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