- In the East of England, incumbent Andrew Duff won 49% of the first preference votes, not as high as most of his colleagues but there was a bigger field of candidates than in other regions.
- In the East Midlands, incumbent Bill Newton Dunn won 67% of the first preference votes.
- In London, the incumbency factor was significantly reduced, for the same reason as last time. Incumbent Sarah Ludford won ‘only’ 48% of the first preference votes because the runner-up was the well-known Jonathan Fryer (25%).
- In the North East, where incumbent Fiona Hall is not re-standing, there was a genuinely open contest and a very narrow result. Angelika Schneider (44.7%) beat Owen Temple (43.6%) by just six votes on first preferences and went on to win top place.
- In the North West, incumbent Chris Davies won 72% of the first preference votes.
- In the South East, where one of the two sitting MEPs (Sharon Bowles) is not re-standing, the remaining incumbent Catherine Bearder won 59% of the first preference votes. It was a close contest for the key second place, with Antony Hook (15.6% of first preference votes) beating Dinti Batstone (13.5%).
- In the South West, incumbent Sir Graham Watson won 79% of the first preference votes.
- In the West Midlands, despite being an MEP for barely ten months, incumbent Phil Bennion nevertheless won 62% of the first preference votes.
- In Yorkshire and Humber, incumbent Rebecca Taylor did not re-stand, giving the other incumbent Edward McMillan-Scott a clear run; he won 67% of the first preference votes.
The results suggest that, in all-member ballots where there are not the resources in place to ensure a meaningful election campaign, the deciding factors are name recognition and a low turnout. This problem is even worse in the elections for party president, where it is effectively impossible for anyone who is not an MP or peer to win.
There was recently an attempt on Liberal Democrat Voice to build up a head of steam for introducing all-member ballots for the election of the party’s federal committees (the Federal Executive, Federal Conference Committee and Federal Policy Committee, where the franchise is currently restricted to conference representatives). An LDV poll indicated this would be popular, so it would not be surprising if there were an attempt at a constitutional amendment to this effect next year.
In theory, such a reform sounds more democratic. In practice, the lack of a genuine membership-wide election campaign and the consequent emphasis on name recognition would result in the federal committees being packed with well-known establishment figures. It would be much harder for new faces to break in, and the party’s committees would be less representative than they are now. Even with the present system, in this year’s contest, peers won five of the fifteen directly-elected places on the Federal Policy Committee and former MPs won four of the twelve directly-elected places on the Federal Conference Committee; all-member ballots would be likely to make this tendency worse.
I’m all for more democracy. But before we change the constitution, those who want all-member ballots for party committees must match the theory with practice. They must come up with a convincing and effective formula for ensuring genuinely open contests that are not stacked in favour of the establishment or wealthy candidates. What affordable campaign methods (whether or not online) could we develop that actually work with an all-member electorate, and which would give all candidates a fair crack of the whip?
Until and unless reformers can answer that practical question, demands for a constitutional amendment should be treated with scepticism. It is in no one’s interests for the party’s committees to become a closed shop – apart from the small number of establishment figures who would benefit.
POSTSCRIPT (Tuesday 4th December): The results of the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ European selection contest have just been announced. Incumbent MEP George Lyon has taken the Pyongyang Award, with 80.7% of the first preference votes.