this work has already been done and approved by the Board and will be further reviewed with the fuller review of the Code of Conduct.

As Co-Chairman, I am also aware of some of the frustrations and distress our process has, at times, caused to both the accused and the victims. We are determined to provide our complaints team with the resources to investigate and resolve these issues in a timely manner. Some cases are incredibly complex and rightly need a thorough investigation.

However as part of the recommendations, and as part of my determination to provide a better system, we will be introducing clear guidelines and expectations on how long we might reasonably expect cases to be investigated.

As part of these recommendations, we were asked to improve the transparency of our complaints system including notifying respondents about the identity of members of the panel that’s assessing their case. These processes are now in place increasing confidence for those going through the complaints system.

The Action Plan sets out a clear path over the next year for the Party to put right the findings of Professor Singh’s investigation.

There’s no denying these recommendations are challenging. It requires the whole Conservative Party family – members, Associations, elected representatives and Conservative Campaign Headquarters – to work together to implement these recommendations.

We will all need to get to grips with a clearer Code of Conduct. Associations Officers will need to set aside time for training on the complaints process to ensure all complaints are handled to the highest standard. CCHQ will be working with the voluntary party to deliver these changes and ensure the smooth implementation of Professor Singh’s recommendations.

This is not something that can be delivered by CCHQ alone. Over the coming weeks and months I will need your help to make these changes and I hope you will work with us to improve our Party for the better.

It’s only by reviewing our Code of Conduct, implementing training, and improving transparency that we can ensure our complaints process can root out racism and discrimination while ensuring it’s fair and easy for those that need it.

At every step of the way we will be working with you, the Conservative Party family, to ensure we are held accountable to delivering these recommendations and sticking to the timeline set out in the Action Plan.

The recommendations set out by Professor Singh require the Party to provide an update on its progress in delivering the Action Plan. You have my full commitment that the Party will update you on that progress in six months time.

Let’s use this Action Plan as a way of ensuring we right the wrongs of the past, and build on being a Party of aspiration and opportunity to all.

Candidate selection. Why is CCHQ placing so much faith in psychometric testing?

24 Jun

In November last year, Amanda Milling revealed that the Conservative Party had completely changed its assessment process for candidates, including the reintroduction of “psychometric testing”.

Already there are signs that candidates are being given advice on this process – the College Green Group, for instance, has suggested that the “Hogan Assessment Series is the gold standard” on its website. “If you want to be a Conservative MP, passing the assessment is the first step on that road”, it says of all the steps.

Disclaimer here: I have never done the Hogan Assessment Series, nor am privy to the internal assessment tools of CCHQ. I can only say that, as a psychology graduate, I think it’s a flawed idea to introduce psychometric assessments into the recruitment process – whichever field one is in.

What are psychometrics anyway? In broad terms, they are a form of psychological measurement that can be around attitudes, knowledge, personality, educational achievement and much more. Perhaps the most famous one is the IQ test, which is used to measure intelligence. Another famous psychometric test is the Big Five Personality Test, which scores people for traits including Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. 

Whether these tests work is a whole new debate in itself. Personally, I think IQ takes too rigid a view of intelligence (it does not measure creative intelligence very well, for instance), whereas – on the other hand – I quite like the Big Five Personality Test. It doesn’t feel particularly judgemental – although no one wants a high score for neuroticism – and researchers have been able to use it for many interesting studies.

What I strongly disagree with is using psychometric tests in the recruitment process, which plenty of businesses now do. It’s understandable that some turn to such tools. Psychometrics simplify decision-making and can help organisations to whittle their applicants down. They can help them explain why someone has been rejected (“it was your score on X test”). And maybe businesses even think they’re “following the science” in deploying such tests.

But they are too reductive for multiple reasons. For one, there is no such thing as an “objective” psychological measure, however much time and effort researchers have put into developing these tools (and some are very good). That’s because their authors have to make decisions on what constitutes constructs such as “intelligence”, “extraversion”, and many other traits, which inevitably means their own subjective ideas go into the framework. Even the most objective-looking tool will have biases.

Another flawed premise of psychometric tests is that you can decide what (by way of score, or personality traits) would make someone a good fit for a job/ political candidacy. But we know that any number of people can inhabit a role, and bring something completely new to it. Furthermore, it means psychologists/ businesses have to decide what good traits are – which is no easy task. 

One trait the Big Five Personality Test measures is “disagreeableness”, for example. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a very nice quality. It means you’re less bothered about people pleasing. Agreeable people, on the other hand, are more cooperative.

But the former trait still confers advantages. Disagreeableness is useful for things like negotiating and taking tough decisions, as you’re less concerned about what others think. Many MPs will be disagreeable; such is the nature of the job. But would a psychometric test take this into account? Or would these sorts of profiles be weeded out?

Lastly, I’m not convinced that psychometric tests can in any way predict how well a team will work together. The Hogan Assessment, for instance, says it will leave leaders “well-equipped to build high-performing teams and thriving organizations.” But skills cannot be slotted together so easily. Chemistry, in the workplace and otherwise, is mysterious and fluid. All relationships change throughout time, and, actually, a better predictor of how well people get along might be consistent proximity (see the number of people who get married on Strictly Come Dancing).

The aim of psychometric testing in recruitment is ultimately to quantify a person, as well as pairing them up with someone else in a “complementary” set of boxes. But we all know that life doesn’t work this way. There’s a fluidity and randomness to relationships, professional and otherwise, that data cannot capture.

Perhaps what’s most important in recruitment decisions is gut instinct, which Malcolm Gladwell famously devoted a whole book to, titled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It describes how unconscious, fast mental processes can help us make better decisions than ones that are more planned. I fear in our data-obsessed world, however, we will seek to override intuition more and more with psychometric tools. But sometimes keeping things simple is the best route.

Richard Holden: Knightmare on Starmer Street. Labour loses control of Durham – held by the party for a century.

10 May

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Louisa Centre, Stanley, County Durham

At the count in Stanley at 3am on Friday morning after the verification checks on the ballot papers, I realised that I was witnessing the latest stage of the fundamental shift in British politics.

The communities that are not merely the heartlands but the birthplace of the Labour Party are decisively turning their backs on the party which turned its backs on them.

Two weeks ago in this column, I wrote about Keir Starmer and Labour’s five tests from this set of elections in the North East of England. To be fair to the Labour leader, these results cannot all be laid at his door – they have a much longer-term gestation.

However, the man who many thought would be Labour’s knight in shining armour has delivered results even worse than the outlier, “knightmare” scenarios that I suggested a fortnight ago.

Not only did the Conservatives remain the largest party in Northumberland, but they took overall control and, in doing so, took Hartley ward – and kicked out the Labour group leader on Northumberland County Council.

Sir Keir didn’t just fail my Stockton South test (remember: Stockton South was won by Corbyn’s Labour in the 2017 general election), but the excellent campaigning of Stockton South’s MP, Matt Vickers, with together with Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, saw the Conservatives not just retain the Stockton South council seats that they’d held, but take all the seats that were up for election, including from Liberal Dems and independents.

Paul Williams, the former Labour MP for Stockton South, handpicked and put on a shortlist of one by Labour HQ, delivered a catstrophic result for Labour in Hartlepool. To lose the seat at this stage in the electoral cycle by that much would have previously been thought impossible, but it’s happened.

With the Conservatives gaining over 50 per cent of the vote in the by-election, and Labour finishing a poor second, it’s clear that, in terms of parliamentary seats, CCHQ now needs to be targeting the North East of England much more broadly for the next election, including such seats as: City of Durham, North Durham, all the Sunderland seats, Blaydon – and even perhaps Gateshead and Easington.

Houchen’s utterly overwhelming victory in the Tees Valley, gaining almost three quarters of the votes on the first round, is the strongest symbol of continued Conservative advance in the North of England. The Conservative gain of the Police Commissioner post in Cleveland is further proof of this. Particularly when the vote from Middlesbrough, widely believed still to be rock solid for Labour in Teesside, came out five to three in the Conservative’s favour.

To outsiders, the loss of Durham County Council by Labour to No Overall Control may not seem quite as totemic as some of the other results. But if anything it’s more so.

The Conservatives increased their number of seats by 14, taking them from the fifth largest group (there are two independent groups) to the position of second largest party behind Labour – in one fell swoop.

Durham is where the Labour Party first gained a county council in 1919 and they have held it ever since. The results overall for the Conservatives are really, really good – particularly in my constituency in North West Durham and in my good friend Dehenna Davison’s constituency in Bishop Auckland.

Scratch the surface, and the results are more impressive still. In North West Durham, we’re now second almost everywhere we didn’t win, from what were often poor third places just four years ago. The increasing vote and vote share was at least 100 per cent, and in some cases, such as in Consett North and in Consett South, the number of Conservative votes went up almost four times.

Even in Weardale, where Conservatives were challenging two long-established independent councillors, we jumped from third place to second place, and came within 85 votes of taking one of them out.

In Woodhouse Grove, in the Bishop Auckland constituency, Conservatives gained two new councillors, and only missed out by nine votes in the working class town of Willington in North West Durham. It’s quite clear that, from this incredible baseline, Conservatives can now make further progress both locally and at the next general election.

These campaigns really came down to incredibly hard graft on the ground. It’s clear that CCHQ needs to look at how we can really capitalise on this with extra resources in the coming months and years.

The results in the North East are not unique. To see Rotherham go from zero to 20 Conservative councillors is mindblowing, as are the exceptional gains in Hyndburn in Lancashire, where the Conservatives held the county council with an increased majority.

But this succes is not just in the North. The gains in Harlow, Dudley, Southampton and elsewhere by the Conservatives show an incredible national picture.

While these results are absolutely stunning, often with significantly increased turnouts, it’s clear that the future of these areas as key battlegrounds will require the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to deliver on levelling up to not only be delivered on in the long-term, but also to show that progress is being made within the next year-to-18 months too.

In some areas of the country, the Conservatives haven’t performed quite as well. Downing Street and CCHQ need to find out why this has ocurred, and learn the lessons not only from the great successes, but also from the places where we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped.

What’s clear from politics is that nothing ever stays the same. Who’d have thought that the narrow victory in the Teeside matoralty in 2017 following Brexit would have not only been the catalyst for a shift in voting, but a shift in poltical culture in the North East? People are no longer willing to accept either MPs or local authority leaders who see their position as a sinicure. Delivery is what counts.

We Conservatives are in government, and have the abilty to really make that happen. If we do so, our political prospects in these areas will just get better and better.

Our survey. Conservative activists, the Party and their money. Only half want more control.

1 May

Congratulations to the five respondents who said that Party members have too much power over how much Party money is spent.  For either their sense of humour, or willingness to go against the flow, or possibly both.

The most startling element of the replies is that as many as 35 per cent, essentially one in three of the panel, are satisfied with the status quo, under which they have only the most indirect say in how they money they raise is spent.

Then again, perhaps this result isn’t all that startling, after all.  It may simply reflect a long, gradual and under-reported shift in the outlook and temperament of activists.

Thirty or so years ago, the annual Party conference was full of badges: members wore them to advertise their support for causes – euroscepticism being one of the most prominent.

The temper of debate could be fractious and angry.  Many members pursued politics with an ideological flavour – a product of the Thatcher experience.  Social conservatives were noisier.

A social scientist might be able to establish whether today’s members are more representative of the general public than yesterday’s were: in all likelihood, there’s not much difference.

The mood of Party members is now harder to discern each October, because of the proliferation of the interest groups who now attend.  But their flavour is undoubtedly less rough, more smooth.

The main cause of dispute among the last generation, EU membership, was settled among activists a while ago: during the referendum, they were mainly for Leave.

There will be fissures to come about issues unknown, at least if history repeats itself, rather than the present, containable divisions – most notably over the size of the state; to some degree, over culture.

ConservativeHome was struck during the leadership election by the quality of the questions to the two candidates during the national hustings: it was sober, polite, uncompromising – and noted by other journalists who, unlike us, can’t be accused of having fish to fry.

In some ways, this lack of noise shows a weakness: it’s a bad thing that over a third of members are happy to let the absence of proper checks and balances on Party spending and governance to continue.

In others, it’s a strength: it’s a good thing to have Tory members who not in a state of permanent conflict with Tory MPs, and that the Conservatives are a now united party – moderate in tone and broad in appeal as they prepare for next week’s local elections.

Our survey. Seven in ten of our panel believe that money raised by activists shouldn’t help fund the leader’s private costs.

1 May

It isn’t clear whether money raised by rank-and-file Party members, through membership fees and other donations, has helped to fund Boris Johnson’s private costs – be they legal fees, say, or flat refurbishment.

It appears that a gift of £58,000 from one prosperous donor, Lord Brownlow, was originally made to help meet the costs of that flat refurbishment, and that it was paid via CCHQ.

It’s therefore debatable whether such a gift would fall within the terms of the question above.  Which is what we want: our aim was to ask our Party member panel about a question of principle, not the current row.  And our sense is that it has responded in exactly that way.

We suspect that its verdict above is less a slap across the wrist for the Prime Minister than a simple statement of opinion.  Seven in ten members of the panel believe that it’s inappropriate for money raised by Party activists to be spent on the Party leader’s private costs.

Two in ten think otherwise and one in ten don’t know.  That’s a substantial majority for maintaining a wall between members’ donations and the private spending of the Party leader – whoever he may be at any time.

Davis: Conservative Party loans and donations to the Party leader should require approval in advance

28 Apr

We reported on Monday that the Conservative Party’s Finance Committee didn’t approve any payments made by it to support any legal costs incurred by Boris Johnson in relation to Jennifer Arcuri.  It’s been asserted that the Party helped to fund these.

Members of the committee also say that it has not approved any Party payments that may have been made to help meet the costs of the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

It’s been reported that Lord Brownlow gave £58,000 specially for this purpose, at a time when there were discussions of setting up a trust to fund the work.

If that money was given to the Party to be passed on to the Prime Minister, should the Committee have been required to approve the arrangement in advance?

We believe that it should – especially since we’re now told that approval from the Committee is needed for any spending item of above £50,000.

Should approval also be required if the money was leant rather than given?  Again, we believe that it should.  But we are told that approval from the committee is sought only for donations, not loans “which don’t count as expenditure”.

David Davis told this site: “were a significant sum given or leant to anyone including the Party leader it should be approved by the Finance Committee in advance”.

Again, we stress that we’ve no objection to Party funds being used to support the Party leader – to cover, say, entertaining Tory MPs for party purposes; or travel costs; or, indeed, legal fees (in principle).

However, it doesn’t follow that we give carte blanche to the present arrangements by which such funding might be approved.  Indeed, the more ConHome learns about them, the more troubled we become.

Part of this site’s founding purpose was to campaign for members’ rights and, as we keep writing, members control of the Party’s spending is so limited as scarcely to exist.

Some of this money comes from donors in larger sums and some in smaller – and givers include the less well-off activists who knock on doors, sell raffle tickets, and stand as candidates; as well as better-off ones who join Patrons Clubs’ or write relatively large cheques.

The former Brexit Secetary is right and, as we said yesterday, Board members “are asking questions about what happened”.  They should insist that the Finance Committee consider loans as well as donations above a set level.

Emergency proxies and postal votes: how the Government intends to ensure the local elections go ahead in May

19 Dec

As the nation staggers towards 2021, the forecast for next year looks somewhat v-shaped. The immediate aftermath of Christmas looks set to be dominated by another national lockdown (or whatever ‘Tier 4’ is). But after that, the vaccination programme holds out hope of a return to something like the old normal by the summer.

Which raises the question of what to do about the local elections, which are currently scheduled for May.

They have already been delayed once already, and both the Scottish and Welsh governments are making plans that include the power to delay their own elections yet again in the event that the public situation is not where we might want it to be when the day arrives.

The Government have taken a different approach, and no plans are being laid to prepare for a delay to the polls. Instead, ministers are taking practical steps to ensure that they can be conducted as safely as possible.

For starters, although practical and security considerations militated against an all-postal election, there is still for the moment a postal ballot for everyone who wants one. This will change if and when the mooted Electoral Integrity Bill hits the statute book and tightens up the relevant rules, but for now it is simple enough to get one and the parties, as well as local authorities, can and likely will run campaigns to make sure their voters are fully aware of this.

To make that slightly easier, the Government has also uprated local election expenses for the first time since 2014, lifting them to £806 per constituency (up from £740) and 7p per elector (up from 6p). This will give candidates a bit more to invest in online, postal, or other Covid-secure campaigning. In a recent written statement Chloe Smith, the Constitution Minister, acknowledged the pandemic as a reason for doing this now:

“The Government is also mindful that the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic may result in a greater emphasis on postal and digital campaigning ahead of May’s elections; this adds to the case for limits to be updated and uprated.”

Ministers are apparently looking at supplementing all of this this with provisions for ’emergency proxy voting’, in the event that someone who had intended to vote in person needs to self-isolate – this could apparently be done through secondary legislation – and by working to make sure that polling stations are Covid-secure.

This reluctance to delay the elections a second time is understandable. But given the obvious risk that face-to-face campaigning poses (especially to older voters and activists), there will likely be an electoral penalty to be paid if the worst happens and the Government has not left itself the means to postpone the polls. CCHQ must hope that this all-chips-on-May approach is a justified vote of confidence in the vaccination programme.

Mak is co-Chair of the new Conservative Party Policy Board

24 Nov

ConservativeHome wrote recently about the appointment of Neil O’Brien as a new Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party, and Chair of the Conservative Party’s Policy Board – a promotion with wider implications.

We weren’t alone in doing so. The news about our columnist got a lot of publicity, including an interview with him in the Times.

But what has not been evident so far is that there was already a Vice-Chairman of the Party responsible for policy.  Step forward, Alan Mak.

That most missed his own earlier appointment isn’t surprising, since these Vice-Chairmen have a way of rapidly coming and going.

At any rate, Mak is still there – and this site is told that he will co-chair the Board with O’Brien.  The third MP who will sit on it is John Penrose, who chairs the Conservative Policy Forum.

Another member will arguably carry more weight than any of them: Munira Mirza, the head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

Her presence on it, and that of Joel Winton, her deputy, is a sign that the Board should be taken seriously.  Iain Carter, who heads up the Conservative Research Department, will also be a member.

And there are to be Parliamentary Party representatives – which raises the question of who these are to be.  ConHome is told that the intention is that they be selected. (By whom, exactly?)

We suspect that Graham Brady and the 1922 Committee Executive will have something to say about that.  The ’22 had its own elected policy committees during the run-up to the last election.

Unlike O’Brien, Mak has neither run a think-tank nor served as a SpAd – let alone as a senior one in George Osborne’s Treasury.

Nonetheless, he is no policy slouch: see his pieces on the Fourth Industrial Revolution for this site.  And he was agitating about about ending child hunger almost 18 months ago – well before the Marcus Rashford push.

The twin-hatting arrangement seems awkard to us, and we doubt it will last long.  “Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere, / Nor can one England brook a double reign, / Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales.”

One or other of these gentlemen will presumably be wafted heavenwards in a blaze of glory during the New Year reshuffle that must surely come…

…Unless Boris Johnson has second or third or seventy-seventh thoughts, and puts the whole thing off until after the spring’s local elections.