PR heralds purge of MPs and end of selection rights

First published: March 1998

Indications that proportional representation and centralised ranking of candidates for the European Parliament elections are going to be used to purge Euro-MPs and abolish the right of party members to choose candidates give a flavour of what is posed by the Electoral Reform Commission’s remit to look at the introduction of PR for Westminster.

Labour has acknowledged that under PR it anticipates losing up to 30 of its 62 MEPs. In London, for example, where Labour currently has nine seats, it is braced to lose up to six. In Scotland, with currently six Labour-held seats, the party could lose three MEPs.

Centralised control of candidate selection will be used to determine where candidates are positioned on party lists. In the European elections only the top 30 or so will have any hope of being elected. The party leadership will thereby gain full power to purge candidates, overturning mandatory reselection.

The procedures proposed for the European selections – to have been completed, with candidates in place, before this year’s Labour Party conference – would give the party membership merely a right to nominate, not to select or vote for, candidates. Selection, to determine the names on the list for each region and ranking of the list, would be decided by a leadership-appointed panel.

Of the five members of the Electoral Reform Commission, four are publicly known to support some form of PR. Chaired by SDP founder Roy Jenkins and encompassing the political editor of the Economist and pro-PR Tory peer Lord Alexander of Weedon, the Commission is clearly not going to have the election of future Labour governments as its central concern.

Under PR the last general election would not have resulted in a Labour government. In Scotland the Additional Member System agreed for the Scottish Parliament will hand Labour seats to parties to its right – the Liberal Democrats, SNP and even the Tories will benefit – and almost certainly lose Labour the majority it would have under the present system.

PR at Westminster would consolidate a new centre party bloc committed to a pro-EMU, low wage and anti-welfare state agenda. Its corollary would be state funding to allow Blair to eliminate the trade union vote within the Labour Party.