Tim Montgomerie: Key test for Cameron's belief in localism

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The most important thing that happens today is that Liz Truss is confirmed as the candidate for South West Norfolk. Liz is exactly the kind of MP who will enrich the Commons: intelligent, an independent thinker, she doesn't come from a conventional Tory background but is nonetheless a champion of grassroots Conservatives. I hate to think how many good people have been discouraged from political service because of the intrusive public examination she has put up with over recent weeks.

The second most important thing is that Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) learns the correct lessons from this unhappy saga. Blaming sexism and unforgiving moralism will not do. The saga is more complex than traditionalism.

Members of mainstream parties have fewer and fewer rights in our increasingly centralised political system. New rules have prevented Tory party members from deselecting Europhile MEPs. The members' magazine has been scrapped. Attending party conference has become more expensive since they were moved from affordable seaside resorts to big cities. Michael Howard even mounted an unsuccessful bid to end the members' right to choose the party leader.

The right to select the local parliamentary candidate is one of the last rights available. Associations have been bullied by headquarters eager to hit artificial targets for female candidates. Selecting more women is important – but it would also be useful if the next parliamentary Conservative Party had more mathematicians and scientists and fewer lifetime politicians who never worked outside Westminster village. That would be real diversity.

Grassroots Tories get a raw deal from party chiefs and the media. In reality they have been adopting female candidates in almost exactly the same proportion (30 per cent) as CCHQ have been able to recruit women for the overall candidates list. If the Conservatives win the next election there should be at least 60 women Tory MPs. A good number of gay and ethnic minority candidates are also being adopted by the Conservative heartlands – challenging the caricature of the average Tory member.

Trust the people is a great Conservative belief. If Team Cameron trusted the membership in selection they wouldn't always get the candidate they wanted but it would be a good sign that they were serious about their commitment to localism.

The author is editor of the conservativehome website

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