Stephen King offers his take on the ‘preferred candidates’ debate in the Irish Examiner, arguing that parties need to bring more talent in from outside in order to remain (become?) representative and relevant. It is a strong case and he conjures a world of dismal halls, cups of tea and idiosyncratic selection choices which will be immediately identifiable to anyone who has attended a party meeting in Northern Ireland.
It is understandable that party members who have loyally attended such meetings for many years would be resentful of lists and the ‘blow ins’ they might comprise. Those who have been patiently working their way up the party hierarchy can find themselves sidelined and the prerogative of local members to select their own favoured candidate is circumscribed.
But if parties wish to attract the best talent and aspire to represent accurately the electorate they must compete to attract, then an influx of fresh candidates is the quickest way to achieve those ambitions. Conscientious political involvement is not necessarily an indicator of representative ability. Nor does winning the backing of a sparsely attended meeting of elderly members always demonstrate that a candidate will be attractive to a broad spectrum of voters.