I have, in the past, been quite scathing in my criticism of the PCA, and rightly so. An organisation whose past ineptitude its own Chair is able to freely admit, needs to do more, do it better and represent its members far more effectively than it has to date. The number of complaints I have received about their inability to even communicate with their own subscription-paying members is in itself a sign of an organisation that needs to justify its rank and position.
They claim to be a 'trade union for candidates'. I am a trade unionist (Public and Commercial Services, for those of you who are interested), and if my union was as useless as the PCA is, I'd be off sharpish.
In my three years on English Candidates Committee, I have seen very little sign of life. Their one attempt to propose changes to the candidate Selection Rules was marred by the seeming inability of the drafters to understand how selections work, what they aim to achieve, and how the Party works (no wonder so many of them failed 'Party Knowledge' on their development days!). The fact that, in trying to truncate the process, they proposed enough additional regulation to add three weeks to the timetable, wasn't exactly impressive. To make matters worst, after I had taken great care to shred the proposals to such an extent that they would only be viable if used as bedding for hamsters, the PCA Executive, who had sponsored the proposals, then denied any responsibility. To my mind, that was cowardice of the highest order.
So, having slated the organisation, what do I think it should do?
- Create a mentoring structure for PPCs. The Campaign for Gender Balance can do it - why can't you?
- Service your members properly - representing their views, providing advice on how to deal with difficult Local Parties, engaging in rules reviews, these are the things that I expect.
- Work with the Campaigns Department to draw up better guidance for candidates in winnable seats - what commitment of time is really necessary, how adjustments can be made to allow for personal circumstances.
- Make yourselves reflective of the sort of Parliamentary Party we all want - involve a wider range of people, find ways to encourage women and BME candidates to play a part in your activities.
- Create a central information resource, not necessarily 'Who's Who in the Liberal Democrats' but more 'Who Does What in the Liberal Democrats'. It would be far more useful to candidates, especially the less well-resourced ones, when they really need to know something.
And you know something, if they can't do this, then perhaps their status within the Party should be a matter for debate. Or perhaps the current PCA Executive Committee should fall on their swords and leave it to others more capable... like the new Leadership Academy?