"There is some preliminary thinking going on about whether any changes are needed."The implcit message in the letter is that they would centralise control if they felt that there was a chance that there might be a messy campaign to get rid of incumbent europhile MEPs (who are still - amazingly - the majority of the tory group).
"How do we avoid these selection processes from becoming divisive and acrimonious? Of course there will be differences in the various candidates’ stance towards the EU, and it’s right that those making the choices are fully aware of the candidates’ views. But there is a big prize for the Party in this process being conducted in a manner that is open and honest, while remaining civilised and courteous. I suspect that this is not really to do with the exact details of the process. I guess it’s more about how we all behave".You can see why the tory leadership have the fear. Last time round a couple of sitting MEPs got dumped, but only a few. But now (1) Conservative activists have become much more sceptical about the EU; (2) the europhile MEPs have done more do wind up the membership - particularly with their behaviour over the EPP issue; and (3) internet based grassroots activity has the potential to focus anger into an effective campaign against the incumbents.
Add to that the liklihood that the euro elections are likely to fall at roughly the same time (summer '09) as the general, and that Brown will be keen to see if he can trigger some kind of tory euro row, and you have a cause for Maude's concern.
Its not totally inconcievable that the leadship would think about some kind of radical tightening of control. Taking away people's votes altogether might be a step too far. But some kind of tight A-list approach might serve the second purpose of heading off a sceptical 'decapitation' campaign against europhile incumbents.
In fact there might even be some people who would relish the idea of trying to impose "a list that looks like Britain" (no bad thing) in the teeth of sceptical opposition. The tories haven't said yet whether the a-list will be extended to the euro elections - there will be pressure to do so, and why not kill two birds with one stone?
However, that strikes me as a nuclear option. Maude says that:
"we can all therefore simply decide for ourselves that we will take shared responsibility, to coin a phrase, for making this a process that enhances rather than damages our Party’s reputation."Which is a totally fair point. The Republican right did themselves no favours with their 90s witchhunts. In translation it sounds like Maude means: "If people who were a bit innefective were to get deselected without triggering an embarrising row, that would be one thing. If things got nasty, that would be another."
Can the tories find a way to make the election process work for them? One mild reform might be simply to allow postal voting (at the moment party members have to turn up to a hustings to get a say). That would probably strengthen the incumbents because of the name-recognition factor. Some of the tory MEPs like Dan Hannan call for open primaries to select the candidates - arguing that people who can reach to the uncoverted are likely to be the most effective candidates for them.
There might be something in that, and - as the Conservatives' own leadship election showed - a bit of controversy is not necessarily a bad thing for a party. If tory members really don't feel represented by their MEPs - wouldn't it be better for them to get some they can support, rather than voting for someone else later?