Panelism in Action: Labour’s 1999 European Parliamentary candidate selections
2006-03-16T17:47:55Z (GMT) by
The 1999 European Assembly elections were fought under newly devised rules. The adoption of a more proportional electoral procedure in place of the traditional single member majoritarian system was designed to bring the UK into line with the other EU member states. This departure from 'first past the post' necessitated a change in the way prospective Members of the European Parliament were selected. In the event this proved controversial. Of further contention was the decision to adopt a closed list system whereby electors were not able to vote for a preferred candidate. Prospective MEPs were thus numerically ranked in multiple member constituencies. The selection of European parliamentary candidates attracted considerable media interest. Various newspapers covered, with relish, the purging of Europhiles from the already minimal compliment of Conservative MEPs. Aside from Tom Spencer, who resigned for personal reasons following revelations about his personal life, others such as Brendan Donnelly and John Stevens declined to serve as candidates following their effective demotion by the party's selection procedure. Donnelly and Stevens took their grievance further and formed a new organisation, the Pro Euro Conservatives, in order to (unsuccessfully) contest the forthcoming elections. Another Europhile, London MEP James Moorhouse, left the party for the Liberal Democrats in protest at William Hague's policy pronouncements. By contrast the new crop of prospective MEPs appeared to reflect the strong strain of Euroscepticism within the Conservative grassroots. The Hague leadership welcomed membership involvement in this matter. By contrast the Labour hierarchy proved more circumspect about its candidate selection procedure. This paper seeks to assess whether there is substance to the charge that the new system has in effect enabled officials from the Millbank headquarters to dictate who would and would not become MEPs.