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?