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Hell hath no fury like a candidate scorned. Well, sort of…

April 25, 2019

I have failed.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to reverse a lifetime of standing on the sidelines by becoming actively involved in politics. What prompted this earth-shattering event was an advertisement by Change UK (The independent Group), or The Independent Group (Change UK) – whichever you prefer – for candidates to stand in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

I’ve been rabbiting on about the iniquities of Brexit for more than three years now, and I thought it was time to put my money (or someone else’s money) where my mouth is. Anything I could do, I thought, to thwart the ambitions of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, with its glossy ads and slick social media presence funded by money of unknown provenance, would be worth doing.

Change UK’s stated values map reasonably closely on to mine, so I thought why not? I didn’t expect to be selected, but if I didn’t think I had a chance, I wouldn’t have done the online application.

So I spent a couple of hours wading through the online form, blathering on about myself, my experience, my values and why I thought I would be a jolly good candidate. I also had to provide all my social media details in order to spare the Tiggers from being embarrassed by some awful tweet or Facebook post. I thought I was pretty clean on that score, though I freely admit to a few contemptuous (though not abusive) tweets about Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.

They also asked me if there was anything else in my background that might cause them grief. My answer was no. No criminal record. I didn’t mention that I’ve walked through a few wheat fields in my time and once, under the affluence of inkahol, I fell into a Norfolk slurry trench dressed in a white suit. Fortunately that event occurred way before it could be recorded on Facebook, and was witnessed only by a few close friends who have kept silent about it ever since.

I did my best to give a good account of myself – my experience of training and public speaking, of co-owning several businesses in EU countries, my knowledge of the Middle East and so on. Soon enough I was ready, and splat, off went the application. Not so fast, came the reply. Now we need you to complete the diversity questionnaire. Age (oh dear, that’s torn it), ethnicity, religion and some other stuff I can’t remember. No bother – it was a bit like applying for a credit card without the questions designed to expose me as a money launderer or a serial bankrupt.

And that was it. Nothing more to do except look at the EU videos about being an MEP and sit back and wait.

As the days ticked on, I waited for the call to tell me I’d been shortlisted, and would I come for an interview? It never came. I wasn’t surprised, after all, they said that there would be hundreds of applications for only seventy places. It turned out that there were over three thousand. But still, there could have been two thousand nine hundred and thirty idiots.

Eventually it dawned on me that I must have been considered one of the idiots. I received confirmation of my idiot status when I received a nice email from Anna Soubry, one of the Change UK MPs, informing me that I had been cast into the outer darkness. Well, not quite. There was an amazing bunch of quality candidates, she said, or words to that effect. Hang in there, she said, you can always apply to stand for local councils, the UK parliament or to be a police commissioner.

Yes, I imagine I could. Local councils don’t appeal though. Arguing in a council chamber about the traffic lights on Acacia Avenue, or why all the roads in my neighbourhood are pitted with potholes isn’t really me. Police and Crime Commissioner? That would be a very frustrating job, since I don’t believe in berating the failures of the local constabulary when most of their problems stem from the relentless budget cuts imposed by successive governments since 2010. And become a UK MP? I can think of better things to do than immerse myself in a metaphorical and physical rat-hole in which decency and self-sacrifice are values that have virtually died out, save for a handful of good eggs.

No, if I was going to get into politics, it would have been in the European Parliament, where I would have had the opportunity to get to know a few Latvians, Bulgarians and Luxembourgeois, eat lots of frites and sample the delights of Alsatian cuisine. That, and contribute in a small way towards reforming the EU and poking the Brexit Party in the eye. Gravy train? I have enough gravy. I would have done it on an expenses-only basis. It would have been a fantastic experience.

Anyway, it was not to be. Change UK rolled out their list of candidates, and I was not one of them. Gavin Esler, former BBC journalist, Rachel Johnson, Boris’s sister, and a smattering of barristers and former MPs and MEPs were among those who did make the cut. All worthy people with far more relevant experience than me. Beyond the celebrities, there were plenty of folk I’d never heard of. Supposedly ordinary people lifted out of obscurity for their moment on the national stage. I googled a few of them to try and understand why they had been deemed more suitable than me, but I was none the wiser in most cases.

Then, shortly after the list was announced and some of the candidates had been paraded in front of a Change UK press conference, came the news that two of them had resigned because they had said some dodgy things in the past on Twitter. One of them had made a snide remark about Romanian pickpockets, and the other, the number one candidate in Scotland, according to a Scottish newspaper, had written something about being chased by a black prostitute in Holland, and had posted another tweet comparing the intimate female odour with that of anchovies. At the time of writing, a third candidate is rumoured to be teetering on the brink because of a me-too offensive tweet.

So much for the social media due diligence, I thought – can’t have been that thorough. I awaited for the call from the bench, but alas, none came.

I looked as hard as I could for some background on the offending candidates, but found very little. One of them appears to be a martial arts fighter and former wannabe Conservative councillor. The other – the Scottish number one – is reported to be writing a PhD thesis about a Scottish-German anarchist who in the 1930s wrote in praise of paedophilia. He withdrew his candidature out of apparent concern for his mental health after a journalist discovered his questionable tweets.

Assuming this information is correct, my immediate reaction was that if these people were the best Change UK could come up with, it doesn’t say much for the rest of us who never made it to the starting line. Then I discovered that the shortlisting had been carried out by an unspecified third party. So it’s entirely possible that my carefully crafted application never got as far as a Change UK grandee.

More questions occurred. What sort of “third party” makes a living out of selecting candidates for political office? And based on what criteria? Using what methodology?

Here’s my theory. They would have started by creating a list of luminaries – well-known public figures like Rachel Johnson, Gavin Esler, Stephen Dorrell and so forth. These people may or may not have applied through the normal channels. They may have contacted one of the leaders directly.

The rest of us would have been handed over to the third party – probably a political consultancy specialising in data – for sorting. With three thousand applications to wade through in a very short time, I would say that the first cut was made on the basis of the demographic information supplied in the diversity questionnaire. They would have made shortlists for each constituency using some form of ranking system based on location, age, ethnicity, gender and religion. If they were smart, they would have mapped their shortlists on to the demographics and political complexions of the constituencies – London, South East, South West, Scotland and so forth.

Only then would the top-ranking applications in each region have reached the party decision makers, followed by due diligence and interviews with the favoured few.

My guess is that I never made it to the shortlists. After all, in the South East there were most likely plenty of opinionated, white, aging businessmen with no political experience to choose from, and plenty of luminaries who would have been given first place in the queue. Though not in Scotland, it seems.

Whatever the method of selection, my political career appears to be over before it has started. Am I bitter, twisted or consumed with Iago-like envy? Not really. A bit miffed perhaps, because I felt that I had plenty in terms of ideas, skills and personal qualities to offer, and the referees who agreed to speak for me presumably felt the same (unless they were just being kind). But then I would think that, wouldn’t I?

I hold no grudge against Change UK. In fact I wish their candidates luck should the elections actually happen. Realistically it would seem that only a handful have a chance of being elected, so for the rest the prospect will be plenty of hard work followed by disappointment, but a marker set down for the future.

As for me, I have no desire to set down markers. My time is relatively short. I shall lick my wounds back in my virtual castle, and continue to churn out views about politics and other stuff for all who care to listen.

In retrospect, if I’d wanted a political career, I should have laid down the foundations thirty years ago. But would I have liked to become one of those red-faced barflies in Westminster arguing each other to death about Malthouse amendments and backstops? I don’t think so.

Life is short. There are places to go, people to see and things to be thought. And that’s good enough for me.

From → Politics, UK

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