Nobody quite knows how the Brexit impasse will end. But whether we leave on the 12th April, stay for a short while or have a further long extension, one thing is clear. The UK will be heading for a General Election a lot sooner than 2022. Parliamentary parties and structures have broken down in an unprecedented way. Never mind the whips losing their authority; the whole principle of cabinet collective responsibility has been holed below the water line by recent events. The shattered pieces of parties elected to form the 2017 parliament will never be put back together.
With an increasingly divided and fractious parliament the inevitable conclusion is that sooner or later there will be an early general election. It might happen by accident or design but an election is the only thing that can heal these wounds. In this context, many people will suddenly scramble to get themselves a seat. 2017 has many grim lessons for those who left it too late or worse still turned up to an Association as the ‘central office candidate’.
This time things will be different because of members’ expectations. In all parties there is a growing disdain for the professional political class. Members won’t be fooled again by people in flash suits claiming to be ardent advocates of one cause or another, only to see their principles fall away as they ascend the steps of Palace of Westminster. Associations are being more assertive about what type of candidate they are looking for and the type of MP they will support.
The next general election is also likely to throw up a disproportionate number of safe seats. As many MPs relations have broken down with their Association. The days of MPs being selected by their local party on the basis of telling them one thing and being able to continue in office while doing the complete opposite at Westminster are coming to an end. We’ve entered a new age of localism and authenticity. With the rash of “remainer” defections and near defections at Westminster, Conservative associations will be on the lookout for candidates who genuinely share their world view. These safe seats are likely to be particularly wary of so-called “carpet baggers”. All the more reason for serious contenders to make sure they have built their ties with a prospective Association early.
Applicants will need to be aware of local issues that may affect the vote as well as past voting trends over the long term. Once safe seats like Kensington are no longer such great prizes but the shift in political loyalties is creating some good prospects north of Watford Gap. The views of local activists are also important – there is little point in a remainer applying for a seat who have just removed someone with similar views from office.
In this context, early engagement with a seat and the building of genuine ties and rapport are vital. Candidates with a history of local contacts and supporters are far more likely to meet with the approval of this more discerning audience.
One thing is for sure, whatever the result of Brexit UK politics will not be the same for a long time.
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