Conservative candidates are refusing to say how they voted in last year’s EU referendum and appear to be erasing social media evidence on the subject, as Theresa May tries to unify her party around her vision of Brexit.
Some candidates are refusing to tell electors whether they voted Leave or Remain while their social media accounts — otherwise filled with political commentary — are strangely devoid of comment on the results of last year’s referendum.
The apparent cleansing of candidates’ Twitter streams and other online footprints comes after a concerted push to present a unified, compliant intake of MPs at the forthcoming general election.
Nearly two-thirds of the candidates listed for the top 100 Conservative target seats are, or were formerly, local councillors, suggesting that the party is looking to promote a new cohort that will prove less restive than previous intakes.
Some potentially troublesome candidates, including Daniel Hannan, the Eurosceptic MEP, were rejected. Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home, a Conservative-supporting website, said that political parties grew less enthusiastic about putting forward candidates with colourful personal histories when they had spent some time in government.
“The general political rule is that, as you stay in government longer, intakes become safer,” Mr Goodman said.
The play-it-safe approach is particularly striking when it comes to the candidates’ stance on the defining issue of recent years: last year’s EU referendum.
Half of the candidates for the top 100 targets have so little online or published evidence of their stance in last year’s referendum that it is impossible to tell how they voted.
For many of the others, the remaining evidence was tangential, such as their replies to other people’s tweets. Some, of course, already had enough of a public profile to feature in news coverage at the time.
One Conservative party insider suggested that, while he knew of no instruction to candidates to purge their social media feeds, it looked as if some guidance had been given.
“I cannot believe people who are political obsessives would not at this time last year have been expressing a view in one direction or another,” he said. “It would be truly remarkable if they were not.”
A party official, however, denied there had been any such instruction to candidates.
The determination to dodge the question was on show this week when Kristy Adams, Conservative candidate in Hove, refused three times to reveal to the Argus, a local paper, how she voted on Brexit. Ms Adams is seeking to overturn the slim 1,236 majority that Labour’s Peter Kyle won in the constituency in 2015.
She is not alone. Nigel Jones, a local councillor seeking to overturn Labour’s 6,275 majority in Ellesmere Port & Neston, refused to say how he voted in the referendum.
Nearly all candidates have either set up a new Twitter account solely for the election or are missing all tweets from June 24 last year, the day the referendum result was announced.
Mr Goodman said the determination to obscure evidence on the point was a “sign of the times”.
He added: “When they have their act together, political parties tend to want centralised control.
“This has never been more true than now, in what Theresa May regards as her great patriotic election.”
The analysis does not cover all new MPs because some new candidates on both the Conservative and Labour sides are standing in safe seats not covered by the survey. There are also likely to be some shifts between other parties, such as the parties in Northern Ireland.
Among those with a discernible position, Leave supporters outnumbered Remain supporters by 29 to 19. Another two Conservative candidates — Tony Caldeira, standing in Wirral West, and Mark Weston, standing in Bristol South — took up neutral stances on the issue.
If all the candidates are elected, it would mark a shift towards Euroscepticism because only two incumbents in the target seats — Douglas Carswell, the former United Kingdom Independence party MP in Clacton, and John Mann, the Labour MP in Bassetlaw — supported leaving the EU.
One ally of Mrs May confirmed that the key issue in selecting candidates had been their personal approach, rather than their ideology. It had been their willingness to work hard, rather than their views on Europe, that had determined who was chosen.
“We were looking for people would work really hard, roll up their sleeves and get out on the doorstep,” the ally said. “In that respect they reflected Theresa’s approach.”
Additional reporting by George Parker