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Chris Heaton-Harris MEP: How to Select Tory MEP Candidates for the June 2009 election

Chris_heatonharris Chris is a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands. The opinions of other MEPs are featured on ToryDiary today.

There are obviously dozens of ways the Party could choose to select its lists of MEP candidates for the June 2009 election. Below I mention just two – the one I prefer as a Party Member and the one I would prefer if I was in the Party’s leadership team.

As someone who was “given a chance” by a single meeting of Party members, all of whom were given a chance to come and vote for their favourite candidate on a one member one vote basis, way back in April 1998, I have to say that is the system I hold closest to my heart.

Although there is always room for improvement; in fact, I think we should enhance this system and have proper US style Primaries to rank MEP candidates.

I was Chief Whip of the Conservative MEPs back when the rankings/selection meetings for MEP candidates were taking place back in late 2002 and early 2003. Thus, I do understand how the appalling system of proportional representation that gives us the list system can cause problems where you have more than one MEP in a region – but nothing that can’t be overcome by sensible Primary rules, a strict check on spending and equal access for candidates to an up to date membership list (preferably held by the Party centrally) and a postal ballot at the end.

Existing MEPs should be put straight into the final round and doing all the work they do, really should not have a problem getting through to being ranked high enough to win again.

This system has the advantage of having Party members buy into candidates and as someone who has direct experience of it I know that this proves to be a huge advantage for us at European election time.

Why? Well, to be fair, even though we underplay the importance of the European Parliament and European Commission to our peril, across the UK, people start yawning when you talk about Europe. As a candidate you need people to organise events for you and come out campaigning with you at election time and in my experience, these nearly always tend to be the people who took part in your selection.

And for the Party that brought one member one vote to the Unions, it seems a sensible extension of the practice.

The main disadvantages of this system are the cost to the Party financially and the “personal problems” it can cause between incumbents fighting to maintain or better their ranking in a region where there are two or more existing MEPs wanting to fight again.

The second system is quite straight forward and not particularly fair, but it has to be said that only around 750 voting members out of the possible 30,000 plus members that could have voted in the East Midlands region in the selections for 2004 could hardly be deemed a fair representation of the Party at large either.

Simply put, it is where the Leader of the Party selects who he puts on the list and where.

So if David Cameron wanted to give encourage more young activists he could appoint well known young activists into positions where they would become nationally elected politicians representing the Tory Party across the country. He could reward hard working Councillors or activists in the regions by recognising their achievements with three letters after their name and he could, if he wanted, appoint lists balanced perfectly by gender and ethnicity to suit each region of the country.

The advantage of this would be the Leadership of the Party could change the complexion of the Party almost overnight and it would cost nothing. The disadvantage would be that many Party workers would rightly be hacked off.

My guess is that the Party will end up with a mix of these two options: rewarding incumbents who want to carry on with high positions on the list and then filling the positions of retirees and the rest of the list with appointments from the centre.

Whatever the solution, one thing can be guaranteed – not everyone will be happy!


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