The MEP selection purdah is a farce
By Mark Wallace
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Predictably, there are acres of newsprint devoted to the EU issue in the press today - what should Cameron do? Ought ministers to be allowed to vote for the amendment? Is this a damaging split or a realigning of the Conservative party to a more popular position?
It's easy to focus so much on the big ideological debates that we miss the more mundane practicalities - and yet a party needs both the right policies and the right day-to-day infrastructure to win elections.
As it happens, while the headlines are all about Europe there is a practical debate going on too, about how the party uses its European representatives.
As reported on MPsETC today, the selection process for the European Parliament elections is now underway. With a list system demanding that we order our candidates as well as just select them for each constituency, it's quite drawn-out.
There is also understandable controversy about the fact that sitting MEPs, if reselected, automatically go to the top of the list, effectively removing the power of the party membership to democratically deselect them should they so wish.
But this time round attention is falling on the bizarre purdah period the party rules enforce. For the duration of May, June and July, all Conservative MEPs and MEP candidates are forbidden from speaking at party events, going out campaigning with activists, host visitors at the European Parliament or even send out their regular emails updating party members on what is going on in Brussels.
This is apparently intended to prevent them using their positions to drum up support.
But isn't that rather the point of selection processes? If someone goes out campaigning, makes great speeches to members and is doing good work in Brussels, that should be seen as a good thing - not skewing the pitch for selections.
It seems to me that through this farcical rule we are wasting a valuable resource, and giving MEPs and would-be candidates a perverse disincentive against going out and doing what they are meant to - campaigning for conservatism.