Candidate selection. Yes, mistakes are obvious. But the balance between CCHQ and local parties isn’t too bad.

12 May

A few Conservative MPs, it must be said, have not covered themselves in glory recently. In the last month, Imran Ahmad Khan, elected for Wakefield in 2019, has announced his resignation after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a party in 2008. Neil Parish has resigned his seat after being caught watching adult material in the chamber of the House of Commons, and David Warburton has had the whip withdrawn amid claims he sexually harassed three women at a cocaine-fuelled sex event. More tea, vicar?

It is not only the Conservatives who have got themselves, to be fair. Liam Byrne faces a temporary suspension from the Commons following reported bullying and comments swirl about harassment allegations coming out of the SNP whips’ office.

Nevertheless, being in power, the focus of this website, and the party facing three potential by-elections, it is obviously the quality of Conservative candidates this article is most preoccupied with. That is especially the case today, as Mark Spencer, the Leader of the House of Commons, has said in an interview that voters can expect a higher standard from Tory candidates at the next election.

Spencer’s reasoning is that the rushed announcement of the 2017 and 2019 elections meant ‘unsuitable individuals’ were able to pass through the candidate selection process and go on to become MPs. Too much haste meant too little scrutiny of the Khans of this world. With CCHQ having overhauled its vetting procedure, placing the emphasis on corporate gobbledygook and psychometric testing, and with the first selections being made for open constituencies, the impression is being created of a party that has got its act together – and that won’t repeat the mistakes of the recent past.

Then again, Spencer’s comments do leave something to be desired. For one thing, it neglects that Parish was first elected in 2010, and Warburton in 2015 – periods in which the party had had far longer to select a candidate than in our last two general elections.

Moreover, it neglects that Khan’s selection process was rushed even by the standards of 2019. The previous candidate was removed with less than a month to go until polling day after historic social media posts were discovered. Most importantly, Spencer forgets that getting the occasional wrong’un, misfit, or deviant as an MP is hardly a new development. Back to Basics, anyone?

Nevertheless, all this brings us back to a question we are perennially asking ourselves here at ConservativeHome – what should the balance be in the selection of parliamentary candidates between the role of local associations and of CCHQ? Do we want to maximise party democracy, as our surveys show our members would like, and hand the control almost wholly over to the fine and decent folk in constituency parties up and down the land?

Or would that task prove overwhelming for the average association? And do they benefit from having a limited choice imposed on them, a la 2017 and 2019 – even if it involves three candidates, some of whom you may have known nothing about before the night of the selection?

Vital questions, obviously. One of the tensions that have riven the parliamentary party since 2019 are those between longer-standing MPs of more traditional Tory backgrounds – perhaps from safer, leafier seats – and the Red Wallers, many of whom come from backgrounds both socially and politically different from those of your classic Tory politician.

We have MPs who are increasingly rebellious, hyper-local – and not the sorts to give Spencer’s successors in the whips office a quiet life. One would fear any control exercised by CCHQ this time would be in the cause of preventing that those eager and idiosyncratic champions of the North and Midlands form being joined by too many colleagues of a similar ilk.

Certainly, if the process became even more focused on being box-ticking, centralised, and bureaucratic, the fear is we would find a party solely comprised of hacks, drones and – shudder – professional politicians. As with Oxbridge admissions, there would be the creeping replacement of the characters who would give you either a Third or a First with a class of water-treading 2:1-ers, all in the interest of a quiet life.

How easily would a budding Boris Johnson get onto the Approved Candidates List today? Too much like hard work, the algorithms and psychologists of CCHQ might decide. But the party in Henley plumped for him back in 2001 because of his own unique qualities – and those same attributes have served the party’s cause ever since. The again, he did get a 2:1.

Then again, screening candidates for particular traits and qualities isn’t wholly a bad thing. As the role of an MP becomes ever-more demanding – part social worker, part columnist, part policy whizz, part campaigner – the appeal of professionalisation grows. It is a demanding job, and like any job, only certain people have the right qualities.

You do not have to reach Mary Harrington-esque levels of abstraction to explain some of the bizarre and unruly behaviour of a few of our elected representatives in recent memory. The weirdness and stress of the job theydo does that alone, combined with the uniqueness of some of the personalities who pick it as a career. So at least some role is required for the central party, to ensure those party members are choosing from are up to basics of the task.

In that case, the best proposal still seems (funnily enough) that of our Editor’s, to allow associations to draw up a long list of six candidates, with three coming from CCHQ, and then with the opportunity to produce a shortlist of three from which to pick a candidate. Greater freedom for constituency parties is balanced by a slightly softer role for the central party – and far more of a choice than has often been available at these last two elections.

The voluntary party matters more, at times, than members might think. In 2019, it helped boot out one Prime Minister, and then elected another. It may do so again in the near-future. Giving members a say over their potential representatives is thus not unreasonable. As Randolph Churchill told his son, remember Disraeli’s dictum: ‘trust the people’.

Unfortunately for Spencer, that might mean a few weirdos, misfits, oddballs, and deviants slip through the net. Yet that is clearly preferable to having 300-odd interchangeable ex-SPADs, or 300-odd interchangeable ex-local councillors, or 300-odd interchangeable tractor enthusiasts. Unfortunately for some of us, the days are gone when the all you needed for a safe seat were to have attended a half-decent public school, got a reasonable degree from Christ Church, and whispered in a few ears at the right dinner parties.

But the sheer diversity – sorry to go all HR – of the current parliamentary party, in everything from background, to views, to ethnicity, to class, is a testament to the happy combination of party members selecting in tandem with CCHQ. Not only in satisfying various those engaged in the inanity of the box-ticking Olympics, but because it has produced a party that, for better or worse, looks more like those that vote for it than ever before. The failures of the candidate selection process are obvious, but the successes deserve remembering too.

John Moss: Preparing for the second stage of the new Conservative parliamentary candidate assessment

4 Apr

Cllr John Moss is a Councillor in Waltham Forest and a Campaign Manager at College Green Group.

The second stage of the new, two-part Parliamentary Candidate Assessment includes our old friend the group exercise, and introduces a new ‘hustings exercise’ to test speaking and answering questions, but also asking them.

The first stage of the assessment is entirely online, features a core competency interview and ‘inbox’ exercise, and lasts three hours. The first tranche of candidates are now progressing to the longer, second stage. This lasts six hours and involves two in-person exercises and two tests, taken on laptops at assessment centres in Leeds and London.

Candidates are being invited in groups of sixteen, with the group exercise being completed in groups of four and the hustings exercise in groups of eight.

We know the group exercise well. It is designed to test your ability to work with colleagues, recognise political reality and come to a common position which provides something for everyone. It is not about ‘winning’.

Candidates will be assigned one of four roles as an MP or a candidate for a seat with some particular characteristics, briefed to them beforehand. The different roles may include an MP sitting on a large majority, where the issue on which the team has to come to an agreed position may not affect many constituents, or a Conservative MP with a tiny majority in a seat won for the first time in the ‘Red Wall’ election of 2019, where the issue is incredibly important to voters, including first time Tory voters.

The scenario could be a flood, an announcement of a new road, or major regeneration project. It will be something with controversial aspects and it may be that you want to oppose it, or if it is a Government project, something you have to support. Recognising the circumstances of each constituency is important and giving way, if you have that luxury, to broader, more important political considerations will help you.

Making sensible suggestions and drafting a clear, concise and effective statement should be your goal. You have 45 minutes to complete this exercise.

The hustings exercise brings a little of Fifteen to One to the assessment. Taken in a group of eight in an informal, ‘coffee break’ setting, all candidates will be given a topic at the beginning of the day on which they are expected to prepare and deliver a five minute speech. Three of the other seven candidates will then ask questions. With eight candidates doing this, that means each person will get to speak, then answer three questions, then ask three questions as well.

We estimate this whole process will take about 90 minutes. Candidates will be assessed on their speeches and Q&A responses, and on the quality of the questions they ask as well. We advise clients not to be too aggressive with their questions, especially if an early speaker. It could come back and bite you.

Those being assessed will also take two further tests online. A psychometric test based on the Hogan Assessment process and a situational judgement test.

Hogan Assessments are used widely in recruitment but we understand this is being included simply to give pointers as to where candidates, if approved, may need to develop further skills. The Personality Inventory and Development Series tests include over 200 statements with which you are invited to agree strongly, agree, disagree or disagree strongly. They are something of yin and yang, including ‘inverse’ statements which test to see if you are trying to manage the impression you are giving.

There are lots of preparation sites out there which offer you dry runs. We can help you interpret the results.

The Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory offers you a central, neutral option as well. This test seeks to identify the core goals and values you have, together with the motives for your choices. We don’t advise over-practising for this test. This could just throw up a high score for ‘impression management’, which is something to avoid because it makes it look like you are trying to give the answer you think they want, rather than a genuine response.

The Situational Judgement Test lasts 30 minutes and you have to choose your most likely and least likely response from four options, from over 30 scenarios presented in a few sentences. That may not sound like a lot of time, but 45 seconds is plenty of time to read, consider and choose. Developing a ‘logic step’ approach to this test allows you to quickly identify the appropriate answer. It appears that whilst one choice may be obvious, we hear the second one may be less so.

We understand the first tranche of candidates completing both parts of the assessment will hear their results in April. We wonder if CCHQ might actually delay this until after the May elections to avoid any disappointed candidates losing their enthusiasm for campaigning. As to when selections for specific seats might start, that probably depends on the Parliamentary Boundary Review.

Elliot’s taste

21 Feb

Like many readers of this site, I’m a Conservative Party member.  Like a smaller number, I’m an Association patron.  Both require giving money.  Requests for more duly follow.

And with good reason. The Party leadership worked out some while ago, roughly during the period when Andrew Feldman was Chairman, that it is hazardous to rely on a few givers of million pound-plus sums. For the donors may decide that they no longer wish to give on that scale.  Or eventually be barred from doing so.

Since declarations under £7500 don’t have to be declared, it’s impossible to know what proportion of any political party’s funds these raise. Though I’ve been told that the amount of money raised by the Conservatives from such gifts have been increasing in recent years.

This humdrum flow of requests for money helps to put yesterday’s Sunday Times splash into perspective.  “Revealed: the wealthy donors with PM’s ear,” it said.  The details were new (in other words, the names of those who attend an “advisory board”).  Its essence was not (the board’s existence was revealed last summer).

The Sunday Times referred to “a leak of several thousand documents”, and presumably there will be more to come in due course.  The paper is not revealing its sources – quite rightly too if it doesn’t wish to – and speculation would lead down a blind ally.

At any rate, the story contains a quote from Mohammed Amerci, a member of this board during the pandemic, who has since fallen out with the Party and is highly critical of the project.  What are the facts?  The starting-point is the existence of forums that allow wealthy donors to meet party politicians.

Labour has the Rose Network Chair Circle, which has invited donors to meet Keir Starmer, details of which are available online. The cost of membership is £5,000 a head per annum.  The Conservatives have the Leader’s Group (£50,000) and the Treasurer’s Group (£25,000)Michael Gove addressed the former last year.

No difference in principle, then.  The advisory board is higher in price (it costs £250,000 a head) and may be different in practice.  It is alleged that members are asked for advice as well as money, but no documentary evidence for the claim was cited; nor is it clear that such requests, if made, are unique to advisory board members.

It was reported that advisory board members lobbied Ministers directly, but it would be surprising if no member of other forums has ever done so, regardless of party.  Certainly, there is nothing new about senior Ministers being asked to attend events to “sing for their supper”.

As I say, the Party’s drive for more small donations puts this push for more large ones in perspective, and three points follow – beside the obvious one that since Labour is in a glass house when it comes to donor clubs, it isn’t well placed to throw stones (and that’s before we get to the turbulent story of the party’s relationship with the unions).

First, the members of the advisory board are unlikely to feel that they’re getting what they want. As I’ve written before, “consider the planned rise in Corporation Tax, the effective re-nationalisation of the railways, and the shift in infrastruscture funding from south to north.”

“Plus net zero, industrial strategy, and the Conservative commitment to spend more, more, more on doctors, teachers and nurses. Much of this goes down well with, say, the CBI but badly with Tory donors, who tend to be blue in tooth and claw”.

Indeed, if advisory board members are hoping for results, there’s scant evidence that they’re getting them.  The Sunday Times report specifically referred to property, construction and big tobacco.  The former is fighting a rearguard action against a Government ambition for a smokefree England by 2030.

As for construction, the irresistible force of the housing lobby is meeting the immovable object of voter resistance. Liberalising planning proposals met mass resistance from the Conservative backbenches – and that was before the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

If my first point is that donors don’t always get their way, my second is that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t – sometimes, even often.  Unfashionable though it may be to say so, the clash of interests in Parliament, and their peaceful resolution through debate, is integral to liberal democracy.

Those Tory forums are part of one of those interests, capital, making its view known to Conservative front benchers. The latter are Ministers because voters made them so, in the near-landslide of the 2019 general election. So far, so good for the advisory board.  But there is a sting in the tail.

Which is that those who give the Party £25 a year, the standard membership fee, have no less an interest in its future than those who give £250,000 a year, the advisory board fee.  This brings me to my third point, which may be less helpful to CCHQ than my first two.

Namely, that we know a bit about what party members think, at least if the ConservativeHome panel is anything to go by. Seven in ten believe that money raised by activists shouldn’t help fund the leader’s private costs (with specific reference to that Downing Street wallpaper). Half want more control of how the money that they raise is spent.

It follows that a big slice of members, if our panel is representative, ask as ConHome has sometimes done: whose party is it anyway?  If an advisory board is to raise six figure sums, should the party leader effectively control how these are spent? And might it not be wiser to declare membership, rather than have it leaked?

At any rate, the trend in recent years has been for the leader to appoint an MP to spearhead campaigning and a friend to raise money.  The latter in Boris Johnson’s case is Ben Elliot, who has got the advisory board up and running.  I suspect our panel’s take is that what it gets up to is fundamentally a matter of taste.

On which point, Elliot will be more aware than anyone else, or at least should be, that Labour has its sights trained on him.  As Andrew Gimson wrote in his profile of the Party Chairman for this site, Elliot would not have arranged the seating plan which seated Robert Jenrick next to Richard Desmond at a party fundraising dinner.

But “because Elliot is in overall charge of CCHQ, he still incurs criticism when things go wrong”, Andrew continued.  “His insouciant manner suggests to those around him a refusal to contemplate the danger of scandal.”  Elliot later apologised to the 1922 Committee Executive.

If taste fails, rules step in: that at any rate is the lesson of the John Major years.  And the more rules there are, the more regulators there are – the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Electoral Commission, the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards…

And the more regulators there are, the more power falls into the hands of those we don’t elect rather than those we do.  But if voters don’t like the people they elect to govern them, they don’t seem to care for those they don’t elect, either – at least, not if Brexit is anything to go by.

By the same token, they may not like how the Conservative Party is paid for, but they would like paying for it themselves even less.  And funding Starmer, too.  Not to mention Nicola Sturgeon.  But when private funding becomes tainted as illegitimate, state funding steps in.  Elliot is playing for higher stakes than he may appreciate.

Bim Afolami: So you want to be an MP? Here are six perspectives on what it’s like – and what to do.

13 Dec

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

After my Saturday morning of canvassing in Hitchin, I had to rush home to finalise my references for two friends who are embarking on the perilous journey otherwise known as the Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB) – the process of becoming a Conservative candidate at the next election.

With this in mind, and remembering one of my maxims, namely that very few people in life will ever give you advice that you didn’t know already, I shall try and share a little bit of what it is actually like to be an MP.

Although I thought I was pretty well informed before getting into Parliament in 2017, aged 31, I can safely say that there was a huge amount that I didn’t know, and I made several mistakes as a result. I have tried to describe the aspects that might not be immediately obvious to you, or at least they weren’t obvious to me.

  • Make sure your spouse is fully on board. Tip O’Neill is famous for having stated that “all politics is local”. I would take it one step further: politics starts at home. Before you embark on this rollercoaster, you have to make sure that your spouse really understands what it might be like. There will be a lot of late nights away from home. If you have young children, as I do, this will often present a logistical nightmare for most of the week. Before you get elected, agree whether your spouse will appear on any political leaflets, and whether they will attend constituency events – because you will avoid a less than amused wife wondering why their face is on 40,000 leaflets going around your local town (much grovelling was required on my part after this episode). Just as importantly, make sure they get to know at least a few of your colleagues and their spouses: it will make their whole experience less lonely and alien. They will often see the more mundane side of life of an MP, not the glamorous bits. You should try and make them feel part of the whole journey. There is a reason why a lot of politicians get divorced – the demands that politics puts on a marriage are really extraordinary.
  • People remember. Once elected, although you may be the youngest, most junior and irrelevant member of the parliamentary party, outside the Palace of Westminster people care what you think and say. They will remember it. The random utterance to a friend down the village pub will now be repeated to all and sundry. The little joke at the opening of a leisure centre that fell flat will be captured on a smartphone. Be careful, and remember you are always on duty. Alcohol is rarely your friend. On policy matters, resist the temptation to promise the impossible or undeliverable to get through one election campaign, or one tricky hustings. It will be much less significant for attracting votes than you think, and can really hurt you over the long term if you get it wrong. Your statements will be remembered. Your opposition will not allow you to forget them.
  • You deal with the one per cent as an MP, but you have to keep thinking about the 99 per cent. When I say the one per cent, I do not just mean the wealthiest one per cent. I mean the poorest one per cent – those who are often in dire need of help. (The most political one per cent: those who write you regular emails. The most Conservative one per cent: your Party members. The most anti-Conservative one per cent: opposition activists.) The problem is that 99 per cent of the voters are not any of these people. You will barely hear from them. You always need to try and find ways to understand what makes them tick, what they are thinking about, and how to show them that you’re working for them. This is hard.
  • People still respect the role of MP and it really matters. I have written on this site about how I believe the role of MP can be upgraded and improved, but I am very clear that the position of MP in this country is still a very special one. For example, when you go to a local primary school and the children have spent the morning preparing very thoughtful questions about Parliament and government to put to you: they may remember the session for the rest of their lives. So don’t be blasé about it; prepare for these visits properly, and take an interest in everyone of whatever seniority. It matters to them, and even if they don’t vote for you. Over time, hopefully, they will have respect for you , which will stand you in good stead in the long term when something goes really awry – as in politics it invariably will at some stage.
  • Beware of the media. Without journalists, you can’t do your job properly as an MP. They are part of the furniture. Often they know the best gossip from inside government much faster than most of your colleagues, and can help you understand where things might be moving. Yet always beware. They have a job to do, and it is not to make you feel better, or to promote your career. It is to get bylines and top stories. Never forget that a chance remark in the queue for coffee in Portcullis House can end up in the newspapers somewhere under the ubiquitous “senior Tory” label. If you enter Parliament having not been a special adviser (as I did), you also need to remember that your more media-savvy colleagues will often be using the media in a more aggressive manner. Much of what you read will be not very accurate – not necessarily the fault of the journalist, but of your colleague who has fed them the piece of information. So treat everything with a watchful, careful eye.
  • One of my good friends in parliament, a very capable minister, has a favourite saying – “There is no permanent hierarchy in politics”. From when I entered parliament in 2017 compared to the present day in 2021, there has only been one Minister sitting continuously in Cabinet throughout that time. If you entered parliament in 2010, over two-thirds of the Conservative Cabinet ministers had changed by 2015. Turnover is high. Be respectful of those senior colleagues, but don’t be in awe of them. To people nominally at your level or below you, those positions can all be reversed very quickly. Everything is always shifting; nothing is fixed for long.

As for winning the nomination for a winnable seat, luck is the most important factor. So try, try and try again.

Start the whole process as early as possible, because it can take ten or even fifteen years from having passed your PAB to getting into parliament.

Try and campaign somewhere every week (or do phone canvassing at CCHQ), because although it will be time consuming it will (i) get noticed by CCHQ, (ii) enable you to get to know volunteers and MPs from all over the country; and (iii) help you build your political understanding of different types of voter – crucial when you are in the final selection meeting for your dream constituency, and you are thrown a curveball question.

Most importantly, remember this. Keep going through all the disappointments of the process. It is the most interesting and enjoyable job you are ever going to have. All the effort will be worth it.

Our survey. Over half of Party members want to elect the Chairman directly.

3 Oct

In 2015

  • 54 per cent of our members’ panel believed that the post of Party Chairman should elected by the membership.
  • 86 per cent wanted the power to directly elect at least some of the Party Board
  • And 50 per cent wanted the democratic power to amend the Party’s constitution.

This year –

  • 56 per cent believe that the post of Party Chairman should elected by the membership.
  • 70 per cent want the power to directly elect at least some of the Party Board.
  • And 75 per cent believe that the Party’s leadership should be more accountable to members.

The last question isn’t like for like, but the thrust of the other answers shows that not a great deal has changed, for our panel, since the pre-Brexit, Cameron Government days of six years ago.

The composition of the panel itself has changed since then…but the first answer, on a directly-elected Chairman, has actually stood still: another tribute, as we like to say here, to the consistency of the panel.

All in all, a significant minority of activists, if the survey is right, are pretty content with their lot – somewhere between one in five and one in three, depending on the question.

A majority would like more of a say.  But there is no substantial push that we’re aware of to obtain it, in a party perhaps more centralised than at any other time since the dawn of the democratic age – especially when it comes to candidate selection.

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.