New report confirms fears political parties are embracing ‘localism’ when selecting future MPs

A study into the parliamentary candidates standing at the next general election has found the major political parties are embracing “localism” during the selection process. 

A new report, released today by the political mapping and visualisation platform, Polimapper, provides the first detailed aggregate analysis of those set to make up the next House of Commons.

It finds that the existence of a current local connection appears to be the single most dominant characteristic of all those set to become our next generation of MPs.

With 105 of Westminster’s 650 MPs so far with plans to retire from frontline politics, the next general election is expected to return the highest proportion of newly elected MPs since 1945. As a consequence, there has been increased focus on candidate selections in recent months — but trends have been difficult to identify and trace.

Polimapper’s report focuses on so-called “prime candidates”, defined as a successor to an existing MP or a challenger in a key target seat that current polling suggests will be vulnerable at the next election. 

By mid-November 2023, 275 of these 362 prime candidates had already been selected.

Of the candidates making up this “Class of 24”, some 70 per cent were local to their constituency at the time of their selection, with a further 13 per cent able to claim they had been so at some point in the past.

The report defines “local” as living within the same district or unitary council area of the seat concerned. 

44 per cent of prime candidates have already been elected to a local council that covers some part of their potential new Westminster constituency. 6.5 per cent have served as the council leader or deputy leader of a local council.

These revelations will give fuel to the arguments of those who suggest that “too much localism” is diminishing the talent pool for future MPs

In an article for the Times newspaper published in April, former foreign secretary and Conservative Party leader Lord Hague bemoaned the rise of “localism” as a key factor in candidate selection. 

He wrote: “Only highly gifted individuals will be able to get their minds round this and also have the skills to govern a complex country”.

“Effective leaders will need to combine expertise with a deep understanding of global trends. In this respect, parliament is steadily heading in the wrong direction. The demands on MPs, and the basis on which they are chosen, are becoming more local, and this is usually, unquestioningly, thought to be a good thing”.

He added that the rise of localism “is tilting parliamentary selections against promising individuals who grow up in an area their party can’t win, or who can’t afford to relocate, or who have led highly mobile lives rather than being immersed in local politics”.

Polimapper’s party-by-party breakdown shows an active local connection is most advantageous for Liberal Democrat wannabe MPs, with 93 per cent of the party’s prime candidates considered “local”. 

Based on the data analysed by Polimapper, the Conservatives are the Party most immune to the lure of an already local candidate. But the majority of the Conservative Party’s prime candidates, at 56 per cent, were nonetheless local at the time of their selection. 

Comparatively, 68 per cent of Labour’s candidates were local at the time of selection.

In total, only 47 of the 275 candidates in the “Class of 24”, or 17 per cent, could be considered outsiders to the constituency in which they have been selected.

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Polimapper is owned by Senate Media Ltd, the political publishing company that also owns is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.