The other Friday, I spent the evening at a Tory selection meeting. Apparently it raised a few eyebrows.
I haven’t said much about it because I didn’t think it was that interesting at the time. The Champ reported it as ‘infiltration’… which made Jude and I laugh when we read it. The truth, I’m afraid to say, is much more boring than the local press would have us believe.
The Tories, and Cameron, have been going on for a while about these open hustings that they have – open to the public and how they open up the political dialogue in a constituency. So when the local Tories said they were going to have one, I had to go along and see what was happening. I rang their office, said exactly who I was and what position I had in the council. A couple of days later Cllr Rob Bailey rang to say that there wasn’t a problem and that my ticket would be in the post.
Some quick stats: there were about 150 people there, apparently half were card carrying Tories (this was confirmed at the end of the night when they voted to adopt Owens as the candidate). By far the majority of people were well over 60 – a handful of us were under 40.
This was their showpiece public event, yet they could just about get enough members along that would fill a coach for a day trip to Harrogate. You have to wonder, when trying to overturn a majority of over 6000 votes, how the Tories expect to win with this front-line.
I don’t know where the rest of the people came from. I knew a few people: Alan Bullen was there for the mischief, David Sudworth to report it and David Braid to ask the Clause 28 questions. Everyone else, I guess, must have been family or friend of Owens.
To be honest, the choice was down to either Alf Doran or Adrian Owens. The other two (I’m afraid I can’t remember their names) must have felt that they were there to make up the numbers. I’m sure they’re good people, wives, mothers, whatever – but in the context on the night, they were poor calibre candidates. Alf seemed to be the stronger candidate, I can see why they chose him last time. However, the public hustings setup is always going to be biased to the local candidate – who ought to be able to drag in enough friends and family to swing the vote.
And there was no single transferable vote, which clearly could be confusing given the average age in the room. Instead we were given three voting slips – one for each round. I suppose it meant that there was more time to sup champaign at the back of the room (really, bucks fizz was being served – though it had all gone when I tried to grab some!) We’re used to single transferable vote in the Labour party – you make your mind up and you’re done. No second thoughts.
The other noticable thing of the night was that no-one was really blowing the Cameron trumpet. I expected it to feel like the selection meetings before the 1997 election. To be a Blairite in those days was to be a winner and people were falling over themselves to be ‘new’ Labour. Not so the New Tories (at least not in Ormskirk). No-one seemed keen to mention the C-word almost like it would lose votes on the night. The Cameron effect might be wooing people in Notting Hill, but not Ormskirk, Skem or the cities. Last Thursdays election results show that.
Owens must surely be looking at the long term. He must realise that a 6000 majority can’t be overturned with such a weak national position, so I’m guessing that he’s banking on a reduction of the majority at the next GE and then a second bite of the apple in 2014, or whenever PM Brown decides.