Tuesday, October 30, 2007

European Selection - if a candidate endorses another candidate in a different selection, and nobody notices, has it really happened?

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…


Paula said...

Personally I think all these rules about endorsements should be dropped. The Euro candidate and leadership contender one is silly. but the rule forbidding potential PPCs from getting and publicising endorsements is equally mad. I know this is about level playing fields but I don't want a PPPc who can't get a single endorsement (and this rule hides this fact). In addition you can tell a lot from people from who they choose to have as their endorsers. Bin the rule I say!!


Jeremy Hargreaves said...

Personally after quite a bit of thought I agree that the rules on endorsements (along with quite a lot of the rules around selection) should be binned - but it is worth remembering why they were put in and why removal could allow again some problems some people might not accept.

I am aware of one target seat selection not in this Parliament but not that long ago, which was fought pretty hard between strong candidates, where one of the prospective PPCs was publicly endorsed by a former leader of the party, ie somebody incredibly influential who genuinely would swing a lot of votes just by a word of support (and I think they may also have done some ringing around). This caused some considerable upset and it was in response to incidents like this that this rule was introduced.

Now, even if this sort of thing were to be allowed again I would still be happy to bin the rules about endorsements. But if we do do that then we do need to be aware that things like this might result.

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Aaargh! I've just realised why a friend was being so reticent in returning my gossipy texts about the leadership election! It's because they're standing as a Euro candidate over the other side of the country ad I'd completely not made the link that they couldn't endorse someone!!

Having read Paula's comments, I think she's got it right..we should ditch the no endorsement rule!

Alternatively we could make all our candidates walk over hot coals to get selected...it might be easier..only if course those hot coals are completely level!!!

linda jack said...

Mark of course I think you are completely right, which is why I have ignored the ruling......not the rule, I don't particularly have a problem with that, it is the reverse interpretation I object to. I think there should be mass disobedience on this one!!!!!!! If it continues to be just me I am easy pickings, but if others join the cause I hope the powers that be will see sense.

Duncan Borrowman said...

Yes, the ruling is mad. I am increasingly coming to the view that my original thought that the English party should be put in a blender has been replaced by thinking it should be strengthened.
Scrap Federal spring conference, replace it with an English spring conference (Wales and Scotland already have theirs). Give the English party back English policy, and make the hierachy truly accountable, replacing the dinosaurs with fluffy bunnies to set intelligent rules for things liek candidate selection.