I have just returned from the final selection in Tiverton and Honiton. A Conservative held seat in Devon where the excellent sitting MP, Angela Browning is stepping down in the next general election.
You might expect me to rant about how cheesed off I am not to have been the winning candidate for this most beautiful seat - but I can't because from beginning to end the selection process was really really outstanding. Why?
First the welcome pack. 75 people applied for this seat and 20 of us were asked for interview. Our invitation came with a copy of the "Welcome" booklet that is set to all new members. This 14 page booklet is packed full of really useful, welcoming information. It should be a showcase for all associations and I certainly will give copies to all those I know. It contains details on the Constituency, the MP, MEPs, local councils and councillors. It describes how the Party works both locally and nationally and gives helpful contact details for each ward. Lucille, the agent, explained "We ask people for £25 for their membership. I think it is good to give them something back".
Then the first round interviews. These again were highly professional with 14 different members of the executive committee representing different parts of the constituency. We were all asked the same probing questions - on subjects from foreign to national to local politics. Follow up questions were allowed - and at the end we were each asked for feedback on what we had thought of the process.
The Big Event, to which all members of the Association and other interested parties are invited to attend. We were each interviewed by Patrick Nicholls, a former MP and and now political journalist. The 100+ audience, in a School hall all had a clear view of the candidate and the sound system and microphones were excellent. Patrick greeted me at the door and said with a big smile "I'm not going to Paxman you"
He then proceeded to Paxman each of us - but without aggression! The questions ranged from Iran to Flat Taxes to Farming to local issues and back to whether we need a next generation of Nuclear Power stations. After interviewing each of us in depth the members were asked to vote for their top 4. Without prompting the members put through 2 women and 2 men.
Tonight, the last four of us "speed dated" with members of the Executive (the 40 or so members most closely associated with the running of the local party). We were then each asked to give a 5 minute talk on what we had to offer and then questioned. Again the questions were wide ranging - from George Bush's foreign policy to what David Cameron has done for the Party to local policing issues, affordable housing and how to restructure the NHS.
Then they voted. As I have said numerous times the best candidate is an outstanding local candidate and tonight there was an outstanding local candidate. Neil Parish MEP has already flown the flag for the interests of the whole of the West Country in Europe. He is making a huge difference to many people of the West Country in the job he has just taken on as Agriculture Spokesman in Europe and I'm sure he will continue to make a difference in Westminster. I wish him luck.
Above all that I have enjoyed this selection for the personal experiences
1. It is beautiful - tumbling rivers, green hills and the Union Jack still flying in the High Streets. Today I went to some very poor areas - where the newest car is at least 6 years old. Even in those streets there is deep pride - no vandalism, no graffiti, clipped hedges.
2. I have strolled along stormy beaches and seen the wreck of the Napoli in Branscombe - an eyeopener on our consumer society.
3. I have met some wonderful and deeply committed people - both amongst members of the Party and in all the members of the public I have talked to.
4. I got to spend a lot more time with my mum, sister and noisy nieces and nephews than I would normally do - they are in a next door constituency!
Thank you to Tiverton and Honiton