Sunday, July 29, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Friday, July 27, 2012
In 1997, I missed all of the hustings, as I had booked a holiday before even being appointed as Returning Officer. In 2002, I had to approve the manifestos via a somewhat unreliable internet connection from a hotel in Buenos Aires.
In 2007, I did something different. I met Ros, and by the time we reached the shortlisting phase, we were engaged. It would be fair to say that I was a mite distracted throughout.
And so, on the day that applications for the selection close, where is the Chair of the Shortlisting Committee? In the departure lounge at Vancouver Airport, heading for Portland, Oregon. After all, we're not scheduled to carry out shortlisting interviews until September, and everything else is the responsibility of the Returning Officer. Besides, Ros and I needed a holiday.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun is shining, it's pleasantly warm and, after a pleasant enough flight yesterday, we are jetlagged out of our minds - we are now eight time zones away.
To come, sea otters and Alaskan ferries, a Lords reunion and a gold rush to the Yukon, some of the best craft-brewed beers and more seafood than you can shake a crab stick at. There will be politics, as we're in the US as the Presidential campaign heats up and turns nasty.
So, enjoy the Olympics, we'll be back soon...
Sunday, July 15, 2012
European Selection Diary: Day 15 - it's so much easier being the Chair of the Shortlisting Committee...
I have to admit that chairing the shortlisting committee is rather easier, as I have nothing really to do now, and all of the work is in the hands of our Returning Officer, who doesn't appear to have much to say for now.
So, we've gone to Latitude, courtesy of the BBC. And no, it isn't a freebee, as Ros is here to be on Pienaar's People, on Radio 5 Live at 7.30. Well, I suppose that it's a freebee for me, because I'm only here because Ros is. But I did navigate her here successfully...
And, unusually, the sun is shining, albeit intermittently, and Simple Minds are performing in the Obelisk Arena. I admit that I was always more of a Hue and Cry man myself, but the slightly more mature crowd appear to be enjoying themselves well enough and the mosh pit appears to be pretty packed - at least I assume it's a mosh pit, we really don't have such things at Snape for string quartets.
Interestingly, somewhere out there is Therese Coffey, the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, who is, it seems, a Simple Minds fan. I shall eschew the obvious gag... but feel free to carry on without me...
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The profile of a sitting MEP is huge, relative to virtually any potential opponents, a point seemingly oblivious to those who design the selection process. For only someone oblivious to that inbuilt bias would restrict the ability of individual candidates to actually campaign, which has been the position in the past. Luckily, I have, in recent years, found myself in a position to try to change that, as a member of the English Candidates Committee, and I did the best that I could.
It isn't easy, and there are legitimate arguments against 'letting a thousand flowers bloom'. In the first list selection, some very clever candidates exposed gaping weaknesses in the then rules, spending unimaginable amounts of money in search of that elusive top position on the list which almost guaranteed electoral success and a ticket to Brussels. And why not? After all, it really mattered because you could actually win.
The powers that be weren't going to be fooled again, and the rules became more restrictive - no buying electoral success because that wasn't fair, was it? But in an age before Twitter and Facebook were so potentially influential, the cost of telephone calls, letters and leaflets was potentially a hurdle to candidates without means, so making it virtually impossible to use them was obviously a good thing, right? Well, no, it wasn't, was it?
The internet has changed the way we campaign, albeit more so in internal Party affairs than amongst the general public. It is free, or at worst cheap, which is good. From a Returning Officer's perspective, and in terms of control, it offers an interesting challenge, however. The old philosophy, whereby a Returning Officer acted as an all-seeing gatekeeper, becomes impossible when you can theoretically send an e-mail to 2000 or more members without recourse to him or her (usually him, in my experience, for reasons I can't begin to comprehend).
Instead, the emergence of the Returning Officer as a policeman has become desirable, whereby instead of approving everything, an arduous task at best, he or she merely deals with complaints, leaving the candidate to take responsibility for reading the rules and acting accordingly. It always puzzled me that, in a Party which believed in giving people power over their own lives, we put such restrictions on those who wish to put those principles into practice as elected politicians.
So, we'll see if our people are up to the challenge. As an optimist, I'd like to think that they are, although my experiences have demonstrated that you shouldn't presume anything. And as I won't have a disciplinary role this time, it won't be my problem anyway. Let's just say that I'm not exactly unhappy with that...