Conservative MPs and candidates are, it’s fair to say, pretty exhausted this afternoon after last-minute campaigning for the local and European elections and all-nighters watching the results come in. But with the Newark by-election drawing closer, they’re not flopping into their beds just yet. All candidates have been summoned to a 10am briefing in Newark on Sunday. They were only told on Monday that the meeting was taking place, and that it was compulsory, with Grant Shapps demanding a personal explanation from those who cannot make it.
The email says:
‘There will be a briefing meeting for everyone on the Candidates List on Sunday 25th May at 10.00 am in Newark, which will be followed by delivering.
‘I expect all candidates to attend this important briefing, therefore, please save the date and time – further information will follow later this week. Please email me personally […] if you are *unable* to attend explaining why.’
This has not gone down very well in some quarters. Remember candidates pour a significant amount of time and resources into campaigning, and not always for seats they have a reasonable chance of winning. They have to leave their paid jobs or take extensive leave from understanding employers in order to fulfil their duties as a candidate. Some might say that this is just the way things are, and if you’re mug enough to want to become an MP, you should jolly well belt up. But the problem is that this then narrows the field of people prepared and able to make these sacrifices to campaign in elections when they do not know whether they will get the seat. It is like spending months interviewing for a job, paying to attend those months of interviews, and not having a clue whether you’ll get the job at all, unless you’re lucky enough to be campaigning in a safe seat.
One candidate tells me:
‘If the briefing is so important, how come [Shapps] only gave us five days’ notice? He is either incompetent or out-of-touch, neither of which is particularly good for a politician. I suspect he is out-of-touch, as the email was sent three days before I went to the polls in my Lib Dem marginal ward which I’ve been working every night for months. The Candidates’ Department keeps asking me about what I’m up to politically, so they should be able to flag that I’m doing my best for the Conservative Party.
‘And why are we using people who should be some of our most articulate campaigners (given that we’re on the candidates’ list) to deliver? I will, of course, go. But it does feel a bit like Downfall, with orders being screamed at us by someone slightly removed from reality.’
Another candidate’s response was ‘Shapps can fuck off’, which suggests either that Shapps is like a fearsome sports coach whose charges hate him right up until the point they win the prize he’s been pushing them towards, or that CCHQ might need to give the people desperate to represent them in Parliament a bit of a breather at some point…
UPDATE, 6pm: Funnily enough, the Tories don’t like this flashing around of a private candidates’ email (which Mark Wallace examined on ConHome here). A Conservative source says:
‘We want candidates who roll up their sleeves and work hard for the party and most do a brilliant job. But if a few people don’t want to work hard, believe me they won’t stay a candidate for long.’