It is hard to imagine now, but there was a time when European selections drew a crowd.
In 1997, I received a telephone call from the then Candidates Officer, Sandra Dunk, asking if I could act as a Returning Officer for the European selection, with South East England as my intended assignment. I considered the timetable and offered my apologies, as I had already booked a trip which coincided with the scheduled hustings phase. And, although I did suggest that, if nobody else could be found, I was willing to fill in, I didn't expect to be involved.
Two days later, the call came. "Yes, we do need you,", I was told, "and we'll cover the hustings for you.". Under the circumstances, how could I say no?
South East England was, to say the least, going to be a lively contest. A zipping arrangement had been mandated, whereby the list would alternate by gender, organised by means of two separate, but contemporaneous ballots. And whilst it was suggested that the choice was gender to top each regional list appeared designed to favour certain individuals, in South East England there was every likelihood of electing two MEPs. Emma Nicholson, who had recently defected from the Conservatives, was the odds-on favourite to get the female slot, but the male contest was anyone's guess.
And the organising wasn't easy. Trying to bring together three Party Regions (South East, Hants & Wight and Chiltern) and ensuring that all three felt part of the process was a challenge, especially as Chiltern was involved in the East of England selection too. But the selection committee, chaired by Lord Dholakia, gelled together, and we were ready to go. We needed to be, especially when more than seventy applications arrived.
And boy, what a contest it turned out to be. But that's a story for another day...