Chris Davies MEP writes… Wallis succession: It just doesn’t sound right

This is a shortened version of a blog post on Chris Davies’ blog. The full version can be read here and contains complimentary comments about Diana Wallis’ parliamentary career.

The resignation of Diana Wallis, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, came as a complete shock to her colleagues, and not least to the MEPs from across the political spectrum, including myself, who were with her 10 days ago when she handed in her nomination paper to stand for the presidency of the European Parliament.

On Tuesday morning Diana Wallis was campaigning to lead the Parliament, to bust apart the incestuous agreements between party groups and inject more openness and transparency into the running of the institution. By Wednesday lunchtime, having not only lost but been beaten (by one vote) into third place by the Conservative challenger, she had decided that it wasn’t good enough just to serve as an ordinary MEP. Such hubris!

Losing hurts, and having lost as many elections as I have won I understand the desire to hide away and lick your wounds. But it is never good to look like a bad loser, and to give up within hours of defeat looks as bad as can be.

In her resignation statement, Diana declared that it is time now “for someone with fresh eyes to take over”. Just who might that be?

Since her election in 1999 Diana’s principal parliamentary assistant has been her husband, Stewart Arnold. The Parliament has since forbidden the employment of family members but for the present the rule does not apply to those who were already employed when it came into force.

Stewart Arnold happens also to be the man who secured second place to his wife on the Yorkshire/Humber regional list when Liberal Democrat party members selected their MEP candidates in 2007. He came fifth when first preferences were counted, but moved up when many of Diana’s surplus votes were transferred to him.

Custom and practice suggests that if an MEP leaves their post the second placed candidate will gain the position, but the procedure is not automatic. It has to be sanctioned, and the final arbiter is Nick Clegg.

It could be a case of revolving chairs. The wife leaves the job, the husband moves in to fill it. There is nothing against such a procedure in the rules of the party or the Parliament, but there will be many people who will think that it doesn’t sound right. You don’t have to be a supporter of UKIP to know that it would be seen as an illustration of “remote and unaccountable” MEPs keeping their nests well-feathered. Many people, including many Liberal Democrats, would think it stinks. I think they would be right.

I don’t know whether Stewart Arnold knew that his wife would resign if she failed to secure the presidency. Maybe he knew no more than the rest of us. But I hope he will accept that his present position is deeply unsatisfactory, and that he declines any suggestion that he should take up his wife’s seat.

* Chris Davies was Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West from 1999-2014.

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11 Comments

  • Sorry Geoffrey, your comment could have been written to describe my reaction. As one who, on standing in 1998 for the Yorkshire list, was described as a “boring administrative type” by said gentleman, I shouldn’t really comment on the current situation. However, I thoroughly agree with Chris Davies that it doesn’t seem right for husband to succeed wifein the way that has been spoken of, and I would hope they both back away from that. Incidentally, in case Stewart were to think my feelings were hurt by his thoughts in 1998, I have actually quoted that on a number of occasions in self deprecation!

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Jan '12 - 6:36pm

    My understanding is that since it requires an official party ‘nominating officer’ to determine whether or not the ‘second’ person on the List should be placed as the new MEP, then the Party is interfering in this matter, albeit ‘passively’.

    To fail to comprehend the importance of this issue may say rather more about the present state of the party hierarchy than about the persons concerned.

  • According to a letter from Diana received this morning Stuart “needs time to think about what to do next and is taking soundings over these days”.

    I would think that the party can only not endorse the “next in line” candidate having reached a reasonable (in the Wednesbury sense) decision not to put them forward. There isn’t much that would cause me to leave the party but if we were to bar someone from being an elected representative on the grounds of who they marry that line might be crossed!

  • @Hywel

    “I would think that the party can only not endorse the “next in line” candidate having reached a reasonable (in the Wednesbury sense) decision not to put them forward.”

    I would agree. The question arises as to whether or not the deliberate decision to abdicate in favour of one’s spouse brings the Party into disrepute and what it would be reasonable for the Party to do to mitigate that.

  • Some of the postings on this subject have seen this as a matter of bureaucracy and procedure, but it isn’t is it?
    Its about the politics and how it is perceived by the public. Chris Davies has hit the nail on the head with his posting. Once day Diana Wallis aspires to lead the European Parliament, the next day she wants to resign. It looks childish and self-indulgent. Diana has a right to resign her seat if she wants to, but I don’t think she has the right to bring the Liberal Democrats into disrepute.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Jan '12 - 2:35pm

    There are rumours around that Diana Wallis is about to be made a peer on the list of 50-60 new peers which it is (perhaps more strongly) rumoured is due to be announced. (Ludicrously in my opinion).

    I think that this would just add one layer of unacceptability to another.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jan '12 - 1:24pm

    @Donnachadh McCarthy:

    “I am sorry to see Diana Wallis MEP stand down, as she was the only LibDem Parlaimentarian brave enough to stand up to the leadership who were opposing the conference motion banning LibDem Peers from being professional political lobbyists by speaking in favour of the successful motion.”

    Donnachadh, I totally agree with those sentiments. Unfortunately, this past good work does not mitigate strange present behaviour.

  • We already debated this issue. Frankly, if she pulls this trick, she should be booted out of the Party for bringing it into disrepute.

    Cue Mark Valladares to appear quoting Rule 607(b) (iii) subclause 10 to say it can’t be done.

    And if she’s made a Peer, the Leader wants a boot somewhere else.

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