It became abundantly clear during the campaign phase that the endorsement rules have become a nonsense for selections for Regional lists, and they were a cause of frustration to candidates and Returning Officers alike. So here’s the Rule that was the cause of such grief.
4.2 e) No material issued by candidates shall include any endorsements of the candidate, by word or implied by photograph. Photographs must not include Party members who are people of note in the Euro Region or well known in the Party. Members of the candidate’s family or ordinary Party members, such as helpers at a by-election, can be shown, but all such photographs must be cleared by the Returning Officer.
From the perspective of a Returning Officer, this meant wasted time scanning photographs for ‘prominent figures’ (define prominent, anyone?) yet there were no credible means of dealing with the scenario whereby a member could write a long blog entry stating what a thoroughly good person X was and why they should be elected to the European Parliament, unless you could prove that they had been put up to doing it by the candidate or a member of his/her campaign team (yeah, right!).
Subsequently, having digested the results, it dawns on me that an inability to seek endorsements means that non-incumbents are prevented from using their network of supporters to build credibility, the very thing that we allow our leadership candidates to do. In a short campaign, that helps to protect a weak incumbent, who may be poorly regarded by council group leaders, MPs and key activists, yet that crucial information is effectively withheld from members. I’m not suggesting that negative campaigning should be encouraged, or even allowed. However, an absence of endorsements does undermine candidates in the eyes of ordinary members, and leads to the kind of ‘beauty contest’ that so obviously favours incumbents.
So, if I don’t like the Rule as it currently reads, what do I think should replace it? Well, here is the proposal that I wish to put before the members of the English Candidates Committee at their meeting on 1 December in Birmingham;
4.2 e) delete all and insert
Material issued by candidates may include endorsements of candidates, either by word or implied by photograph. The presence of individuals in photograph shall be deemed to imply endorsement unless clearly stated otherwise in the salient material. If asked to do so, a candidate must provide evidence to support the legitimacy of the endorsement, actual or implied.
I believe that this simplifies the job of the Returning Officer, frees up candidates to use a wider range of campaigning techniques (and endorsement is a campaigning technique, to my mind at least), and continues the trend towards self-regulation. It removes the grey areas caused by the use of words such as ‘prominent’, and makes endorsement a black and white issue. In turn, bloggers are free to comment as they wish, as anything they write can be assumed to be allowable (they’ve written/published it themselves of their own volition).
I’ll let you know how I get on next weekend…