Labour’s next selections: the European Parliament. Here’s what needs to change.

21st May, 2012 10:15 am

Now I’ve freed myself from the nightmare of participating in the process personally, I’m at my liberty to examine the absurdities of the system for the next important selections in the Labour Party, namely for candidates for the European Parliament elections in 2014. If the NEC adopts a similar schedule for these elections this time as they did for 2009 the selection process will commence this autumn. With EU issues high on the political agenda in the UK and within Labour, and with the elections just a year ahead of a general election, it’s vital the Labour Party gets its processes right. For that to happen, change is urgently needed.

First a quick recap of the current system. Labour selects as many candidates as there are seats in each of the EP election regions – 3 for the North East, 8 for London, 10 for the South East etc. Party lists are closed, meaning a voter just puts a cross beside a party on the ballot paper, so the internal selection process within Labour determines who gets the prized positions at the top of the lists. The list of those successfully elected for Labour last time is here.

So how have these individuals been chosen in the past? Sitting MEPs have to pass a trigger ballot, as stipulated in Chapter 5., D, para 5 of the Labour Party Rule Book 2011:

… reselection of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) by means of a ballot of affiliated organisations and CLPs. MEPS who receive the support of at least 50% of the affiliated organisations/ CLPs casting votes in such a ballot will comprise the shortlist of re- selected MEPs. Any MEPs who fail to receive 50% support will have the same rights to nomination as other members.

The Labour Party in each region then appoints a board, and this board then decides the names of candidates to be put on the list along with the reselected sitting MEPs. So – to take the London example – presuming the 2 sitting MEPs re-stand and pass the trigger ballot, 6 new candidates will be selected, making 8 candidates for the region.

Then comes the rub.

The sitting MEPs – regardless of their performance or engagement – have always been put at the top of the new lists, with party members in a OMOV vote deciding the order of these individuals, and only then the order of the new candidates. Not content with having staff budgets, name recognition, press coverage etc., the rules give them the sitting MEPs an additional advantage. That’s why so many of Labour’s MEPs have been around for such a long time. Why not instead – as the Liberal Democrats have done – give party members a free choice between sitting MEPs and new candidates? Importantly this would be possible without a change to the Labour Party Rule Book, as the choice to place sitting MEPs at the top of the selection lists is not stated in the rules and has only been taken by decision of the NEC in the past.

Looking further to the future, it would be better still to eliminate the regional selection boards altogether, and move to a full OMOV system with the very minimum of patronage. Labour should also include in its manifesto the commitment to open lists for European Parliament elections, as Simon Hix has compellingly argued.

But for now the small change to mix new and sitting candidates would be a welcome step forward. Ed Miliband, Iain McNicol, members of the NEC: what’s stopping you?

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  • All those years arguing with you I never realised you might stoop to election!

    The Labour selection system damages, as you admitted, the input legitimacy of the European Parliament:

    This means we have creatures like Arlene McCarthy who abandon the interests of the working class and stick to channelling rent to intellectual property rightsholders. If you’re at the top of the Labour list, you’re basically unelected and can do what you want. Bring back single-member constituencies!

    • treborc1

       Totally agree the EU election now are the gravy train for people who have either given something to the party or are now looking to have one last  big payment.

      Little wonder why people do not bother voting.

      I should have more then just  passing say on the party, I should have a vote on who gets the gravy

    • Arlene McCarthy has been an excellent Euro-MP and has done very good work on a variety of issues.

      The problem is more the electoral system than the selection process

      • I agree the election system is the biggest problem. But we have to start where we can. The small change I propose would be a welcome step forward. And if Arlene McCarthy is good (I don’t know her, so have no idea) then she should have nothing to fear.

  • Interesting article. I had no idea this was how Euro selections within Labour were run; I have a vague recollection of selecting my top two preferences for the West Midlands region a few years ago – but I had only ever heard of Michael Cashman MEP.

    I’m also sorry to hear that you’ve ruled yourself out Jon, I hadn’t seen that until just now. I was in Manchester Town Hall back in 2009 and saw Nick Griffin elected. If ever there was a moment to have good, strong Labour candidates genuinely rooted in the European movement and committed to the best of its ideal, it will be 2014. We need to defeat Griffin and do far, far better than the dismal 17% achieved in ’09.

    Good candidates are just the start needed and I hope you reconsider.

    • Thank you for the comment, but there is no turning back from my side. I’ll do my best backing other good people!

  • Dan Filson

    Most jobs have key selection criteria. Try writing one for an MEP. Say you run for London, how will you maintain any kind of relationship with your electors if only 2 of the 8 elected are Labour and London has 65 or so CLPs? Do language skills come as a high priority, and which if so? Does oral articulacy or the ability to make a persuasive speech matter, given how much speeches are delivered for the record? Does knowledge of the key British interests matter or can you reasonably assume “they will brief you” much as a Chancellor once famously observed “they give you the figures”? Obviously party loyalty matters and a core set of values would help too, as often the European Parliament is the custodian of Europe’s conscience having little powers over anything else. It might help if all parties nominated at least one fewer than the number of seats per region, since the chances of any party sweeping 8 out of 8, 10 out of 10 etc are remote. Maybe there should be more Party participation in the order on the slate, but you risk running roughshod over sitting members. The main thing I want is a manifesto and platform that moves the debate on from the sterile In/Out deadlock towards what WE look to the European Parliament to secure rather than idly preside over.

  • Mary Lockhart

    In 1999, I was Number 3 on Scottish Labour’s list for the European Parliament. Of course, the Labour Party ballot in which members voted for me as a non MEP was separate from that which applied to the two sitting MEP’s – both of whom, in my opinion, do a good job. Nevertheless, I received more votes from members than either of the sitting MEP’s. I knew and understood the system. Others clearly did not. The SNP said that actually I had come 4th in the ballot, but had been placed at 3 because of the Labour party’s zipping system – this was repeated in several blogs, and the Party declined to correct it, so eventually I did so myself. Then the SNP said that our process was undemocratic, because I ought to have been Number 1 on the list – still misunderstanding the system, probably with intent.! I don’t know what a better system would be – certainly, I had to take a long time off work, unpaid, to go campaigning all over Scotland, appearing at hustings where no Labour members came to support, driving for 5 hours on my own to a hall in a village in which there was not so much as a poster….and all in the knowledge that, short of a miracle, I would not be elected to the European Parliament. And I have to say – that felt very unfair!


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