Four years ago, at about this time of year, I was relaxing after the conclusion of the selection of our European Parliamentary List for South East England, when I was sucked into an argument about the absence of ethnic minority candidates from that Region's shortlist.
At the time, I was a mite defensive, perhaps because, as a member of the ethnic minority community myself (and that is a somewhat meaningless phrase in itself), I was slightly taken aback at the suggestion of racism amongst a selection committee I was responsible for supervising. I made what I thought was a valid point that the ethnic minority applicants were comparatively inexperienced and, in some instances, were still going through the process of approval as potential candidates whilst the selection was in progress. Against more experienced applicants, their answers to key questions on campaigning and strategy came across as thin, and thus made them less likely to fulfil the published selection criteria.
However, feedback is more than the art of diplomatic deconstruction, it should be about helping people to be more successful in the future and I suggested that any ethnic minority member desiring selection as a European Parliamentary candidate next time should start working their chosen Region now (i.e. in 2003), in anticipation of the next selection. Since then, I've gone from being an anonymous and rather inactive member of a small, unnoticed Local Party in a influential Region to being an Officer of that Regional Party. Yet, despite that, the number of people obviously organising even a skeleton campaign to raise their profile in London as a prelude to the selection can be counted on the fingers of one hand with sufficient left over to make a rude gesture.
I'm less than obviously ambitious, and have never had even a mild urge to be elected to anything in the 'real world', but I have come to increasingly suspect that the desire of some to achieve maximum reward with minimal effort is in part to blame for the lack of success that they moan about at such length and with such vitriol. And yet, the model is one that our Campaigns Department have been promoting with some success in our election campaigning for some years...
A Regional List selection is rather like a district council ward in somewhere like South Cambridgeshire. The electorate are quite spread out, and you need to make yourself known to them over a lengthy period in order to win them over. You clearly can't meet them all yourself, so you need a campaign team to spread across the ward, to spread the message about what a great campaigner you are, and what you will achieve for the residents if elected. You need to build networks in the villages, gain the trust of key community activists, and all of this whilst maintaining your 'day job' and juggling your other commitments.
It isn't easy, but then, if it was, everyone would do it, and they clearly don't. The reward though is a seat in the European Parliament for about as long as you want it, given our devotion to incumbents and the lack of information relating to their record once elected. The salary is quite nice, the travelling is interesting (if you have the freedom to really do it properly) and whilst the commuting can play havoc with the rest of your life (family, friends and the like), one presumes that you considered that before running in the first place - you did consider that, didn't you?
So, if you're interested, have you formed your campaign team yet? Do you have a unique selling point? Do you even know why you're doing it? If you can answer yes to all three questions, you've got a chance, unless of course, you've been auditioning for the role for years and everyone knows it, in which case you've beaten me to the punch (congratulations, I'm sure that you'll love Brussels...).
I'll be watching this year's selection with a more roving eye than usual, as my roles as Returning Officer for South East Region and Secretary of London Region will place me in the midst of the campaign in both Regions. I want to see, in both Regions, merit-based lists of candidates that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. It's a two-way street though, in that if a level playing field is created, you have to turn up ready to compete... if you're really serious, that is...