David Cameron has decided the Conservatives will pick their candidates for next year’s elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) through open primary meetings at which members of the public will be allowed to attend and vote, not just party members.

The Conservatives used primary elections to pick several of their parliamentary candidates before the 2010 election – both in the form of open meetings, and postal ballots of every voter.  But the PM is reported to have been unhappy that this made some of his MPs too independent – notably Sarah Wollaston in Totnes, one of the leading rebels over the health reforms.  So Cameron has declared “never again” when it comes to primaries for parliamentary selections.

But the PM feels differently when it comes to picking contenders for the new PPC jobs.  Cameron thinks that giving the general public a say in who is chosen as the Tory nominees will deflect criticism that the new posts will be too politicised.

Two weeks ago 41 Tory backbenchers were summoned by the police minister Nick Herbert to a meeting in the committee corridor at Westminster.  Sitting alongside Herbert was Cameron’s political secretary Stephen Gilbert, a veteran party fixer.  The 41 MPs had been chosen on the basis of one per police authority area.  They included, for example, George Hollingberry in Hampshire; Robert Syms (Dorset); and Stewart Jackson (Cambridgeshire).  Many were fairly senior types who had missed out on ministerial jobs.

Their orders were to go out and find Tory candidates to fight the police elections in their patch.  But Herbert and Gilbert were greeted by a distinct lack of enthusiam from the 41 MPs.  It would be hard to find good candidates, they were told, when the pay is relatively meagre – in a range between £60,000 and £100,000, depending on the size of the authority.  Originally a salary of £120,000 had been mooted for the job, plus a car.

What’s more, many of the places where Tories are likely to win are smaller authorities in terms of population, so the pay will be at the lower end if the scale.  It has also been made clear that sitting MPs will not be encouraged to become candidates as it would trigger a by-election if they were successful, and the Tories would be in danger of losing any such by-elections.

But the whole process is a fraught with obvious dangers.  The Tory MPs at the Commons meeting questioned Stephen Gilbert as to whether there would be any process of checking candidates’ backgrounds and past behaviour.  I am told that in one area a strong local contender was suggested as a serious possibility. But then it was pointed out that he had a conviction in his youth for possession of cannabis.