Jonathan Isaby said on Conservativehome the other day: “My CCHQ sources tell me that the (Bromsgrove Conservative) association ‘requested’ that the selection be done under the by-election rules – a decision which I find puzzling as I cannot imagine why an association would actively want to surrender its right to decide the shortlist.”
The truth is a little less puzzling and, according to my sources, it’s part of a deliberate stitch up to ensure the seat is given to Charles Barwell, the Vice President of the National Conservative Convention.
As long ago as last summer, Barwell was tipped for the post and suddenly started appearing at local party gatherings. More than one PPC told me he was in line for the job.
To make assurance doubly sure, I am told CCHQ "accidentally" forgot to advertise the Bromsgrove vacancy to all approved candidates before Christmas.
In January, CCHQ told the Bromsgrove association that, as a result of its own "mistake", it was now too late for a fully open selection process.
The local triumvirate which runs Bromsgrove Tories went along with this – though many other members in the constituency are furious they haven't been given a fair choice of successor to Julie Kirkbride.
The net result is a shortlist with only one "local" candidate – Mr Barwell.
Not only were Bromsgrove’s local members denied any involvement in short-listing their candidates, they have now been told to brace themselves for a five-hour selection meeting on February 6.
It was intended that the members would only discover who the candidates were when they actually turned up. No doubt it was one of Mr Isaby’s CCHQ chums who spilt the beans.
Either way, the local high-ups are most put out by this apparent outbreak of openness. Bromsgrove Tories have a tradition of secrecy and cabals to uphold and they are doing their best despite the difficulties.
Take, for instance, the plan for the selection meeting itself.
It’s starting at 10am, participants have been told to bring their own refreshments (not even a cup of coffee is on offer, even at 50p for party funds) and that they cannot go again until the whole thing is over.
This is calculated to keep the annoying interference of the association’s 400 or so members to a bare minimum.
The members are not happy. But who cares about that?
No doubt the few far-sighted leaders of this association who will sit out the selection meeting to the bitter end will do as they’re told by CCHQ and engineer the selection of Mr Barwell.
Separately, another West Midlands seat, where the UK Independence Party is a serious challenge, has managed to select someone who has in the past campaigned to abolish the pound and replace it with the euro. Presumably John Maples, at least, is pleased with this.