Red Pepper, November 1997

When the Green Party issued a press release in September claiming that it had been approached by half-a-dozen left-wing Labour MEPs who wanted to defect before the 1999 European elections, Labour was quick to dismiss the story as groundless rumour.

 But in fact there is a small group of disaffected Labour MEPs who are seriously considering the idea of fighting the next Euro-elections against Labour on a pro-European red-green platform if, as they expect, the Labour leadership in London makes sure that ‘awkward’ sitting MEPs are not selected as candidates.

 The next Euro-elections will be fought on the regional list system of proportional representation, which both allows party machines far greater power over selection of candidates than first past the post and makes it possible for lists with minority support to gain representation.

 Tony Blair has made little secret of his desire for a more pliant European Parliamentary Labour Party. His relations with the EPLP have been cool ever since early 1995, when more than half of Labour’s MEPs were named as signatories to an advertisement opposing abandonment of Clause Four.

More recently, MEPs have objected to a code of conduct prepared by the London leadership. 

“We’re expecting a purge,” said one MEP. “The best bet is that 12 or 15 of us will be targeted – and not just the outspoken oppositionists like Hugh Kerr and Ken Coates. Some will go quietly, but others have been giving the idea of standing on a red-green platform active consideration.” Red Pepper understands that six sitting MEPs have been involved in informal discussions.

 Of course, fears of a purge might prove to be groundless – in which case a breakaway is unlikely. At this stage, no detailed preparations have been made. Labour won 62 of the 84 European Parliament seats in England, Scotland and Wales on 44 per cent of the vote in the 1994 Euro-elections. Even if the party matches this share of the vote in 1999, it will win only 44 seats on the list system – and if the government is suffering from mid-term unpopularity it could easily end up with a haul in the low 30s or worse.

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