How long should we remember the MPs’ expenses scandal? Should someone who used taxpayers’ money to kit out their home and renovate their swimming pool be allowed a second chance at being an MP? The imminent selection of a Conservative candidate in Sevenoaks raises such questions.
Selections are politics in its most raw and spiteful form. The battles to be nominated in a seat where your party usually wins are the fiercest, nastiest and most consequential that many politicians will ever be involved in. Because selections matter so much – missing out a safe seat can mean your career is over before it begins – the resentments that flow from these battles can last for years and decades.
Right now, both Labour and the Conservatives are doing selections for winnable seats at breakneck speed, due to the sudden agreement to hold an election. Many of those selection battles are being overlooked by national media outlets, who are naturally focused more on the wider national issues at play in the campaign. Instead, it’s left to Mark Wallace at Conservative Home and Sienna Rodgers at Labour List to do invaluable reporting on some of the most important developments in politics.
Because selections matter, they really matter. The choice of who gets into Parliament and who doesn’t helps shape a party’s thinking and positioning, and thus the future of the country. Arguably the selection choices the Conservative Party made in 2010 and 2015 were crucial to the Brexit story: the arrival of a significant number of committed Eurosceptics helped push David Cameron into promising the referendum.
Some of the choices being made now could also matter a lot. In Labour, Momentum and the Unite union haven’t quite exerted the influence they might have hoped for, and their chosen candidates have missed out on some seats. The attempt to block Sally Gimson in Bassetlaw looks a lot like an attempt to nobble a strong candidate who had fairly defeated the unions’ preferred choice.
The Tories are making some big, big choices too.