To be sung to the tune of 'Wild Rover'... "I've been a Returning Officer for many a year, and I've spent all my money on ballots and stamps."
Indeed, I've been a Returning Officer for many years now, and genuinely felt that we ask an awful lot in the pursuit of candidates for mostly hopeless causes. I wrote an article for Liberator nearly two years ago in which I outlined the timetable for a normal candidate selection which ran to 82 days from the placing of the advert to the hustings meeting. I didn't even start on the time it takes to get to the point where the advert can be sent...
In any event, I ended my piece by asking people to make suggestions. For the most part, what responses there were related to the campaigning element, which in itself has little or no impact on the resource wastage that now applies.
Alright then, what do I think then, if I'm so clever? How about this. Abolish selection committees.
Invite the Local Party Executive to draw up a constituency profile, place a standard advert, issue a standard form and request a political CV of no more than two sides of A4 in a font of no less than 10-point, and put all of the applicants before the members.
They've all been through an approval process so presumably meet minimum standards, and removing the usually self-appointed selection committee prevents such a group from imposing any biases they might hold, subconsciously or otherwise, on both applicant and membership alike.
If there are a lot of applicants, have a all member run-off to establish a final shortlist of five. It would certainly test the skill and enthusiasm of the applicants, would engage members and, even better, be fun. Combine that with campaigning rules that positively encourage the use of new media (so much cheaper than paper and postage), and we might even learn a thing or two!
There is even a bonus in terms of diversity, in that women and ethnic minority applicants would have less barriers to overcome. Better still, the need to provide selection committee training would disappear, one of the major bottlenecks in the current system.
As a returning officer, I'd have less paperwork to worry about, as all I'd have to do is deal with protests and ensure that the paperwork was issued on time before attending the hustings and counting the ballots. I could handle more selections, removing another oft-reported bottleneck.
Is that radical enough?