Councillor Derek Tipp: Members' voices must be heard on MEP selection
Derek Tipp is a Councillor and Association Deputy Chairman (Political) in New Forest East, and Area Deputy Chairman (Political) for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Everything seems to have gone quiet about the decision of the Party Leadership to do away with the system of ranking our MEP candidates by means of votes taken at hustings open to all members. The changes were announced back in April when they were widely reported on this site and many contributors were outraged at the loss of members’ rights.
On behalf of the members of my own Association I wrote to the then Chairman of the Party, Francis Maude, following a unanimous decision by our Executive Council to do so. I reproduce the letter here with the reply which sets out the position clearly.
At a meeting of the New Forest East Conservative Association Executive Council on Friday 25th May 2007 a resolution was passed unanimously by those present calling for a letter of objection to the change in the selection procedure for MEP candidates to be sent to you on behalf of the membership.
Members strongly object to the loss of their democratic right to rank all the candidates, including the sitting MEPs wishing to be reselected. Under the new proposal those rights are being given to a select group chosen by their office and the ordinary member has lost his right to participate in a meaningful way.
If the four incumbents for the South East are approved by half of the regional selection college, there will be no opportunity for party members to select any candidate who is likely to be elected. The reservation of the fifth ranked position for a female candidate results in members being unable to vote for any new male candidate with a realistic chance of election.
Members feel that while they are being asked to increase their financial contribution to the Party they are being given less right to have any real influence in the way the Party is run. We believe that these important changes should not have been proposed without consulting the members, or even allowing any vote, or discussion, at the National Convention.
How can we advocate democracy when we are acting in this way with regard to our own members? On behalf of all our members I urge you and the Board to reconsider the question of MEP candidate selection and give ordinary members an opportunity to participate fully as they have previously.
The reply was as below:
Thank you for your e-mail and letter of 5th June regarding MEP selection.
As I am sure you are aware, On 23rd April 2007 the Board of the Conservative Party reached a decision on the method for selection of candidates for the European Parliament for the 2009 election.
Sitting MEPs that are re-selected (through a procedure similar to that for Westminster MPs) will be placed in ranking order by Party members in a postal ballot. Members will also be asked to place additional candidates in ranking order.
In the wholly exceptional circumstances that there will be no sitting MEPs who are women seeking re-election, and for this selection process only, the top position in each region below any reselected sitting MEPs will be occupied by the woman candidate who gets the most votes in the postal ballot.
Further details will be released in the coming weeks.
The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
So there we have it, members are due to lose their right to any meaningful input. I cannot see any similarity between the new proposals for re-selecting MEPs and the current process for re-selecting MPs. In the case of MPs there is a clear link between the Constituency Association and the MP, and it is quite possible for a Constituency Association to de-select their MP by a vote of the association membership. There is no such relationship between MEPs and an electoral college of Party office-holders. I cannot imagine for one moment that any sitting MEP will be de-selected by this process, which amounts to little more than a rubber stamp.
After that has been done the rest is an almost meaningless paper exercise in which I expect the majority of members will decide not to participate.
At a time when membership of all major political parties is at an all time low, this is exactly the sort of thing which acts as a disincentive to members. Today people want to be involved and to make a difference. The leadership is currently encouraging Associations to select their MP candidates by means of an Open Primary, to attract as wide a level of support as possible, and yet they are not bold enough to have the same process for MEPs. Under the previous MEP candidate selection process the large majority of sitting MEPs were ranked high enough to be re-elected with one or two exceptions, so what are they afraid of?
Someone said to me that too many of those in officer roles in the voluntary party are afraid to raise a voice to criticise the leadership as they have political ambitions of their own. That may be true for some, but there must be many others who could speak up for the membership.
There is still time for the Party to change its mind on this and I hope that readers will write to the current Party Chairman, Caroline Spelman, as well as encouraging their Associations to pass motions of objection. Unless members let the leadership know their feelings on this, then they will be assumed to have no strong objections, and yet more influence will be lost by the volunteers.