I had a particularly interesting morning attending the Tories's Open Primary at the Ramada Plaza in Wrecsam, but the turnout of twenty six people was particularly disappointing especially as the Aberconwy selection process had attracted a 150 people.
The audience were invited to submit written questions to the 'independent' moderator who would put the questions to the candidates but none of the candidates were asked to address the audience directly. This gave the impression that the process was being stage managed with the moderator choosing the questions, and as it turned out the questions were bland and superficial with little opportunity for the candidates to express innovative independant thought.
There was one question which was challenging, and caught candidates out, and that was a question on biodiversity. None of the three answered the question particularly coherently but the Councillor from Basingstoke, Ranil Jayawardena did have a better grasp of agricultural policy and the relationship between Wales and Europe than did the other two candidates who are Welsh based. The succesful candidate, John Marek had a worryingly lack of knowledge of all aspects of biodiversity whether it be renewable energy or agriculture.
As for other questions it was all very predictable stuff about cutting waste in health and education...they just followed the national line.
One thing that did come as a surprise was Dr Marek's praise of Wrecsam Council and the excellent work it was doing compared to the previous Labour run Council, but it was all playing to the audience as 4 of the 26 votes available were County Councillors and part of Wrecsam's coalition!. When asked how he would encourage greater spend in Wrecsam he mainly batted the responsibility off onto the Council going on about the importance of 'localism.'
There was nothing in Marek's answers to convince the audience that he had thought through any strategic plan on what he would do for Wrecsam if elected. Marek's lack of preparation for this process was exemplified by his particularly poor hand written CV compared to the other two candidates detailed and informative biographies. My perception on reading Marek's CV was that he didn't need to try and the job was his by right, it was conceited.
The one area that Marek did go out on a limb on was the fact that he favoured Scottish style tax raising powers for the Welsh Assembly which is probably a new one for the Welsh Conservatives. The response to this question by Julian Thompson-Hill was mixed, he did favour greater powers but only when the National Assembly could handle the powers they had better!
My assessment of the three candidates were that Ranil Jayawardena was out in front, with Marek a poor second and Thompson-Hill a poor third.
On the first ballot none of the candidates had over 50% but Julian Thompson-Hill was eliminated and John Marek won on the second ballot, the numbers weren't disclosed but it was very close.
To sum up, there is very little enthusiasm for Marek amongst rank and file Tories and as one prominent Tory admitted to me that he was, "shell shocked" by the result.
I don't think Tory grass root supporters will be queuing up to help Marek's campaign next May.