Today sees the launch of a campaigning new website – MEP Watch – "aimed at bringing further accountability and higher levels of democratic practice to the Conservative Party’s European Parliamentary candidate selection process." MEP Watch’s launch press release declares:
"There is currently a debate taking place within the Conservative Party on how candidates for the 2009 European Elections should be selected. MEP Watch believes that the only method acceptable should be a system of regional hustings where every Conservative Party member in that region has a vote. We also believe that all prospective candidates, be they existing MEPs or new comers should face selection or re-selection on an equal basis. MEP Watch co-founder, Richard Hyslop said, “Existing MEPs have had five years or more working in their regions, if after that they cannot face an open vote of their own Party members, and win, then they do not deserve to be re-selected.”
The campaign by Richard Hyslop, Chris Palmer and Andrew Woodman is certainly in tune with the views of Conservative Party members. Earlier this week ConservativeHome unveiled a poll that showed 78% support for a European ranking process that gave all regional party members a vote. Party Chairman Francis Maude is concerned that a full democratic reselection process might become very divisive and his fears are well-founded.
MEP Watch could become a powerful tool in informing party members of the real records of many of their MEPs. Only approximately one-third of current MEPs have been in constant support of the leadership’s desire to leave the EPP, for example. The next ranking process presents an enormous opportunity to nominate MEP candidates who are closer to the mainstream of Conservative opinion. The EPP-loyalist MEPs understand this danger and are coordinating attempts to ensure that their place on regional lists is decided by regional officers and not all members. The Conservative Party’s Board is expected to decide on the voting mechanism in the coming months. The Board has a poor record at protecting members’ rights. Under Raymond Monbiot it led the unsuccessful efforts to disenfranchise members in party leadership elections.