By Mark Wallace
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As if any further proof of grassroots dissatisfaction were needed, I've just been told by two sources that Richard Ashworth MEP – the Leader of the Conservative MEP Group in the European Parliament – and Marta Andreasen MEP – who recently defected from UKIP – have been deselected as candidates for the South East of England in next year's Euro elections.
This is significant not only because it suggests party members are becoming more willing than ever to flex their muscles on what they feel to be substandard representatives, but also because of the people who did the flexing. The regional electoral college is not the full membership of the party, it is their elected representatives – regional and constituency officials, representatives of bodies like the Conservative Women's Organisation and others who can hardly be described as disruptive elements, extremists or, whisper it, "swivel-eyed loons".
So not only will the Conservative MEPs be looking for a new Leader rather soon, the party leadership is in receipt of a rather unequivocal message. If even the reputedly tame electoral college is sacking sitting MEPs and rejecting defectors whom the leadership chose to let into the Conservative fold, they have serious problems.
Further to the above, an examination of the bizarre selection rules shows that today's vote – the most severe rebuke the electoral college can give to sitting MEPs – means Ashworth and Andreasen will now go into the general postal ballot of the membership.
As we have covered on ConHome before, the selection process is heavily biased in favour of sitting MEPs. Today's vote means that while Daniel Hannan and Nirj Deva have been reselected as MEPs, and thus have special privileges which put them at the top of the regional list, Andreasen and Ashworth lose those privileges.
Now it is down to the Conservative Party members in the South East to decide where on the list they should be ranked. Towards the top might offer them some chance of being returned as MEPs, anything outside the top two or three at a push would mean almost zero chance of re-election and as the shortlist will contain more names than there are seats, they may be dumped from the list altogether.
Assuming, of course, that after today's humiliation they decide to continue in the process at all.