By Mark Wallace
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Yesterday, the results were announced of the ballot ranking candidates for next year's European elections (ConHome was, of course, first to the news and the full lists were published here).
There are two questions that arise from the process, (aside from the absurd rule by which candidates are forbidden from campaigning):
1) What was the turnout?
While the adoption of a postal ballot system in all areas except Scotland is a step in the right direction, giving party members greater power and opportunity to take part in the selection process, the published results are still rather vague.
Last time round, in 2008, this site campaigned for the full figures to be published from the ballot, including turnout. Those calls were rejected, at the time to avoid the embarrassment of revealing that several female candidates bumped to the top of the list had proved much less popular than several of their competitors.
It is very disappointing that despite the lip service that is paid to internal democracy, the importance of primaries and so on, this data has yet again not been published. I suspect there is nervousness at CCHQ that the data would reveal awkward facts about the scale to which party membership has declined, but concealing a problem is the opposite of solving it.
We will be asking again for the party to publish full turnout data and the total number of votes received by each candidate. In a democracy, party members have a right to know.
2) Were all the candidates fully committed?
As I noted yesterday, something strange happened in the results for Yorkshire and the Humber. Number Six on the regional list remains unfilled.
How could this happen when there eight candidates competing to fill six places? Well, it seems that three candidates must have turned down the places they were given by the party membership – presumably because they were too low to offer them a chance of becoming an MEP. I haven't yet spoken to Fleur Butler, Spencer Pitfield and Karl Poulsen about what happened, but the absence of all of them from the final Yorkshire list is quite bizarre.
Now, the place will be filled by someone co-opted by the Party Board – essentially meaning members have been denied a choice by those who told them they wanted to be candidates.
It's entirely possible – likely even – that candidates in other regions dropped out due to dissatisfaction, but that it was masked by a reserve being bumped up the list. That there were too many vacancies in Yorkshire for the reserves to make up the numbers is quite shocking.
A quirk of party rules means that if you are standing in the European elections, you cannot also become a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. One can follow the thought process of a candidate who is offered a choice between a no-hope position on the Euro list and a roll of the dice seeking a Parliamentary nomination, but choosing self-interest over the greater good is quite shameful.
Those candidates who have accepted low places on the list should be praised – they will flog around campaigning for the next year with no hope of reward, a great example to rebut the lazy assumption that everyone in politics is out for themselves. They should also be able to stand for Westminster if they so wish, as punishing them for doing the right thing is unfair.
Those candidates who refused to do such essential but unglamorous work should find their search for a nomination elsewhere harder as a result – is there a system to ensure their decision is noted by associations assessing their applications?
The question remains, why were such individuals put forward as candidates in the first place? Honour should be enough to ensure that candidates do not simply bail out when they don't get what they want, but the candidate assessment process should also try to prevent such incidents occurring in the first place.