The observant amongst you will have noticed have noticed comments from Linda Jack, amongst others, noting that she cannot indicate which leadership candidate she is endorsing. As Returning Officer for the South East European Region, I am obliged to enforce this ruling. I do so with a heavy heart.
The endorsement rules have become a lead weight around the necks of candidates and Returning Officers alike, although they were created for the best of reasons. In the ‘good old days’ when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, small furry creatures called candidates scurried about the place, looking for places of safety called constituencies, where, if adopted, they would have the security of a team of supporters called activists. The risk was that the dinosaurs, known as ‘senior Party figures’, would favour a particular furry creature, and unduly influence the outcome of the selection. Given the size of the electorate, endorsement by an outgoing MP, or the MP of a nearby constituency, might well persuade armchair members to vote that way, and this worked against the desire of the heavenly host (otherwise known as the English Candidates Committee) to ensure a level playing field for the small furry creatures. So far, so ethically sound.
The problem was that this worked very well in an age of limited technology and small electorates. Regional list selections and the Internet made it seem anachronistic but, if you were going to be consistent with the principle as established, you had to address the technology with new rules, ones that could be policed. Policing the Internet – you are kidding, aren’t you?
If a member in, say, Ludlow, writes a blog entry endorsing a candidate for East of England, who is at fault? Were they prompted to write it by the candidate, knowing that it would be seen by members in Cambridge, or Lowestoft, or even Harwich? Are they an old friend merely speaking their mind? Can you prove it either way? And who do you then punish? What, indeed, should the punishment be? As for Facebook, who monitors it? Can you reasonably expect a volunteer Returning Officer to dedicate weeks on end scanning the Internet for clues? I think not.
The problem is that, in an attempt to remain true to the principle, you find yourself running around in ever-decreasing circles, leading to the recent ban on European selection candidates publicly endorsing leadership candidates. The principle of ‘reverse endorsement’ has appeared and, I fear, my faith in the logic of our systems has finally cracked.
If I were to endorse either Chris or Nick, it would indicate that I support them, obviously. They might well choose to highlight my support on their website or other literature which, in turn, might indicate that my support might be influential somewhere. However, does it imply that they endorse me, my views or a potential candidacy? I’m unconvinced, especially as there are many Returning Officers, all of whom are precious in one way or another.
I happen to be a candidate in an internal election at the moment. Does my endorsement signify that my chosen candidate is supportive of my candidacy, or are they even aware that I am running? Frankly, they may well support one, or more, of my opponents, which is their right and privilege.
This was a ruling that does nothing for the credibility of the process, is an unfair limitation on senior members of our Party, and indicates that the distance between the bureaucracy and the campaigners is as vast as ever it were. Not our most glorious moment…