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Tory 'watch-list' of 'potentially embarrassing' candidates

Michael Crick | 12:48 UK time, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Conservative Party high command is so worried about some of David Cameron's Parliamentary candidates that they've started holding meetings every two weeks to monitor what they call a "watch-list" of those "have the potential to embarrass the Party".

This is revealed in the minutes - leaked to Newsnight (download them here (pdf)) - of a meeting of senior national officials - the party's deputy chairmen and vice chairmen - held on 28 October last year.

The minutes say:

"Care needs to be taken over the candidates that have the potential to embarrass the Party - there will now be a fortnightly meeting to assess the watch-list of candidates, and the reasons they are on the list needs to be taken into consideration."

And the document shows that a Conservative Central Office official has even been appointed to keep a close eye on what these potential trouble-makers get up to:

"The public output e.g. blogs, websites, press releases of candidates will [sic] now to be monitored by a new member of the CRD team," the minutes read. "Let JM or Stephen Gilbert know if there are any problems with candidates - de-selection should be the last option." [JM is probably John Maples MP, the Deputy Chairman in charge of candidates.]

The minutes make it clear, however, that Central Office thinks that local associations are often a bigger problem than individual candidates.
"But there is nothing to deal with the awkward associations - senior volunteers to help?"

And the party is taking measures to keep their potential candidates on message, even before they have been elected, according to the leaked report - by arranging for candidates to meet the Chief Whip at Westminster, Patrick McLoughlin:

"The Chief [Whip] is keen to meet with the candidates so they can get used to being line-managed by the Whips' Office."

Line managed? An interesting phrase.

The minutes show that despite David Cameron's slogan of 'Power to the People' - reiterated in spirit in his economy speech this week - when it comes to his own party organisation he is more centralist than ever, and that Central Office doesn't fully trust its candidates or local associations. In monitoring candidates and their output so closely, the Conservatives have clearly adopted many of the techniques honed by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair for New Labour in the 1990s. These were designed to ensure that the new Labour MPs elected in 1997 were less troublesome than many of their predecessors.

What will also concern many candidates and grassroots activists is the suggestion in the minutes that extra resources may have to be pumped into constituencies which have candidates who are female or come from ethnic minorities. This seems designed to save the party from the potential that such seats might be lost in disproportionate numbers.
"Of 250 candidates, 70 are women and 10 are of an ethnic minorities [sic] - something extra needs to be done to ensure that these ones are not lost."

In response to a questions from Newsnight, a Conservative Party spokesman refused to identify the candidates with "the potential to embarrass the party".

But he said: "It is quite standard for political parties to monitor their candidates - it would be extraordinary if they did not."


  • Comment number 1.


    The appropriate reaction of a wise electorate would be to: SPOIL PARTY GAMES.

  • Comment number 2.

    Welcome back.

    Yes, I can see this is pretty much the political headline grabber needed to kick off the New Year after 'the break'.

    Nowt else of note, to be sure.

    The Newsnight editorial meetings must be a hoot.

    What a shot of Crick.

  • Comment number 3.


    Members shall base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and IN FAVOUR OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST

    Your MP will generally do everything he or she can to help constituents, but will not feel able to support every cause, nor will he or she be able to get the desired solution to every individual problem. Members may not be able to support one constituent if in doing so they will deprive another. At times a constituent’s demands may conflict with party policy and YOUR MP WILL HAVE TO DECIDE WHERE THEIR FIRST LOYALTY SHOULD LIE. The Member may think that, in any case, a majority of constituents would support party policy – after all that is likely to be one of the reasons why they elected him or her.


  • Comment number 4.

    What a non-story.

    We all know that this goes on in all the major UK political parties.

    Why not do an exposé on how Labour manages it's PPCs, especially now Mandelson is back in the fold.

  • Comment number 5.

    With the Evening Standard reporting that Caroline Spelman is shortly to be cleared of any wrongdoing in the so-called 'Nanny-gate' affair, it seems as though Mr. Crick has scraped around at the bottom of a barrel to find another anti-Tory story to make a huge deal out of.

    I trust that if and when Spelman is cleared, Mr. Crick will make a public apology for smearing her name in the mud?

  • Comment number 6.

    Unbelievably poor and weak. The Newsnight Team owe us a whole lot better than this, surely?

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh for crying out loud. Nearly a month since your last blog entry and all you can come up with is an unfavourable story about the Tories.

    The BBC really has become a Labour mouthpiece, hasn't it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Your obviously letting the big stories pass you by because your looking for a job at GMTV with Derek Draper wife. Heres one it may be a little more important.

    The 1 Trillion pounds debt figures in the Pre-Budget Report are based on the UK coming out of recession and showing growth in the 3 Q 2009.

    Gordon Brown admitted in his Andrew Marr interview (Party Political Broadcast) Sunday that we will be in recession for 2 years.
    If Gordon is right this will mean 6 more quarters of recession than forecast 3 months ago in the PBR.

    The borrowing figures we are relying on are massively out and the amount of debt we are running up is now going to be far bigger than 1Trillion pounds.


  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Politics should be driven from the peoples wishes,not from the top down..........

    I personally would like to see more independent candidates as MPs ,people who truly represent the area they are elected for rather than some list picked school chum.

    But this is a very week story tbh we all know it goes on and will continue to go on as long as parties exist.

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm Michael Crick, and I'm Newsnight's political editor. My guiding rule is that in any story there's usually something the politicians would prefer the world not to know. My job is to find that out.

    What about labour MP's

    Labour has lead us into the biggest economic crisis in a 100 years and this is all you can find to report?

  • Comment number 12.

    Very weak Michael, I grow tired of the BBC being the Brown Broadcasting Corporation.

  • Comment number 13.

    Michael Crick bad mouthing the Tories? I never thought I'd see such things...

    Good to see that in a time of economic crisis the 'independant' BBC are looking after their preferred paymasters and ignoring their mis-management of the economy in favour of setting up Just Gordon for an election.

    As I have been told many times by environmentally friendly commentators - if it's Brown Flush it down!

  • Comment number 14.

    You Tory messageboard trolls are so boring. This is a very interesting story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Take your accusations of bias and go throw it at an asylum seeker.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Labour has lead us into the biggest economic crisis in a 100 years and this is all you can find to report?"

    Wrong - America did it, and the Tories wouldn't have done any different.

    And what are the BBC supposed to do - keep banging on about the crunch even if there's no new developments, with sole blame attributed to Labour?

    Bias goes both ways.

  • Comment number 16.

    Michael Crick suggests "What will also concern many candidates and grassroots activists is the suggestion in the minutes that extra resources may have to be pumped into constituencies which have candidates who are female or come from ethnic minorities. This seems designed to save the party from the potential that such seats might be lost in disproportionate numbers." in relation to the following minutes excerpt:

    "Of 250 candidates, 70 are women and 10 are of an ethnic minorities [sic] - something extra needs to be done to ensure that these ones are not lost."

    So it seems Michael Cricks ONLY interpretation of the above sentence is that ethnic minority or female candidates are less likely to win in Tory areas. This is a very narrow and negative view.

    Another (equally valid) interpretation is that in an attempt to prove the Tory party are no longer made up of white middle class males a little positive discrimination should be exercised to help get the candidates elected. If you have a fixed pot of resources for electing all candidates across all constituencies, plus a belief that a group of them are currently under-represented then it seems perfectly sensible to target additional resources accordingly to help to redress the balance. I would view this as a positive interpretation (for the Tories) of the minutes excerpt.

    It seems to me in instances like this, and others too many to mention in Mr Cricks's reporting career, he almost always takes the negative view of the Tory party and their intentions. In some cases appearing to actively go out of his way to do so.

    I just do not believe he is a balanced reporter.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh dear Michael, you have rattled some tory cages on this blog!

    Perhaps the tories also have a dept. to make BBC blog accounts and post in large numbers on any blog they find unfavourable.

  • Comment number 19.

    Come on. Every political party over the years has endorsed candidates later found to be fraudulent, loopy or just plain inadequate. Some always slip through selection filters, and vigilance must prevail. This is not news.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.


    Of course they get through - how else would we get leaders such as Thatcher, Blair and Brown? Or did some underpaid technician put the filters in the WRONG WAY ROUND in the party machine?

  • Comment number 22.


    All political parties vet candidate, they keep an eye on potential problem people, and try an encourage more diversity in their candidates, so your 'story' amounts to nothing.

    And you get paid for this, amazing.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well, the fact is that constituency associations like to feel independent from central office, and every now and again will pick a candidate through a process reflective of a desire not to be pushed around. And within that group, every now and then, it will go wrong. After all, you don't really want a candidate who turns out to have been a former Labour donor and where a picture of him smiling and shaking hands with, say, Tony Blair can easily be dug out. So, central office want to put in place a procedure to stop that happening.

    Likewise, where, for example, a woman candidate has been selected, they don't want to present an open goal by there being the slightest suggestion that the party was back on its heels about providing full support. So they are taking action to stop that too.

    Well, what a fascinating story. The fact that you consider it to be news suggests that Labour don't do the same thing - after all, no-one would know more about the operation of the Labour party than your good self!

    So what new things do we know? I would suggest that we now know that there is some degree of professional organisation of the Tory party, beyond what there is in Labour.

    Does that sum up your message, Mr Crick?

  • Comment number 24.

    zargonscrunty @20: I respect your right to your opinion, I really do, however the same could quite easily be said about yourself.

    Your post manages in about 50 words to imply that the majority of Tories hate minorities plus they also hate their own minority who apparently don't, plus that the majority of Tories are also against positive discrimination. Oh and you also imply that Im a Tory (or Tory activist or something). Impressive stuff. It's good to see there are still people with open minds unencumbered by stereotypes and inherited world views.

    I stick to my view that Mr Crick sometimes displays a lack of impartiality and think equating his lack to mine is disingenuous as he is a reporter, the political editor of newsnight no less and whose opinion influences and informs millions of people. A position that IMHO requires absolute impartiality (at least as an ideal) as a prerequisite. On the other hand Im just a lowly member of the public, like you.

  • Comment number 25.

    Newsnight you have all of the Journalistic integrity of GMTV

    Derek Draper
    rapid rebutall unit is active on this blog as well.

  • Comment number 26.


    Zealots do not make good rulers. Zealous adherents to any one faction, do not make rational assessments of issues and individuals. Small wonder 'zealot' is spelled with a Z.

  • Comment number 27.

    Journalists trawl MP's/candidates' speeches, leaflets and websites looking for any divergence from the party line, then try to make a story out of it.

    So parties try to ensure consistency of message.

    So big deal!

  • Comment number 28.

    This is getting so predictable. What a none story. Don`t you think all parties have been doing the same for years, particularly with an election in the offing?

    If this is the best that senior BBC journalists can do then heaven help us.

    Their reporting so far in 2009 has been abysmal. All none stories with no criticism whatsoever of this government, only of the opposition.

    Why is the BBC so in bed with Nu-Labour?

    Why hasn`t the PM been put under the microscope like the opposition has? Where was Gordon Brown when the Israeli conflict kicked off? - gone walkabout as usual.

    Why no indepth analysis of his financial rescue plan. Why no asking of the PM for the reasons why his plan is not working?

    Why no asking of him as to what his long term plans are when the bill for the billions spent on the credit crunch land on the treasury mat. Where is he going to make cuts? The BBC are quick enough to point out the opposition plans and encuorage Labour ministers to poor scorn on them. But the "reporting," is all one way.

    Pretty pathetic really. These seasoned BBC reporters are letting this governemnt have a free rein; but fall over themselves when feed something inoxuous which they then make into headline "news" with which to beat the opposition about with.

    Its gonig to be a very long year at this rate!!

  • Comment number 29.

    Moderators: zargonscrunty's post #17 which I replied to in #24 (which btw I erroneously numbered as #20) has for some reason been referred to you.

    Whilst I didn't agree with the post at all I can't for the life of me understand why it has been removed.

    Free speech is just that, free .. and zargonscrunty's post has just as much right to be there as mine.

    Please could you reinstate his post #17.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 30.

    Mr Crick's blogs are more like those from a provincial newspaper's cub reporter than Newsnight's political editor. We really are entitled to much better but it seems that Mr Crick has made a New Year's resolution to continue with the same lamentable performance that he produced throughout 2008.

  • Comment number 31.

    Perhaps the Beeb should have one, that would have saved you alot of embarrassment in the past eh?

    I don't blame the conservatives for keeping an eye on people. I should hope they do keep their people in order.

    Pity you don't ensure some unbiased reporting once in a while.. I have nearly given up on all your programmes, especially those concerning current affairs.

    I'm all for the BBC starting their own list of getting rid of unbiased reporters!!!!

  • Comment number 32.

    Was Crick really the best the BBC could find....My dog could do a more professional job..He`s a labour lovvie who doesnt even make the slightest attempt to be neutral ....and of course as he`s employed by the beeb they cant get rid of him...........The man`s a clown and one of the reasons I`ve stopped watching Newsnight.

  • Comment number 33.


    it's up to the electorate how they vote, and if they're stupid enough to be manipulated by party politics then I'm afraid that's what they'll get, none of this is new

    vote for people instead of a coloured rosette

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm a Labour Party member and activist but struggling to understand why this is an embarrassment to the Tory party.

    Can we just be a bit more grown-up, BBC?

  • Comment number 35.

    My guiding rule - something the politicians would prefer the world not to know. My job is to find that out.

    October minutes of a very uneventful meeting?? World shaking

    What about the appointment of the previous head of the lacklustre SFA, Micheal Foot (surely not him) being appointed to identify and analyse Britain's Offshore Tax Havens.
    He then stated publicly that he could not find any regulation failures - yet the NAO found and reported on plenty last year.

    Now this is a real case that meets your initial criteria - but since it only effects government incompetence, perhaps it is out of bounds for the bbc?

  • Comment number 36.

    The story is, of course, banal and irrelevant. Mr Crick has tried his best to spin something dark out of it, but (looking up and down the comments here) he has failed dismally.

    The only thing we are left with is the sneaky little warning to CCHQ that they have a mole amongst them.

    But, Mr Crick, you should have a think about all of this. I know no-one has a higher opinion of you than you do yourself, but do you really think that some disaffected Tory would have you at the top of their list of people to blab to?

    If I were you, and I wake each morning grateful that I am not, I would wonder if I was the target of a little sting operation.

  • Comment number 37.

    Oh for goodness sake!

    A month has passed and this is the BEST this blog can come up with..

    I thought it was bad over at Nick's blog - but this is the same - the whole Brown Broadcasting Corporation is riddled...

    And before the Labour apologists try accusing EVERYONE who wants to see HONEST UNBIASED POLITICAL REPORTING - go through the blogs here and Nick's and try and find one where there has been a political nosebleed from anyone in Govt....go on, bet you can't find any at all!!

    I couldn't give a rats ***s who is in power, but I EXPECT at least some sort of questioning of policies that actually AFFECT US - it serves little to no purpose to constantly bash any opposition that can't make any difference - it is fine if it is balanced - but this is absolutely not balanced....

    The problem with the labour apologists is the same as that with the Labour party themselves - cannot see the wood for the trees!

    And no - I am not tory, lib, lab, snp or any other - I'm just a person who will make a decision at the next election - what we expect from an organisation such as the BBC is unbiased reporting, questioning and holding members of the Govt to account.

    I am just sick and tired of constantly seeing on the BBC and it's blogs by political editors - a wholly biased propaganda tool...

    Carry on BBC - you are making my decision for me...

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm not surprised that the Tories are worried - here in Watford (which is has a Labour MP, but is a three-way marginal) the Tories had to replace their candidate because he was convicted of criminal damage against property of activists of other parties, sending offensive pornography, and poison pen letters wrongly accusing Liberal Democrat councillors and activists of being sex offenders, all over a three year period.

    Clearly some of the contributors to this blog don't think the BBC should investigate anything that could be seen as anti-Tory. In Watford, despite numerous complaints by the other political parties and a long police investigation, the Tories refused to take any action until their candidate was actually arrested!

  • Comment number 39.

    They are going to say anything, do anything even change their religion to get elected.
    They cannot change their ways of life, and that betrays them immediately.
    I am waiting for an unequivocal statement in print, that the conservative party will stop all future immigration and will work 24/7/52 to find and deport all illegal immigrants.
    Given that, I will consider their manifesto.

  • Comment number 40.

    Were it possible to discover an 'independent' voice accepted as such by all concerned, would everyone accept the judgment such a person comes to if it didn't agree with their perception? We really need some depth and length of discussion about possible or probable outcomes from a particular course of action, analysis and an avoidance of rude comments about politicians, etc. The current world situation is ghastly and could get a lot worse.
    Given much of the reported behaviour of the public including personal debt and violence some self monitoring could be a start.
    How boring if we had peace and less competition. Whom could we scapegoat?

  • Comment number 41.

    I am a Labour PPC (Castle Point) and can confirm that I am not managed by Labour HQ.

    I have a blog that is authored by me alone and moderated by me alone, too.

    See it here >

  • Comment number 42.

    more impartiality.
    fall on your sword...

    (or Gordon's sword, I don't care)

  • Comment number 43.

    do me a favour, some blogs have the nerve to say NN had a cheek to do a piece on the Tories after two weeks off, I beg to differ, this was in keeping with the traditional British way of going back into maelstrom of public life, a gentle piece on the inner workings and paranoia of the Conservatives, they do exist you know. If Newsnight had begun 09 with a serious piece on incompetant councils and their obvious failure in the gritting department, that would have got everyone's back up and sent us to bed feeling angry and full of venom for local authorities, better to play safe and do a piece on machinations of a party that has all the answers but when questioned wants to run into the kitchen and hide...well done NN

  • Comment number 44.

    Quick Crick

    Mr Motivator and GMTV has got the suckup lead on you with number 10.
    Well Derek Draper will show you how to make up ground.

    Just join th DD rapid rebutall unit
    Oh sorry you are founder member

  • Comment number 45.

    So now we know that we cannot rely on the Tories to reign back on the 'control freak' tendency of government if they win an election. They have caught the disease themselves.

    Is there nobody in the British political system who is prepared to stand up for free speech and individual personal liberty any more?

  • Comment number 46.

    I thought that most political parties have 'watch lists' of "potentially embarrassing" candidates in there systems...

    ~Dennis Junior~


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