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Monday, November 9, 1998 Published at 11:49 GMT

UK Politics

Euro-MP threatens legal action

Gordon Brown, Jack Cunningham at Labour's 1994 Euro campaign

A Labour Euro-MP is threatening the party with legal action because she says the selection of candidates for next year's European elections has made it impossible for her to win her seat again.

Christine Oddy believes the system which left her seventh out of eight candidates in her region is unfair to her and her constituents.

Now, she has consulted lawyers in a bid to challenge Labour's 'closed list' methods.

In what is threatening to become a constitutional crisis, the Lords have already twice voted against the system. The proposal goes back to the Commons for debate on Tuesday this week.

Under the new proportional representation system to be used for electing Euro-MPs, voters can choose only a party, not an individual candidate.

It is up to the parties to rank their candidates in order.

Ms Oddy told the BBC: "I think a lot of my colleagues equally feel they are not happy with their place on the list too.

"Basically I was the most senior member of my region. I was the only sitting woman member in the region. The party is supposed to be committed to gender balance and yet I find myself in an unwinnable position."

She said that two candidates placed above her on the list had been "parachuted in from London", including former EastEnders actor Michael Cashman.

"The people of West Midlands feel the service will degenerate as a result," Ms Oddy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If you saw the letters that have arrived at my office and at 10 Downing Street, you would have to accept that my work record is probably second to none in the Labour group," she said.

'Root and branch support'

A BBC survey had shown she had a higher recognition factor in the region than Edwina Currie, the former Tory minister, she pointed out.

Many Labour branches had passed resolutions condemning the way in which external candidates were "parachuted in", said Ms Oddy - and some people were even refusing to work at the next election.

But Alan Donnelly, leader of the Labour MEPs at the Strasbourg Parliament, defended Labour's selection process.

He told Today that the rejection of the system by the Lords illustrated the need to do away with hereditary peers.

He said the selection procedure had been objective and fair.

"It involved a ballot of members. It involved a process of interview, a detailed application form and a selection panel made up of people from Chris's own region and indeed from the National Executive Committee."

The results of interviews were available to view, Mr Donnelly said. He hoped Ms Oddy would not pursue the legal action, but if she did, he believed they would be published.

He denied that she had been kept low on the list because during the Labour battle over whether to keep Clause 4 of the party's constitution, her name had appeared on an advertisement defending the clause.

He said: "In a selection procedure where we had 60 sitting MEPs, there are going to be some who feel that they are winners and there are going to be some that feel they are losers, and of course Chris feels she has lost out."

But he added that party members overwhelmingly supported the lists and every sitting MEP who wanted a place on a list had had one.

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