Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WMMMs are a mass distraction

So it's easy to get selected as a Tory WMMM (White, Middle-aged, Middle-class Male) candidate for parliament then, is it?

I wonder. Here's a little tale.

1 May 2008: I win re-election for the second time in Hart, with the biggest majority in the district. Hubris whispers slyly in my ear that this is because of how wonderful I am: Truth forces me to admit I have two excellent fellow councillors in the ward and possibly the best constituency MP in the land.

3 May 2008: Still feeling good about myself, I email my local constituency chairman, asking how to apply to become a Conservative parliamentary candidate (PPC).

7 June 2008: Not having heard, I email again. Again I get no reply.

14 May 2009: It's 11 months later and we have a new constituency chairman. So I email him to ask how to become a PPC.

19 May 2009: The chairman replies apologetically that he has made enquiries and CCO (Conservative Central Office) has recently closed the lists and is not accepting any more applications.

19 May 2009: I write back, pointing out that I'd twice enquired in mid 2008, almost a year before lists closed.

19 May 2009: A somewhat dismissive email comes back from CCO, saying they have no record of me applying. Well, that's right, they don't because my email got either lost or ignored in the local office.

21 May 2009: Having slept on it for 2 nights because it is not necessarily wise to send an email while exasperated, I write to CCO politely pointing out (with attached evidence) that I had twice previously asked to be considered but that the request had somehow fallen through the cracks and would they kindly reconsider having closed their lists?

24 May 2009: David Cameron announces he is re-opening candidates lists.

26 May 2009: I write in and ask for an application form.

29 May 2009: I get a reply from Eric Pickles which says, among other things, "It is clear that our political system needs radical change if we are to restore public trust – and that change involves new people putting themselves forward as MPs." An application form is attached.

Early June 2009: I fill in the forms, get referees, submit the forms.

25 June 2009: I get a reply from CCO, part of which says "... because of the large number of applications, it will not be possible for us to enter into individual correspondence with you about your application, but you will hear from us, probably by the end of July."

15 Aug 2009: I am feeling a touch neurotic now but I don't want to appear too neurotic so I wait a couple of weeks after the end of July deadline before sending CCO an email asking "Have I missed your reply, or are things running slowly over the holiday period?"

20 Aug 2009: A reply arrives. The essence is "We will contact you should you be progressed to the next stage. You will, however, be advised either way."

13 Sep 2009: The Sunday Times runs a story on "A-List" outsiders who've applied when I did and now have completed the whole process. I wonder. I am just a local Tory councillor. Where in the alphabet does that put me? I hope it's not the Z-List.

Early October 2009: I am sadly getting used to being ignored by my party. I see that in Bracknell (where I work), the Tory party has interviewed a lot of candidates and drawn up a short list. I realise I might not have made the short list but it would have been nice to been given the opportunity.

Part of me hopes I make the list before I retire.

Part of me thinks that Bracknell is a pretty good constituency where I have worked for most of the last decade and where I have a large collection of friends.

Part of me wonders whether it wouldn't be easier to run as an independent candidate.

Many people believe that as a white middle-aged middle class man I will have received preferential treatment. I am still waiting for CCO to get back to me. If it's true that men get preference, I wonder how much longer I would have to wait if I were a woman.

My older son, who is flu'-ridden but whose judgement I respect unquestioningly, told me that what I have written above sounds bitter. I am sorry about this: I didn't intend to sound that way but I must admit to feeling let-down. What I had intended to write was more about getting more women Tory MPs until I got distracted into looking up dates. So, dear reader, having read this far please stay with me!

I have a very good friend who until recently was the UK CFO of one of the best known retailers in the world. She left them when they moved their offices to continental Europe, as she has children who are happily settled in schools and whom she did not want to move. I've tried to persuade her to become a Tory candidate on several occasions but she's been adamant that she feels Tories don't want people like her.

I've attempted to explain this isn't true, but I may be labouring in vain in this case. If we want to attract more high quality women candidates we need to make women feel that they will be welcome. I think all-women candidate lists do the opposite and are patronising. And if we get high quality women candidates to come forward, we'd better be prepared for them and not give them the run-around.


Slim said...

Sorry to hear this - I think you'd make an excellent candidate. Perhaps you should change your name by deed poll to Lesley Haffey or some similar gender neutral name ;-)

Chris Hossack said...

You only get a chance be considered as a Tory PPC if you are from an oxbridge wealthy elite on the one hand or a 'minority group' on the other. Middle/working class white males have no chance and are utterly marginalised by this process therefore candidates are not representative of the majority of the electorate and totally out of touch.
I have a similar story that is actually worse in it's incriminating detail.

Sean Haffey said...


I obviously share your frustration, but am more of an optimist. Some good people do get through the system but IMHO not enough.

I'd like to see myself getting through obviously, but more than that I would like to see the Party machinery start to run more efficiently, for the benefit of all of us and the country.

Janderville said...

Your older son clearly gives you candid counsel but on my reading of your account you come across as reasonable and unbelievably patient. The Tories are very foolish indeed if they think that the calibre of MPs available to any future Tory administration is a trivial matter.

Your story highlights the need for power to be taken away from party whips and given to local people where it belongs. Your own background and great attitude shows that there's no shortage of good people willing to become MPs. The problem is that in order to become an MP you need to jump through hoops satisfying the requirements of one of the main political parties.

I wonder if the solution is to give constituencies the right of recall in the event (say) 5 or 10 per cent sign a petition? (Petitions could be limited to once every 18 or 24 months to limit disruption.)

At a stroke the power of the whips would be undermined because MPs would always have to consider local support or opposition for any given piece of legislation on pain of contesting their own seat in a bye-election. Any threat from the whips would have to be balanced against this very real danger.

The tendency of this simple change would combine with the effect of the YouTube, blogs and twitter to shift power from places like CCHQ that were able to control the mass media and back in the hands of local people who individually can contribute to the blogosphere.

I realise my proposed (tentative) solution is a bit besides the point but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it!

Sean Haffey said...

Hello Janderville

I think there is always tension between an MP's need to represent his constituents, his party and his country. Party whips (or the prospect of promotion) may sometimes lead to poor decisions. The ability to recall an MP may reduce this.

I think one should proceed with caution, however. Sometimes for the common good one has to take decisions that might be lees good for the constituencies. An example might be power stations: no-one wants one built near them, but we all want ready access to power!

lilith said...

You want to be an MP?! Have you not seen The Thick of It? Quality of life has to be more important ;-)

I think you can do more for your constituents as a Councillor...

All women shortlists, approved by Dave, are an affront to both women and to democracy.

I would like to see more women MPs, but not another Blair Babes scenario of compliant lightweights.

Sean Haffey said...

Actually, no, I haven't seen The Thick of It.

I share the party's objective of getting a more representitive selection of MPs, which includes women. AWS is a poor way of doing it IMO.

However, my local MP did point out that the male Labour MPs are no better in quality than Blair's Babes!