As part of an overall effort to take a more professional approach UKIP took on a new system for selecting potential candidates for the Westminster and EU Parliaments from 2013 onwards.
In previous elections, UKIP parliamentary candidates had been selected almost entirely on votes of the membership with a minimal involvement from party officials. This changed when a new system was devised in order to try to improve the quality of candidates.
As I have touched on previously, potential future parliamentary candidates had to first go through an assessment centre where they were tested and examined on their ability to handle the media, deal with public speaking, retain policy and have a good level of general knowledge. Only after they had passed this assessment could a potential candidate apply for a hustings to take on a seat as a prospective parliamentary candidate. This is a comparatively modest change but many of the longer serving members of the party reacted to it almost as if it were the arrival of Big Brother in person.
The selection process for the prospective candidates to be members of the European Parliament was even more controversial. A long time coming after seemingly endless debate, redrafting the process was a fairly simple one consisting of basic background checks, personal interviews and a decisive element of democracy from the party membership. As with the process for Westminster selection, which potential candidates had to have passed before taking part, the system was a long way from the authoritarianism of the old parties and had a huge amount of internal democracy but it was still the subject of great drama and controversy.
The final results for the MEP selection process were dictated by a vote of the membership who were asked to settle the ranking of the prospective candidates for each area, a very important decision in an election settled by Proportional Representation. The internal processes of the party had whittled the candidates down to the correct number for each region before inviting the membership to vote and settle the order.
The West Midlands region of UKIP was no stranger to controversy even before this process began. Having got a very creditable result at the last election in 2009 and returning two MEPs, it was unfortunate that both of the representatives returned had a relationship with the party leadership which was bumpy to say the least. Nikki Sinclaire left UKIP and sat as an independent MEP before eventually forming her own party to compete at the 2014 Euro elections. Mike Nattrass had removed himself from the UKIP group in the European Parliament mid term but had appeared to effect a reconciliation with the party in the months leading up to the candidate selection process.
When the final seven people were selected by the party to contest the Euro elections for UKIP, Mr Nattrass was omitted from the list. This led to a predictably angry response. He attacked Nigel Farage and the party leadership across the media in a series of ill advised and angry outbursts before eventually resigning his membership. These outbursts were so negative and in my view childish that many people who had previously respected Mr Nattrass and had felt sympathy for him following his exclusion from the party list changed their minds and saw the sense of the decision to remove him as a potential UKIP candidate.
Other areas had their share of disappointed candidates but few took the decision in such a churlish manner as Mike Nattrass who turned his back on the activists who had helped him to achieve two terms at the European Parliament and make a very healthy living from it.
The final UKIP Euro election lists across the country showed a great cross section of the British people as our candidates including a very high proportion of women in leading roles giving the lie to the repeated accusations of mysogyny against the party.
from "The Rise of UKIP" by Bill Etheridge
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