Are local parties threatening Cameronâ€™s remodelling?
In South West Norfolk, the selected Tory candidate faces deselection, the stated reason being the non-disclosure of an affair from some years back; in Bromsgrove, the sitting Tory MP has changed her mind about standing down at the election and now wishes to contest the seat. Apart from both being political fallout from the Expenses Scandal, the two stories could damage the Tory party, especially when taken together, and both concern events around local party selection.
Julie Kirkbrideâ€™s announced that sheâ€™d stand down earlier this year, after the second home arrangements of her and her MP husband, Andrew Mackay came under severe criticism. Her U-turn therefore brings back to the fore the expenses issue and puts the focus of it on a Conservative.
Local parties often have loyalties to their MP that means theyâ€™ll stick by them well beyond a point that a neutral would consider sensible and that may well be behind CCHQâ€™s insistence on a constituency-wide primary if she is to be re-nominated, a process that would provide some cover from opposition charges of being soft against expenses cheats.
All that might appear fairly forgiving towards a past misdemeanour were a different candidate not also facing selection difficulties because of something far less related to politics and far less immediate. The decision of Liz Trussâ€™ constituency association to begin deselection proceedings within a week of her being selected stands in stark contrast to Kirkbrideâ€™s treatment.
The message that might easily be sent out is that to the Tory Party, improper expense claims can be accepted, providing that the MP is sufficiently contrite and reimburses appropriately, whereas for an MP (or PPC) to be involved in an affair is beyond the pale.
Actually, itâ€™s even worse than that: the other party involved in the affair – a current MP – has been reselected, so the appearance is that itâ€™s only women candidates who should suffer in this way. All this plays to the Toriesâ€™ opponents who would like to run with a â€˜They Havenâ€™t Changedâ€™ message.
That the shenanigans in South West Norfolk would probably not have happened had Truss been an MP of ten yearsâ€™ standing due to the loyalty that builds up and may have much to do with local internal politics is beside the point: itâ€™s how it seems to the watching public that matters.
Will any of this derail the Conservativesâ€™ lead in the polls and likely progress to an election win? Probably not, but itâ€™s a reminder that a leader can only bring a party so far by him- or herself. Itâ€™s also the sort of thing that will help to determine how much goodwill the Tories do bring with them into office should Cameron become PM in the Spring.