The following article appeared on the conservativehome web site on 26th October 2016. It is an appalling story. The Chairman of the Candidates Committee should be elected by the members of the Party at an Annual General Meeting of the Party to which all members are invited. At that AGM the Chairman should present an Annual Report followed by questions on the report. Transparency would ensure that decisions like the one illustrated do not happen again.
Alex Story: I’m a dedicated Conservative but CCHQ has allowed an administrative cock-up to end my career
By Alex Story
Of all the many ways a political career can become unstuck, “monumental administrative cock-up” was not the one I expected.
Following Lord Kirkhope’s elevation to the House of Lords, I was invited by the returning officer to take up his place as MEP. We gained nearly a quarter of a million votes in the 2014 European election, and naturally I accepted. What has happened since would be farcical were it not so dispiriting.
Through rumours and backchannels for the past few weeks I have been told, off the record, that elements within the party were not disposed to support me. The reason given: I am no longer on the candidates’ list for forthcoming elections, having been removed after a perceived poor performance at last year’s general election. Quite why this is relevant to an election two years ago has never been explained. Moreover, I believed I had worked rather effectively in 2015, stepping into a constituency at the last minute.
I asked the chairman to see my candidate performance report. Here is a flavour:
“He is a larger than life character and became hugely popular with members and other supporters. He seized a lacklustre campaign and brought it to live almost single handedly… He worked enormously hard in the run up to the election and the result was no reflection on him … We were particularly impressed that he raised enough donations himself in just a few weeks to pay for the entire campaign. And he still found time to support a sitting Conservative MP in Pudsey who was defending a very marginal seat.”
As well as the verbal report, the feedback consists of marks from one to five rating the candidate’s performance. I was pleased to see that I had scored fours and fives. “Overall mark is 4 purely on basis of the lack of time we had to make a proper judgement of his abilities. It was a 5 for effort and energy.”
If you think this is dubious grounds for removal from the list, you won’t when I tell you that the small-print explains that a score of 1 is excellent, and 5 is poor. The way my scores were allocated was a mistake, and one for which I bear the person who filled the form in no malice. We all make mistakes: the mark of our character is determined by what we do about them.
At this point my story goes from muddle to travesty. Obviously I have brought this to the attention of CCHQ, but they have proved remarkably intransigent. Not once have they commented back to me; I have once again had to rely on a friend-of-a-friend to transmit the news that they are not minded to change my ranking. CCHQ have now reasoned that while an error may have been made on this form I did not apply myself more fully to campaigning in neighbouring Pudsey, too; “but you didn’t hear that from me” is the way most of these conversations end.
I think perhaps CCHQ do not know that only a month prior to the campaign my daughter was born. My eldest son is disabled and needs continual care; the necessities of a very young family meant I could not be everywhere at once.
And so the drip, drip of back-channel rumours has continued. It is hard to explain how much pressure can be brought to bear by a party machinery unwilling to admit to a simple mistake, and determined to stick its course whatever the reason. It’s easy to forget that those around you are caught up in it, too. Two weeks ago my wife, out of the blue, had a heart attack. She was wonderfully cared for by the doctors in London where she was operated on, and she’s now recuperating at home. Naturally, I have been at her side rather than lobbying my case.
Yesterday, finally, my first official communication with the party. A curt letter from the nominating officer (who must certify my position as MEP) – he has checked the list and could not provide a certificate because I was no longer on it.
Where did I go wrong? Should I have pursued an internship years ago, I wonder, instead of competing for Great Britain at the Olympic Games? Perhaps I should have spent more time in Westminster – instead I chose the less fashionable route of pounding the streets of Yorkshire for three general elections. Is Cambridge University so out of fashion? Should I have solicited more support from the Party Board when, instead, I assumed the overwhelming support of the Yorkshire party and electorate who chose me was what counted?
My unwavering commitment to the Conservative cause comes, at its heart, from a belief in basic decency, in fairness, in justice, and in an equal chance for all.
It is a faith that is being sorely tested.