Tag Archives: european-parliament

eu-uk

Why I’ll be voting “remain”

I decided a few weeks ago to break my blogging silence in the run up to the referendum, and the events of yesterday have somewhat concentrated my mind. I had imagined this article would be a magnificent rant about the lies and hate-mongering of the Leave campaign, but as I come to write this, I’ve found myself rather angered out.

Like many people with a history working in politics, Jo Cox’s murder feels close to home. I was working in Lib Dem HQ in 2000 when Cllr Andrew Pennington was killed by a constituent in Nigel Jones MP’s constituency office. I’ve worked the political beat in West Yorkshire. I campaigned for one of my friends, also called Jo, who also went on to represent the community she grew up in in Parliament. So yeah, despite having walked away from party politics, there are plenty of parallels in my own life to have given me pause for thought over the last 24 hours.

The referendum itself has become an undignified, ghastly mess. As a survivor of a previous referendum campaign, this of course has not surprised me one bit. What has surprised me rather more by how, as we near the finish line, I’ve found myself feeling quite as strongly as I did.

Twelve, even six months ago, I was feeling distinctly ambivalent about the EU. The way Greece has been treated, essentially as the sin eater for Eurozone’s shortcomings, has been appalling. The refugee crisis has been met with moral cowardice and indifference. Regardless of the TTIP’s merits or flaws (I’m genuinely on the fence), its secrecy has been, to say the least, undignified. For quite a while now, it hasn’t felt like the EU I felt proud to be a member of at the turn of the millennium.

The one thing I can say about this referendum is that it has clarified my thinking on that. Because the question arises, again and again, what the alternative is. I’ve heard countless people talk about how the EU is “undemocratic” – and yet not a single supporter of leaving the EU seems interested in a system that would be more democratic.

I can think of a number of ways in which the EU could be made more democratic. Opening up Council meetings, for example; there’s even a debate to be had over directly electing the Commission president (regardless of the pros and cons of that particular one, I doubt Jean-Claude Juncker would have had an easy time winning a popular vote). None of them whatsoever involve negotiating EU legislation in the same way that we negotiate bilateral treaties – entirely in the hands of the executive, with most of the work and negotiating done by civil servants entirely behind closed doors.

If we’re serious about improving the democratic scrutiny of EU legislation however, the most crucial place to start is home. Why, for example, are the committees which do the lion’s share of scrutiny of draft EU legislation, seated in the entirely unelected House of Lords? Why doesn’t our parliament scrutinise legislation as closely as so many other countries take for granted, particularly Nordic countries such as Denmark? In turn, if Parliament really wanted to give people more say, there are plenty of models it could adopt. None of these reforms would require agreement in Brussels – we could adopt them tomorrow if there was the political will.

If the EU ceased to exist tomorrow, the need for it would continue. We need trans-national agreements on standards; you might bristle about having to meet EU standards, but believe me you would bristle a lot more if you had to comply with 27 national ones. We need trans-national agreements on social and employment rights, because otherwise employers will face a Dutch auction, with the companies with the worst records in looking after their employees free to price out those with the best. And yes, all too often the EU, far from being an exemplar of free and open trade, is a cosy club of wealthy nations. But scrapping an organisation with protectionist tendencies with a free-for-all in which nation states will be under even greater pressure to roll up the drawbridge, isn’t going to solve that.

Most of the EU’s failings can be put down to narrow national self-interest, something which the EU exists to mitigate. You don’t solve that problem by embracing narrow national self-interest; I’d have thought that was self-evident. I’m actually not convinced that its main problems are institutional; predominantly, they’re cultural. “Europe lacks a demos,” by which is meant a sense of common identity and purpose amongst the people, has become a cliché, but it is nonetheless true and I can’t see an easy solution. Put simply, the vast majority of people just don’t feel a sense of ownership of the European institutions, let alone control. People struggle to name their MEPs and our media does little to report their work. As such, we have a set of actually quite open and democratic bodies which effectively operate in secret because so few people are actually paying attention.

It gets worse though. I think you could equally argue that local government largely lacks a “demos”. It is increasingly becoming true of national parliaments as well. Since 2009 and the expenses scandal, closely followed by the coalition government’s utterly failed programme of reform, the feeling that Westminster is unreformable and irrelevant seems to have set in. Increasingly, political outsiders are being invoked to ride in and solve all our problems, regardless of how unrealistic and futile their positions are. And it’s a global phenomenon: for every Nigel Farage, there’s a Donald Trump; for every Jeremy Corbyn there’s a Bernie Sanders.

What I’m getting round to saying here is that the problem with the EU is not rooted in the fact that we look to our cosy nation-states to represent us and solve our problems, but that democracy itself is in crisis because it is reliant on a sense of identity and common cause that we are losing rapidly. It’s a loss the left is struggling with more than the right, but even though the right is finding itself the beneficiary, it is becoming something shrill and even more incapable of providing reforms that don’t simply make things worse. Moderates who indulge their right flanks are being replaced by demagogic parodies of the politicians they have supplanted.

Not even countries with the best democratic systems are proving immune to this problem, which is fundamentally technological at root and thus irreversible (unless you consider nuclear apocalypse to be an option). Our problems are increasingly global ones. Our communities are too, even if they’ve become narrower. Walking away from the EU won’t stop that; it will just make our problems harder to solve.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of migration. Economically, we have benefited hugely from immigration and we simply can’t control our borders without international cooperation. There simply is no drawbridge to pull up. Where there is a clear failure in our immigration policy, it is our national failure to ensure that the wider public see those benefits – especially in the case of providing decent social housing for all.

The refugee crisis isn’t going to magically go away if we decide the leave the EU. The tight border controls at Calais aren’t magically going to be made impermeable if we go – and does anyone seriously believe that the price of French cooperation in that regard is not going to go up if we do? Laughably, the Leave campaign’s solution is a “points-based” system along the lines of Australia – a country with a higher number of immigrants per head of population than we do; and while they’re busy plastering brown faces on their billboards with an explicit aim to scare white people, they’re quietly telling Asian voters that they’d make it easier for their relatives to come to the UK.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more disreputable political enterprise in the UK, with the stakes as high as they are, yet it plugs into people’s fears and has proven effective. And does anyone seriously doubt that if they get their way on the 23rd, public dissatisfaction about immigration will get anything but worse?

I have no idea what the solution to any of this is. What I do know is that things will go downhill, much more quickly, if we vote to leave next Thursday. What I do know is that the EU, already under pressure as people across Europe increasingly vote for insular and and xenophobic parties, will struggle even more. And I know that those self-same xenophobes, whether they wrap themselves in Nazi flags or claim to be insulted at the suggestion that they have anything in common with fascists, will only lead us to more violence, death and bloodshed. Not a single one of these problems will go away if the UK votes to remain, but we might just get a little bit more time to breathe and come up with something that might work. And I can’t believe that close pan-European economic, political and social cooperation won’t be part of that solution.

This blog doesn’t make polling predictions, but if it did…

…they’d be pretty sucky. My roundup of polls on Wednesday turned out to be pretty flaky. I’d like to use the excuse that I was only reporting them, not endorsing them, but that’s for the birds.

First of all, turnout: Mat B correctly predicted that YouGov were probably over-estimating and he was spot on. This raises an interesting question: how can YouGov be so right on the polling figures themselves (Anthony Wells has hailed them as the closest pollsters) and yet so wrong on this statistic?

Secondly, the state of the parties in the North West. Here I’m on safer ground as I really wasn’t making a prediction and I didn’t turn out to be that wrong anyway. The Greens were quite close to beating the BNP (although technically, the “tactical” vote was to vote UKIP as they came closest to denying Griffin – the Green tactical vote message was indeed bogus as predicted by almost everyone) and the blanket media coverage of the latter compared with fact that the former were ignored was almost certainly a factor.

Does the European election result vindicate PR as I suggested? Yes it does. I’ve yet to see a council-by-council breakdown of the figures but it will almost certainly show pockets where the BNP were strong and which, under FPTP, they would have been able to target with impunity. They’ve got where they are today through their electoral success in local authorities around the country using the FPTP system to their advantage. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that if we didn’t have PR we wouldn’t now have BNP MEPs.

At the same time, it is incumbant on me to point out that if the election had been run under the STV system, the BNP probably would have been denied. 263,000 votes in the North West didn’t go to any winning candidate which would potentially have been counted if the voters had been able to rank candidates in order of preference. With the exception of the English Democrat voters, the majority of them would have gone to pretty much anyone but the BNP. And with less than one-ninth of the vote, the BNP would have needed those transfers to win. This is one of the great features of STV: it is anti-extremist but works by including more people into the process rather than less.

Regardless, it is clear that the public (at least the ones who voted) are starting to enjoy the flexibility that PR gives them. Almost exactly 2 in every 5 voters supported a party which is not represented in the House of Commons. It would be nice if in 2014 we didn’t have quite so many vanity projects running at once (Jury Team, Libertas, the Socialist Labour Party, NO2EU and the Christian Party all seemed to be living examples of what happens when you mix excessive quantities of self-importance and money together) but fundamentally there is no going back to bad old days of zero choice and foregone conclusions in European elections. What’s more, the appetite for genuinely competitive elections can only increase.

Ironically, the biggest losers in this election would have been Labour if it had been fought under FPTP. They’d have been wiped out (more precisely, their last vestiges would have been eliminated following their disastrous 2004 result). The Tories meanwhile would have won a massive majority of the seats despite only enjoying the support of 1-in-4 voters. That ought to chill any true democrat to the bone.

And what about the Liberal Democrats? Well, we did pretty indifferently. On the ground the party seemed to hold its own in target Westminster seats and ignore everywhere else. This is probably fair enough. What was missing was anything like a decent air war to rally our support in the rest of the country.

The party’s internet operation was stronger than in the past and the mealy-mouthed, look-both-ways stuff about Europe seemed to be less in evidence than during the past two elections. But the campaign was not wildly pro-Europe and failed to frame the debate in any way to our advantage. Much of that couldn’t be helped because of the tsunami that was the expenses scandal; we’ll never know how the campaign would have been different if that hadn’t got in the way. But there does seem little to suggest that Clegg was preparing to articulate a clear, provocative message about the Lib Dems’ attitude towards Europe in the way that he has been very good at doing of late (e.g. his position on the recall of MPs and expenses reform).

Some argued that what the party should have done is come out all guns blazing in calling for the UK to adopt the Euro as soon as possible. I’m a little ambivalent about the Euro (I’m not anti the Euro per se but I was sceptical of unbridled monetarism before it was fashionable and wonder how big the EU budget would have to be to ensure the Euro doesn’t unduly disadvantage whole swathes of its regions), but I can at least see the logic behind it. A core 30% of the UK population is consistently pro-EU and yet no party will engage with them for fear of alienating the other 70% who are either anti or (mostly) utterly indifferent. FPTP makes it difficult for us to engage with this constituency; PR makes it crucial if we are ever to break through this glass ceiling that we seem to be bouncing against.

Fundamentally, if no-one else is prepared to talk up the EU we are truly doomed. The UK cannot afford to leave the EU yet seems to be slowly arguing itself into a corner. Sooner or later this is going to come to a crunch; the quicker the Lib Dems find their voice on this issue the more manageable this situation will be in the longer term.

Ultimately though, we only ceded a little bit of popular support in this election in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It is hard to be too critical of the Lib Dem campaign when even the Tory, UKIP and Labour campaigns were being drowned out at the same time. Somehow however, we need to find a way of articulating a popular form of European integrationism by 2014. Any ideas?

Europe, turnout, the BNP, the Greens and fair votes

I’ve just got back from an hour’s stint on LBC talking about Yurp. Myself and fellow guest Hugo Brady from the Centre of European Reform were both under the impression we were there to discuss how the European Parliament works and the elections themselves. Instead we found ourselves being asked to mount a full frontal defence of the EU itself, covering everything from the CAP to auditing budgets. Not an easy task when you aren’t prepared (and as a non-expert of the subject I probably wouldn’t have gone on on that basis, but there you go).

For the record, incidently, I would quite happily scrap the Common Agricultural Policy. It’s appalling. If you do think that however, and you actually care about people unfairly affected by it in developing countries (as one of the callers purported to do), then the single worst thing you could do is pull out of the EU and allow the opponents of reform to have it entirely their own way. I don’t like a lot of UK policies and want UK political reform, but if you heard me calling for us to pull out of the UK on that basis you would consider me to be an utter loon.

What I didn’t get a chance to discuss were the poll findings that Vote Match/Unlock Democracy unveiled yesterday suggesting that tomorrow’s turnout could be an all time high for the European Elections. 50% in our YouGov survey said they were definitely going to vote (another 11% gave an ‘8’ or ‘9’ incidentally), which YouGov advise suggests a nominal turnout of 43-45%. That’s pretty unprecedented.

It is clear that the reason for this potentially (and comparatively) high turnout is not a hard fought contest about the European Parliament itself (if only) but MPs’ expenses and the subsequent meltdown of the UK Parliament. In short, the public are out to give the political classes a bloody nose. But it is also interesting to note both the generational and gender differences. Simply put, younger voters will be turning out in much fewer numbers and are not doing so because they simply don’t know what the elections are about. Older voters are, unsurprisingly, most likely to turn out. But it is the middle-aged voters who are most likely to abstain because of the expenses scandal itself. Women are likely to turn out in comparative numbers to men but their reason for not doing so again has more to do with not knowing enough about the elections than it has to do with scandal.

YouGov have also done an eve of poll for the Telegraph, suggesting that Labour may be pushed into third or even fourth place. As Anthony Wells has been chronicling, the polls are all over the place at the moment – the pollsters’ rules-of-thumb assumptions which they use to weight their data appear to have been blown wide open by the collapse in Labour support. We live in unprecedented times and it remains to be seen which pollster emerges with the most credit.

Nonetheless Anthony makes a good fist of an argument that YouGov are likely to be more accurate than most and for all their critics they have tended to be quite accurate. Either way, it looks terrible for Labour, with the Tory and Lib Dem levels of support staying at around their 2004 levels. The Greens look like their vote will be up while UKIP could either be significantly up or a bit down.

The Telegraph report that the 5% figure the YouGov poll gives the BNP suggests that they may well make the breakthrough they were hoping for in the North West. We only have the national figures to look at right now but unless the North West specific figures say something different, I’m not so sure. Based on the national swing, that puts the parties in the North West at:

Conservative: 23% (-1%, 2 MEPs)
Labour: 20% (-7%, 2 MEPs)
Lib Dem: 16% (-, 2 MEPs)
UKIP: 14% (+2%, 1 MEP)
Green: 10% (+4%, 1 MEP)
BNP: 6% (-, 0 MEPs)

Those figures come with a health warning, not to mention the fact that national swings are pretty spurious at the best of times. But it does highlight one aspect of this election which has been criminally under-reported: the resurgence of the Green Party. The psephology behind their Stop Nick Griffin campaign is entirely spurious but there is no escaping the fact that every vote for the Greens in the North West will make it harder for the BNP to get elected (where they are wrong is where they claim that a tactical Green vote is better than a vote for the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems or UKIP in this respect). And with a poll leap of the scale that every pollster appears to be reporting will result in a quite healthy haul of Green MEPs. This is a big deal – certainly a bigger deal than the possibility that the BNP might win a single seat. Yet by and large they have been ignored.

If I have one prediction to make about these elections it is that they will be a vindications of the proportional voting system. I dislike closed list systems but even closed list-PR is better than closed list-FPTP.

Would we be looking at such a dramatic result if we still used FPTP for the European Elections? In one sense, we would. The story right now would not be “will the BNP gain a seat in the North West?” but “will the BNP gain seats in East London, the Potteries, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire?” All of these areas are places where FPTP has enabled the BNP to gain a foothold – often gaining swathes of seats with remarkably small shares of the vote. The BNP would have a much easier time targeting four old-style Euro-constituencies than they have targeting a whole region. Far from making it easier for the BNP then, PR has actually made it tougher.

But overall, it would have lead to business-as-usual. PR has given the public a means of punishing the political class (which as a whole, completely deserves it). Without PR, we would be looking at a repeat of 1989 where the Greens got 15% of the vote and not a single seat. Now maybe it is time the Greens (and UKIP) got their act together and learned to target but the electorate shouldn’t have to wait for them to get their tactics right in order to express its displeasure (and targeting is at best a necessary evil in any case).

Face the facts: under FPTP, we would not now be looking at as high a turnout and the main parties would be sitting pretty. The public would have no outlet to vent their frustration. That would have been a dangerously unhealthy state of affairs.

It is certainly frustrating that the last thing this election is being decided upon is what it is osensibly about – the future direction of the European Union. But if what we get in exchange is the first real opportunity for the public to fully express itself in a UK-wide election, that is a price worth paying. Now: let’s replace it with an open list system or STV so it can be even better!

Deconstructing the Lib Dem EU poll and other things to annoy the front bench

The Lib Dems have unveiled the results of a recently commissioned MORI Poll today with great flourish, insisting it confirms that their position for an in-out referendum is supported by twice as many people as a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

That’s fair enough, but there are two caveats. First of all, the questions are incredibly leading, being (in order):

  • Do you think there should be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, or not?
  • As you may know, the Lisbon Treaty, currently going through Parliament, makes changes to the way the European Union is run. If there were to be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe, would you prefer it to be a referendum ONLY on the Lisbon Treaty, or a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union altogether?

On a subconscious level this translates as:

  • A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?
  • A referendum on just the Lisbon Treaty? Poor show. A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?

Secondly, what it suggests more than anything else is that the electorate hasn’t really been thinking very hard about this issue. 19% answered Don’t Know in Q1; 26% answered Don’t Know in Q2. 56% of people said they wanted an in/out referendum in Q1. 46% of people said they wanted either an in/out referendum or both an in/out and a Lisbon Treaty referendum in Q2. What happened to the other 10%? What this poll, more than anything else, tells us about the electorate is that it is all over the place on this issue. That shouldn’t be much comfort to anyone in this debate; no one is making an impact.

In fact the best thing I can say about this poll is that at least it is less desperate and contrived than IWAR’s silly “referendum” claiming that 88% of the public want one on Lisbon.

Back to the fall out over last week’s Ed Davey interview, I have to say I find it amusing to be accused of both “following the party line” and “going easy” on Davey and “tearing Ed Davey into pieces” at the same time. I happen to think neither is accurate: the first half of the interview was glowing with praise, the second half was critical but hardly ad hominem, but there you go. I do reject one criticism I’ve received which is that I shouldn’t have written it as it will be useful for William Hague to quote from in interventions this week. That ain’t my problem and the day it becomes my problem is the day I have to stop this blog.

In terms of the debate over the European Parliament’s role in appointing the President of the Commission, one other factor has come to my attention. A group of Europhiles have set up a new website calling for just one President of the EU. They are arguing that under Lisbon it would be both legal and desirable to combine the Council and Commission Presidents into one.

Personally I’m not convinced. The answer to the quoted question posed by Henry Kissinger “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” is surely Javier Solana. Combining two of the most senior posts in the EU into one without another treaty sounds dodgy as hell (“In general the provisions do not directly restrict the unification of the two posts. Only the new article 245 does not allow the Commission President to engage in any ‘other occupation’. But chairing a meeting of the European Council is not an occupation. We are confident that the legal services of the institutions and member states will be able to interpret this in the way they intend (as they so often do in other matters of political Kompetenzstreit).” – Davey’s description of a “bizarre interpretation” would seem rather more apt here IMHO!). And how would you hold the post to account? Could the office holder be sacked from one post while holding onto the other? What if the Council sacked him/her as their President but Parliament wanted him/her to stay at the Commission? I seem to spend my life calling for separation of powers; why would anyone want combination of powers? (another quote: “in the UK most ministers (=executive) are also members of parliament (=legislative). In Britain judges (=judiciary) can be members of parliament” – yeah and isn’t that a peachy system?)

But what this website does show is that far from giving the Parliament a more central role in electing the Commission President being a controversial “interpretation” of the Lisbon Treaty, many pro-Europeans have already moved on and are arguing to go much further. It is pointless to pretend otherwise and to insist that talking about it will only help the eurosceptics’ cause.

According to the website’s facebook group, that includes Jeremy Hargreaves, the Vice Chair of the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee. Zany euro-fanatic though I may be, it is comforting to discover that there are zanier fanatics than me out there holding much more senior positions within the party!

Game Theory and candidate selection

A number of interesting applications of game theory in this article by Fred E. Foldvary. Land value taxation and the green tax switch you would of course expect me to approve of, and the principle of constitutional liberty is something I would very much be interested in exploring further as well. Demand revelation is an idea that I’ve heard of before and would like to see how it could be applied in practice.

Cellular democracy though. My kneejerk reaction is to think that this sounds remarkably similar to Chinese-style democracy. Internal party democracy however is rather similar. There’s a technocratic aspect to it that I don’t like. Ultimately democratic systems must enable the person at the top of the system to relate to the person at the bottom as far as possible. A cellular system does not enable this.

But should the Liberal Democrats consider it for things like the selection of candidates for the European Parliament or GLA? I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that we should. If we aren’t prepared to give candidates (or allow them to raise) the resources necessary to competitive OMOV contest that meaningfully engages members, then we should lose the pretence and have the candidates elected using a college system where the candidates would concentrate their campaigning on a few elected representatives.

One nice side effect is that it would mean that members in relatively small local parties like mine would actually have a voice instead of being utterly ignored (beyond the occasional round robin email which is almost worse than nothing).

I’m sure I’ve said this before but at least in the case of the Euro selections it really is one member one vote. In the GLA selections, the local parties with the largest membership bases get to both appoint their own constituency candidates and dominate the top of the London-wide list. Given that they are the ones most likely to get their constituency candidates selected, this means they effectively get double the candidates. This is so manifestly unfair – and blatantly self-defeating as it confines our appeal to South West London – that we really do need to reconsider.

Gender Balance and Euro Selections – setting some facts straight

Tories simply adore Nich Starling, they like to remind us. He’s apparently the only Lib Dem blogger who tells it like it is, and gets snubbed for his troubles.

Personally speaking? While I occasionally find myself agreeing with him, I find he tends to be ill-informed and reactionary. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But I can’t allow this to pass. This evening, following on from a post by Iain Dale, he has decided to have a pop at the Lib Dem’s gender balance rules for selecting Lib Dem Euro-candidates:

The Lib Dems have an odd system for selecting candidates for European elections. For the uninitiated this means that you are forced to vote as your second preference for a female candidate if your first preference is for a male (and vice versa). This means that you might have two favourite male candidates, but one of them has to be in third place because you have to vote for a woman in second place (and again vice versa).

So this mean that in the Eastern Region in the Euro Elections you had to vote for Linda Jack (who I think would be a very good MEP), even if you didn’t want to because she was, apparently (don’t ask me, I never received a voting paper) the only woman on the list.

Sounds dreadful doesn’t it? And indeed it would be, were it not for the fact that it is a load of dingos’ kidneys.

The fact is, you can vote for candidates in whatever order you like. If your first ten preferences are all men, you can number them all, one through to ten. It’s really not hard.

Just so there can be now doubt, the manifesto booklet has printed in large, friendly letters:

You may vote for the candidates in any order you wish.

What there is is a rule that ensures that a third of the selected candidates overall, and one in three of the top three, must be a man and a woman respectively.

Now it is entirely possible that a candidate like Linda Jack, being the only woman, might end up getting placed in the top three despite not doing any work. That is obviously unfortunate. However, in Linda’s case, the reason she came second in the Eastern Region was that she got elected to second place fair and square. You can read the summary here, showing that she got the second largest number of first preference votes, and you can read the detailed results here, showing her getting elected to the top two places.

Why did Linda do so well despite apparently doing much work for it? I would guess because she is relatively high profile and was the only woman. A lot of people on these list selections tend to positively discriminate themselves out of habit.

In fact, while it would have been used if female candidates did particularly badly, the one third rule wasn’t actually applied on any Euro-list in England. Indeed, it is only rarely applied in any internal elections. See Colin Rosenstiel’s website for details.

Now, we could argue that the gender balance rule should be removed because it isn’t necessary, but to claim that it has distorted the results when it hasn’t actually been used is batshit crazy talk.

Don’t get me wrong. There are serious problems with our existing Euro-selection rules. They are similar problems to the ones with the GLA candidate rules that I wrote about earlier in the year.

The rules make it almost impossible for candidates to campaign. This year, candidates were told they couldn’t even get supporters to join Facebook groups as that was deemed to be against the rules (why, when no-one joins a Facebook group unless they want to?). Linda may brag about the fact that she didn’t do any campaigning but she would barely have been allowed to do any if she’d wanted to. Living in a relatively membership-free part of London, the only evidence of any campaigning I received was a smattering of emails. I didn’t get a single person telephone me or deliver a leaflet, and I wasn’t able to attend the one hustings that the London region ran.

The severe curtailment of campaigning disproportionately benefits the incumbents who of course are allowed to communicate with the selectorate regularly throughout the rest of their term of office at the taxpayer’s expense.

The fact that most of the incumbents appeared to get anything between 70% and 90% of the first preference votes (London appeared to be the closest we got to a contest) suggests that for them this wasn’t really a selection at all, but a coronation. The fact that these are selections for what amount to closed lists ought to compel the party to be more rigourous, not less. Reviewing the gender balance rules is just about the last thing we should be doing.

And as for the non-arrival of postal votes, Nich appears to be the only person in the country unaware that we had a postal strike during the selection. Whatever the rights and wrongs with going ahead with the ballot under such circumstances, it is a bit rich to imply we are going to have the same experience with the leadership election. And it should be pointed out that overall turnout was up compared to the last Euro-selections. Not exactly a disaster then.

Keep telling your Tory fans what they want to hear Nich, but I hope you won’t mind if I continue to issue the odd correction.

Internal party democracy – Tory style

If you can ignore the fact that the Conservative policy is for the House of Lords to be elected using the first past the post system, which is itself a closed list system, you could be forgiven for thinking they had quite a principled take in the Lords reform debate a few weeks ago. To quote Theresa May:

Yes, under the Government’s proposals 50 per cent. of the new peers would be elected, but the Government propose that those elections should use a list system. Effectively, therefore, the parties choose who is elected, so peers would owe their place in the Lords to their party bosses. Crucially, it would make it much harder for independent candidates to run for office successfully. We should do all that we can to encourage independent elected Members in the other place, and I doubt that the Leader of the Opposition believes that a list system would make for a truly independent upper Chamber.

That was all, so, last week though. Now they are considering tearing up the existing rights of party members to order the closed lists for the European Parliament elections. No doubt Theresa May’s response to this will be, as it was at a Hansard debate last month, that the Tories use primary selections, so it shouldn’t matter how the choice of candidates is restricted (as it has been by the A-list), but it doesn’t wash. The hunger for control from the centre is just as strong amongst Cameroons as it was amongst the Blairites.

Say what you like about the Lib Dems, but we tend to take these rights for granted. We have real debates at our conferences in which the leadership occasionally has to fight to save their cherished policies; the Tories pretend to be on Dragon’s Den. If a commitment to democracy doesn’t actually run through you veins, faking it tends to make you look slightly ridiculous.

(Hat tip: Iain Dale. More info: MEPWatch)