How should Diana Wallis be replaced?

A question for Liberal Democrat members to mull… Under the law used for regional list elections, the decision over who should take over following Diana Wallis’s resignation as an MEP is up to the party (technically, the party’s Nominating Officer).

The general assumption in the past has been that if a list member stands down, it is whoever would have got their place on the list that takes over. That is the process followed in the past, such as in deciding Liz Lynne’s replacement as an MEP on her retirement or Lynne Featherstone’s replacement as a GLA member on her election to the House of Commons.

On the other hand, the electoral mandate in the Yorkshire & The Humber region is pretty thin. Here is how the first preferences played out in the 2007 selection:

Diana Wallis 1,082
James Monaghan 97
Jeanette Sunderland 90
Rebecca Taylor 85
Stewart Arnold 60
Four other candidates 98 first preferences between them

Diana Wallis’s re-selection at the top of the list was by a landslide. But the contest for second place on the list was very close, ending up:

Stewart Arnold  442.16
Rebecca Taylor 433.48*

How much of a mandate does such a thin margin for a candidate who won only 60 first preferences five years ago give? In other words, should the party follow the usual process or in this case would it be more democratic to, say, ballot party members in the region?

Over to you..

 

* At this point, STV experts will rightly point out that the winner of the contest to be second on the list is not necessarily the same as the person who would win if the contest for first on the list was re-run with the originally winner excluded. However, I don’t have the figures for that and these figures illustrate what small numbers of voters are involved.

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is a candidate for Party President.

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54 Comments

  • If Stewart Arnold wants to succeed his wife then he should be allowed to. It’s not fair to prevent him, but if at all possible, I think he should be prevailed upon to step aside. His position on the list immediately below Diana is not uncontroversial and there is also the small matter of having already replaced one female MEP with a man in the last few months, this would make two.

  • The rules are pretty clear. If Stewart is still found to be an acceptable candidate then he gets the gig. If people want to change them then they should argue that point when the rules are drawn up (though I don’t see how you can introduce a rule prohibiting spouses from standing.

  • I think we should change the rules, but probably only for the future, and hold a fresh internal election. We might get new and better candidates, once it is clear that there is a real vacancy.

  • Harry Hayfield 19th Jan '12 - 11:55pm

    According to a BBC correspondent who tweeted about this, the next Lib Dem on the regional list will be elected. In other words, the next person on the list that was submitted to the Yorkshire and the Humber regional returning officer in 2009.

  • In this case it shld be the next person on the list (because that’s the rules)… but… given that incumbent Lib Dem MEPs seem to win re-selection in a landslide every time (is there any example since 1999 of a sitting Lib Dem MEP unseated in a re-selection contest?), these midterm replacements just create a new incumbent, who will in turn no doubt walk the re-selection battle. Personally I’d like to see the return of the by-election to fill a vacant seat; return the choice to the people.

  • Harry Hayfield 20th Jan '12 - 12:16am

    In that case, Stuart, the Liberal Democrats are now in government and therefore a Lib Dem should pilot leglisation through Parliament bringing back the European Parliamentary Constituencies (abolished in 1999). The only downside to that is no Lib Dem MEP’s.

  • MEP, spurned by her Group, fresh from a failed gesture-fuelled run for office and facing defeat at next election, lets hubby, already appointed to taxpayer-funded post by her (without competitive process?) have a turn at the trough so that she can hide and sulk. The only thinkg not yet announced is whether she will be his researcher so that the household income doesn’t suffer. Anyone want to take bets on that not happening?

    This absolutely stinks. And I’m a party member. If there is a way of stopping it, it should be done.

  • Ed Maxfield 20th Jan '12 - 9:28am

    Mark, I dont follow the logic of your argument. Should Mark Oaten have stepped aside for Malone because he only beat him by 2 votes in 1997? A mandate is a mandate if it is obtained under the rules.

    A whole constituency by-election would be problematic because the MEPs are elected by PR (so smaller parties would be very unlikely to hold their seats in a by-election).

    I cant see any reason why the party shouldnt change its rules to trigger an internal by-election when a mid term vacancy arises. There would be no need for legislation to make this happen. This would mean a new ballot among eligible party members (although I have long argued that the party should adopt primaries to choose its candidates). This would not only be fairer but it would also likely keep the #2 candidate in the region working hard for the party there throughout the parliamentary term.

    (I was #2 on the East Mids list in 2009.)

  • There are a number of issues here:
    1 The original vote was 5 years ago.
    2 The number of first preferences clearly rules out Mr Arnold and his second perderences were only on his wifes coat tails.
    3 The DNO, has the final say, whoever this is these days – is it still Sarah M?
    4 I know that Diana has always said that she would stand down mid term in favour of her husband, but the fact that she stood as an independant again the Euro Parl Parties whip or wishes – suggest to me that she jumped before potentially she was pushed.
    5 As a party we need to party to appoint the best person who can represent the Lib Dems as well as unite the party in the region and also someone who is potentially committed to several terms.

    The question is Mr Arnold the best person for the job? Personally, I dont think 12 years as an assistant ,automatically qualifies you to be able to do the ‘ ACTUAL ‘ job. I thinkt that there are better people on the list who have continued to serve the region and party. Jeanette Sutherland spring to mind.

  • The problem with having a new internal party selection battle is that any new MEP, as George Kendall says, may never have been presented to the electorate. That said, again as GK suggests, if it is limited to the candidates on the original list then that is more defensible, and would at least create competitive opportunities to be a Lib Dem MEP… at present, and esp when MEPs keep dropping out midterm, there is little/competition for the seats we hold. And it would be an encouragement to the people at the tail-end of the list to keep active.

    Put simply however the current setup needs to change, and I have learnt from this post and the thread of comments that it’s possible and the law doesnt insist that it’s just the next in line who must by law get it.

  • I don’t see how them being married is particularly relevant – I hope we can trust that our party members voted for each of them on their merit. I think changing the party rules or conventions just because we don’t like how things have now turned out is dangerous; rules should not be set retrospectively for the benefit or disadvantage of particular individuals. However the point Mark makes well is that we need to seriously debate how we want to do things in future.
    However, on that debate, I think there is a conflict here between internal party democracy and democracy to the general electorate. The electorate were presented with a list that placed Stewart second, it seems fairly undemocratic to tell them that actually he’s not getting the seat now Diana’s stood down, but someone who can third or fourth or even wasn’t on the ballot paper is. I dislike the idea of voting for parties not people, but the least we can do is to not change our mind mid term surely? Voters deserve the people they were promised, at least so far as we can deliver that to them. IMO if we are going to keep this somewhat odd closed list system the place should, by law rather than the parties choice, go down through the list, and only go to the parties choice when the list runs out of candidates.

  • “2 The number of first preferences clearly rules out Mr Arnold and his second perderences were only on his wifes coat tails.”

    This is a misunderstanding of STV. Stewart may well have got more first preferences in a contest (like the one there effectively is now) where Diana wasn’t standing.

    The party now needs to make a decision whether Stewart is suitable to be an MEP representing the party and if so he should be so “annointed”.

    There should be a rule stopping someone who is an employee of an MEP succeeding to a job in this way.

    Those people arguing against this are effectively saying that we should exclude people from standing for election on the grounds that their wife (or husband or civil partner)

    (for the record my views on Diana and Stewart could probably diplomatically be described as ‘usually unsupportive”!

  • Rita Giannini 20th Jan '12 - 10:13am

    I don’t understand; on the continent the person who came after the person elected automatically takes his/her place. The only way to get round this is if this person resigns as well. Is it different for Britain? I doubt it……

  • Surely the question should be asked of Stuart and Diane:

    `how do you think it looks to those who are Lib Dems (let alone those that might vote for us one day) – in that respect the only option is for Stuart to step aside and demand he face a ballot of members. Clue: the only way we can gain votes is through people seeing us in Govt and liking the changes we make.

    Rules aren’t just rules – for the good of the party Stuart can step aside and ask for a fresh mandate.

    Or isn’t this really about the good of the party or heaven forbid the people of Yorkshire and the Humber.

  • Dinti Batstone 20th Jan '12 - 10:25am

    If an Open List PR system were used instead of Closed List we wouldn’t have this problem: the candidate who got the next highest number of preferences in the election would have a direct mandate from the electorate. My understanding is that the Labour government opted for Closed List in the late 90s because that variant of PR gives parties more control over candidates. Perhaps this is an opportunity to push for a change to put more power in the hands of the electorate at the next Euro election in 2014?

  • I know Diana generates strong opinions among party activists and so I can understand the frustration of some at what looks like a stitch up but the plain fact is Diana won an overwhelming mandate in a properly constituted selection and her husband finished second because enough party members voted for him. If people were not happy with DW as MEP in Yorkshire or with Stewart as #2, someone should have run a better campaign against them last time round. Mark has shown that 4 or 5 more preferences would have prevented Stewart being 2nd on the list.

    It is worth remembering that, had DW chosen to stand down in 2014 instead there would be another incumbent MEP waiting to inherit her place on the list – someone who was elected as a Conservative. How ‘fair’ would that be? (the answer of course is that it would be completely fair because those are the rules that the party has chosen to use to select its EP candidates).

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Jan '12 - 10:44am

    Some confusion in this thread about what the law allows and what it doesn’t, despite Mark linking to the relevant regulation. The party doesn’t have a free choice of who to put up. It is the Returning Officer for the Region (the public, not the party official) who is responsible for filling the seat. S/he contacts the next person on the list below the MEP who has resigned or died. What the party’s nominating officer has to do is confirm whether they are happy for that person to become the MEP. If the party refuses to do so, then the Returning Officer must go to the next person on the original list. The party can continue to refuse to endorse successive candidates in this way, until the list has been exhausted: at which point, there will be a by-election (by FPTP in effect, because that’s what a simple list system turns into when there’s only one vacancy). The party cannot hold an election and choose a new MEP who was not on the original list.

  • @Malcolm – the nom officer should just ask for a re-ballot then

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Jan '12 - 11:07am

    @Sean — fine, so long as only the unsuccessful candidates on the original list are included in the ballot, and so long as the DNO can persuade the Returning Officer that it is “reasonable” to wait until that process is complete. But they can’t nominate someone who wasn’t on the list at the general (EU) election, and to allow that would in fact require changes to primary legislation, not just the regulations.

  • It should definitely be James Monaghan who succeeds Diana – he lost in may – he needs a job!

  • What marvellous people the Lib Dems are, washing their ‘internal’ linen in public! 🙁

  • Chris Davies MEP has made some forthright public comments which deserve to be taken into account in this:

    “I am appalled and feel betrayed by her decision. To stand for election for the presidency one day and then resign the following day is quite unbelievable.”

    “It is an insult to her constituents and a slap in the face for the constituents who supported her in the last European elections.”

    “There will be some people who will regard this as quite unprincipled.”

    “I have known her for 13 years but I now think my assessment of her character was wrong.”

    “(Her husband) is not guaranteed to succeed her but it is likely to do so. The problem is that this will leave a very bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.”

    “It will serve to reinforce the ‘gravy train’ or ‘jobs for the boys’ image many people have of MEPs.”

    “Under current party rules, there is not much we can do about this but I think the party hierarchy should seriously now consider looking into possible ways of choosing a candidate other than the husband of Diana Wallis.”

    “One door shuts on her career in Brussels and another one opens for her husband. I really cannot imagine her constituents will be impressed by any of this. People will feel uncomfortable with this. It looks wrong and I share their assessment.”

    Chris Davies said the decision may have been influenced by the fact that the Lib Dems supported Edward McMillan-Scott for ALDE’s one vice-presidency post ahead of Diane Wallis.

    He said, “Her own colleagues picked Edward over her and it makes me wonder if she had been plotting this all along.”

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th Jan '12 - 12:27pm

    Not the best advert for the electoral system that many of you support. Might I suggest that you find a LibDem who still espouses what the Party said at the time of the election – good luck!

  • Entirely agree with the points Stuart M above. Things have changed a lot in the last 5 years. I understand Rebecca Taylor hasn’t lived in the region for a long time, a byelection is the only way to decide. James Monaghan and Jeanette Sunderland are both strong candidates and active in the region. Edward McMillan Scott has done more campaigning in the region in his short time in the party than Diana has done in her entire time as an MEP.

  • I’m not convinced it was the brightest idea to put a husband and wife onto the same ticket in the first place, which is a point I haven’t yet seen mentioned? It’s staggering that she should stand for President of the EP one minute and then throw in the job as MEP the next. And it would surely be outrageous if her reason for doing so is to pass the job along to her partner like some sort of rotten borough?

  • The closed list system that Labour gave us is inadequate, and needs to be replaced (although I do understand that this isn’t a priority in government). Open lists, giving each member a mandate, would be a far better system.

    The simple fact is, whoever’s next on the list is next on the list – skipping them and going to the next one down would have an even weaker mandate, and be even less desirable.

    If we’re not to have open lists, then an alternative would be to have a constituency-wide election for the relevant seat – in this case, the question to the people of Yorkshire & The Humber would be “A byelection is being held to fill the Liberal Democrat seat to the European Parliament. Place an X by the name you would like to see elected”, with the only candidates allowed those who are LD approved (as the seat is ours, but who fills it should be up to the people).

    The problem with this is that the only way for parties to change seats during a mandate is through defection, but it would mean that parties who won a seat under PR that they wouldn’t under FPTP wouldn’t be wiped out by electing in different ways.

    And to re-iterate @toryboysnevergrowup, it’s a damning indictment of a system we hate – I’ve never seen a Lib Dem, or for that matter anyone at all, defend closed lists on regional constituencies. Labour inflicted it on us all.

  • Tend to agree with Mark and other posters above. If Diana Wallis won’t reconsider, then we can only simply go with the current legal position (which, incidentally, is similar to, if not the same as, the list system in the Scottish Parliament, where we have had MSPs of all parties replaced along these lines.)

    However, given the concerns here of the appropriateness of the process and a similar issue in the West Midlands where the Tories aren’t too happy about their list no.2, maybe there needs to be another quick look at this?

  • If it is wrong to act in favour of a MEP’s relative and bend the rules, then it is wrong to act against a MEP’s relative and bend the rules.

    We should treat people as individuals on their own merits, applying neither favour nor censure based on who they are related to. Tim Leunig proposes reforms which make a lot of sense on their own terms, but he is right to disavow them acting retrospectively.

  • Antony Hook 20th Jan '12 - 4:40pm

    The members elected him second on the list. The members’ decision should be accepted.

  • Richard Gadsden 20th Jan '12 - 5:21pm

    In this case, we should stand by the rules as they are, and Stewart Arnold should become an MEP. Can’t change the rules because of an consequence that wasn’t forseen at the time – it’s grossly unfair.

    The concern I have is that second place on the list wasn’t, in 2007, an obvious ticket to become an MEP, and so I doubt whether the candidates were carefully examined by the (s)electorate. But once elected, the incumbency will make a sitting MEP very hard to dislodge. If Diana had announced her intention to retire in 2014, then there would be a selection for a vacant seat, which would be likely to be much more vigorous than the contest with Stewart Arnold as a sitting MEP.

    I contrast this with the 2004 selection in the South East, where Chris Huhne had announced his intention to step down if elected as an MP at the next General Election, and the third place position (Chris Huhne and Emma Nicolson as sitting MEPs would be first and second) was very hotly contested, giving Sharon Bowles a clear mandate to take over from Chris.

    Perhaps we should look at the Tory system where sitting MEPs are considered separately from other candidates, so the leading non-MEP candidate is the selection of a majority of the members?

  • Tony Dawson 20th Jan '12 - 6:18pm

    I think Mark Valladeres’ argument above is quite compelling. As is Chris Davies’ argument, too. I would hate to be Stuart Arnold inheriting this seat in any circumstances other than his wife’s most unfortunate death. Had we won two seats, last time out, he wold have been entitled to his. As it stands now, if he take his wife’s left-overs (and there is no hint that she would have done what she did with any other ‘number two’), he will enter the selection for 2014 candidacy with a considerable ‘negative’ in many Lib Dem members’ eye. He could well end up being the shortest-lived (politically) Lib Dem MEP ever in a seat where his merits and experience might otherwise have secured him victory – and it would all be his wife’s fault.

  • There is no valid reason to stop him being an MEP. Of course its ridiculous, and of course Diana has only stepped down because of it, but that doesn’t somehow change the rules.

    It is a stitch up in terms of Diana using her influence and resources as an incumbent to shore up Stewart Arnolds support in the selection; but while I don’t like or thank them for it, its the membership who voted along with it so they shall just have to live with it. Note that I was unhappy about it from 2007, and am a Y&H member; people don’t complain because it stands little chance of achieving anything (and of course, there the internal party election rules to consider, not that I was a candidate). Indeed, even for an MEP Diana has always seemed especially enthusiastic about wasting money sending things to party members/candidates/ anyone else who might vote for her.

    Some people seem to be presuming getting in to the parliament this way will result in the typical presumptive re-election. In Y&H we are only likely to win 1 MEP, but we have two sitting thanks to the defection of Edward McMillan-Scott. As such I expect there will certainly be a tough selection fight whoever is selected unless he has announced his intention not to restand without my noticing.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 21st Jan '12 - 9:38am

    “I think you will find very few LibDems who support the Closed List PR electoral system. As Dinti said above, it was the Labour government’s choice, not ours.”

    If this is the case then I look forward to all the LibDems on the party list turning down the appointment and allowing the public their say. Or is this yet another example where what the LibDems say and actually do in practice are two entirely different things??

    “There is no valid reason to stop him being an MEP” – that is apart from the fact that hardly anyone ever voted for him? Yorkshire & Humberside does not deserve or want 2 Lib Dem MPs – please do not pretend that the LIbDems put democracy before party interest ever again the Party allows this to happen – the electorate are the ones who should decide.

  • “I am certain that Diana will not have resigned her seat other than with a heavy heart and after deep reflection.”

    I doubt it. Five days ago she wanted to be President of the European Parliament!

  • Tony Dawson 21st Jan '12 - 1:14pm

    @toryboysnevergrowup:

    “I look forward to all the LibDems on the party list turning down the appointment and allowing the public their say. Or is this yet another example where what the LibDems say and actually do in practice are two entirely different things??”

    You are a tory boy and you clearly haven’t grown up. 🙁 What utter ridiculous non-argument.

  • Tony Dawson 21st Jan '12 - 1:16pm

    @Hywel:

    ” Five days ago she wanted to be President of the European Parliament!”

    The latest thread suggests that she only did this as a ‘gesture’.

  • Richard Swales 21st Jan '12 - 2:55pm

    ok, so it seems the public returning officer asks the 2nd placed candidate and the party nominating if it is ok. Do we have any rules about how the nominating officer acts, for example if someone has left the party? Or must he approve or does he have full discretion?
    I agree that open lists would be better. In Slovakia I got to circle the names of two of the thirteen candidates from the list I voted for. The circling then determines the order of election. (but for candidates circled by less than ten percent of their own party’s voters, the original list order is used, although only of the thirteen meps from Slovakia got in that way) – however, under this system, it is still held to be an advantage to be at the top, for getting more circles.

  • @Jamie: Jeanette Sunderland is no longer on the list (she resigned from the list if resigned is the right word). The remaining candidates on the list are myself, James Monoghan and Nader Fekri. Neil Poole is no longer a member of the party, so I suppose whoever was below Neil (I don’t recall sorry) has now moved up.

  • It is my understanding that the election result would provide for only one LD MEP from the region. As there is one in Edward McMillan Scott following his defection from the Tories, logic would dictate that Diana Wallis’ replacement should actually be the next person on the Conservative list…

  • Rebecca Taylor 22nd Jan '12 - 2:19pm

    @Richard Gadsden: I don’t think the Tory system (I don’t understand how it works BTW) of giving sitting MEPs some kind of special (protected?) position is great from a democratic perspective. Under the current system we LibDems use, as long as a sitting MEP has done a decent job, they can expect to get high enough up the list to be re-elected because of the obvious advantage of being better known than the other candidates and having proved themselves capable. It is *technically* possible for a sitting MEP to not make it high up enough a list to be re-elected although I don’t think it has ever happened in the UK, but surely it has happened elsewhere albeit infrequently?

    What happens under the Tory system if a sitting MEP has been awful and party members in that region would prefer someone else to take over? Is the region just stuck with that person? Surely in such circumstances, it should be possible for party members to vote the sitting MEP into a lower place on the list and another candidate higher up the list?

  • Francis Meyerfeld 23rd Jan '12 - 11:34am

    The rules referred to by Mark Pack clearly give the final decision to the party. Yes, each candidate ON THE LIST has to be asked in turn whether they want the vacancy and then the party has to decide if they want to accept that person. If number 2 says no, then no 3 has to be asked and so on. If the party decides it doesn’t want person 2, then person 3 has to be asked and so on.

    It is not unknown for a person on the list to decide that they don’t want the job and for someone lower on the list to take it. I know it has happened for one of our list MSPs in the past. Incidentally, Sophie i’ nt Veld, the ALDE MEP from Holland, defeated the sitting MEP to become no 1 on her party’s list in an internal party contest.

    The argument that somehow people lower down the list have less validity than people higher up the list is nonsense. In the ‘closed’ list system that is used for Euro elections people vote for the party not the person. So the list is merely the party’s statement of the order in which they want people to be elected.

    The real question in this debate is whether the party will suffer from the perceived nepotism of this changeover. Chris Davies is unfortunately right. However Stewart was chosen, our opponents will vilify the party if he takes over, not just in the immediate future, but at the next Euro election. The party has to decide which will be worse, enforcing the rules -including party approval – or getting a shedload of adverse publicity whenever Stewart makes a statement or acts as an MEP.

    It’s an unenviable choice for Stewart Arnold. Become an MEP for 2 years and then in all probability be ditched by the party or step aside now and campaign to become an MEP next time with a clean sheet. If he has the party’s interests at heart and wants a long future in the Lib Dems it’s clear what his choice ought to be.

  • Open Primary.

  • Mark Valladares makes some good points. But wasn’t the husband and wife ticket actually controversial in 2007? Weren’t questions about this (and whether the MEP’s newsletter to members had promoted him) as a candidate asked at the (poorly attended) Sheffield hustings? Time to ban them completely in reselection year in my view. And our new MEP should be Rebecca.

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