WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the lastminute.com scramble to find candidates willing to stand in European elections next month
Both Labour and the Conservative parties are scrambling around frantically for volunteers to stand as candidates in elections neither of them expected to held.
Emails were sent yesterday to members of the Tory Party from Gareth Fox, the Conservative Party’s “director of candidates”, which said, “we will be contesting the European Elections on 23rd May 2019”.
In his email, Fox offered only “due to the current situation” as an explanation for the rushed process. By which, of course, he means the shambles that is Brexit.
Yesterday at Westminster, the Cooper-Letwin bill became an Act of Parliament, meaning a probably longer extension to Article 50 – the declaration that the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union – and making it more likely that the European elections will now go ahead.
The ConservativeHome website reported yesterday that an official source at party headquarters said “it’s still Government policy to leave in sufficient time to not have to hold the Euro elections, but the Conservative Party is preparing just in case”. Which is nice.
Selecting candidates for elections which still might not take place, to a body which the United Kingdom may or may not be absenting itself from at some as yet undetermined point in the future, presents some challenges, especially for the Conservatives, who are permanently split asunder over the European issue.
As ConHome states: “The prospect raises several practical questions – how many candidates will apply for a race which was never meant to happen, and which the government still hopes to cancel; how candidates will be selected democratically in a short space of time; whether the Party has the money to fight such elections; and, if it does, what proportion of the heavily Leave-supporting membership base will actually campaign in them.”
The last-minute plea requested volunteers’ CVs by 5pm today to enable what passes for a candidate selection process.
For once, the Labour Party is ahead of the Tories in its selection process. They wrote to their members asking for European election candidates as long ago as… last Friday.
In the Labour Party’s email, they were a good deal more forthright about the reasons for the lastminute.com selection effort: “Theresa May’s bungled Brexit deal has been rejected by Parliament time and again,” they wrote.
“The political plan for our future with the EU has been repeatedly disrupted by Tory chaos and mismanagement. These delays mean that the UK might need to take part in the European elections this May.
“We believe that everyone should be able to vote for Labour at every stage of government, which is why we are implementing plans for the possible need to select candidates to fight in these elections.”
Labour intends automatically to reselect all its sitting MEPs, and to put out full lists of candidates, including replacing those MEPs elected in 2014 who have decided to stand down.
Labour’s hurried process has a deadline for people to put themselves forward of tomorrow.
The last elections to the European Parliament were held in 2014, and to a large extent prompted what got us into the Brexit mess in the first place: of Britain’s 73 seats at Strasbourg and Brussels, five years ago 24 of them were won by the Nigel Farage-led UKIP, with the Tories beaten into third place.
In Britain, the European elections are contested across 12 regions, using two different proportional representation election methods: a closed-list party list system (with the D’Hondt method) in England, Wales and Scotland, while Northern Ireland elects its MEPs using single transferable vote.
London has eight MEPs, four of them Labour (Claude Moraes, Mary Honeyball, Seb Dance and Lucy Anderson), one Green (Jean Lambert), two Tories (Syed Kamall and Charles Tannock), and the loathsome Islamophobe Gerard Batten, now the UKIP leader.
Inside Croydon reported exclusively last week that the Cabinet Office in Whitehall had told local councils across the country to begin preparations for the Euro elections, and that some local authority leaders in south London had expressed serious concerns about the public mood over the elections and Brexit.
“There will be people who find the prospect most unwelcome and who may seek [to use] the election process as an occasion to demonstrate their views,” one south London council chief exec wrote to councillors.
“I will be thinking… about the safety and security of the ballot, and of those staff who will be working on the preparation, management and counting of the vote.”
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