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By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday the Tory list for the next European Parliamentary Elections in 2014 was opened. Please get in touch with the Conservative Party's Candidates Department if you think you'd make a good MEP. There should be a good number of vacancies…
Four MEPs have already announced that they will be retiring:
It is very possible that there may be other retirements. Speculation focuses upon Timothy Kirkhope, Malcolm Harbour, James Elles and Geoffrey Van Orden.
This could mean that there will be nine vacancies in the Tory MEP delegation. There are currently 26 Tory MEPs.
It is far from clear that the party will be able to match the top-of-the-poll 27.7% vote share that it won at the last elections in 2009 but the road to the Brussels parliament might be less jammed than the road to the Westminster parliament for Tory candidates. If the boundaries for the House of Commons are changed then there will be fifty fewer MPs and opportunities for people to become candidates in winnable seats will be very limited.
Conservative HQ has yet to decide on how MEP candidates will be selected and ranked. Five years ago the process was shockingly manipulated. Many incumbent MEPs were re-adopted even though they held Europhile views. Hustings were banned in order to minimise the opportunity for Eurosceptic candidates to promote themselves and be selected. Women were ranked higher on MEP lists even if they won fewer votes from members. Turnout figures for the election were suppressed.
If the party doesn't choose candidates this time that are in tune with party and mainstream national opinion on issues like Europe and prisoners' voting rights we will face an uphill struggle against UKIP.