Yorkshire and Humber Euro seat remains in the family

Stewart Arnold campaigning as 2nd on the LibDem selection list for the LibDems in Yorkshire and the Humber region Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Stewart Arnold can take his wife's seat without a by-election

It never ceases to amaze me how things can change so fast in politics.

Last week I was writing about Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis' stand against what she called the "anti-democratic stitch up" of the two big political groups in the European Parliament rigging the vote to allow one of their members to take turns at being elected as President.

She drew far more support from fellow MEPs than expected even though she came bottom of the poll as independent protest candidate.

This week Diana Wallis announced that after 13 years as Yorkshire and the Humber's MEP she is too worn out to carry on and wants to resign at the end of the month.

But she is being accused of hypocrisy by her own chief whip because electoral rules mean her husband can take over the seat without bothering to trouble the electorate with a by-election.

Family affair

The reason for the seat remaining in "the family" is because of the proportional representation system used to elect MEPs in the first place.

Each party puts forward a ranked list of candidates in each region and is allocated seats based on the proportion of the votes it receives.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Diana Wallis MEP is to resign on 31 January 2012

In Yorkshire and the Humber the Liberal Democrats gained enough votes to claim just one of the region's six seats in the 2009 Euro elections.

Diana Wallis, as a serving MEP since 1999, was top of her party list so was re-elected.

In the case of an early resignation the rules say a seat is retained by the party and offered to the person next on the original list of candidates.

Stewart Arnold was that second place candidate on the Liberal Democrat list. He is Diana Wallis' full-time paid assistant. He is also her husband.

It is now up to him to say whether he will take the seat.

If he refuses it will go to the next candidate on the list. So far he has said nothing but few expect him to turn down the chance of taking over from his wife.

Husband's turn

In her resignation letter Diana Wallis says: "I have been at the service of the people of Yorkshire and the Humber for 12 and a half years.

"I will always be grateful for the trust that was placed in me to carry out this role, but now is the time for someone with fresh eyes to take over."

Fellow Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies is so angered by events that he has stepped down as Chief Whip for the 12 UK Liberal Democrats sitting in the European Parliament.

"The arrangements being made by the wife and husband smells to me of nepotism," says the MEP who represents the neighbouring North West region.

"It is a case of revolving political doors and I don't feel comfortable with it."

Unfair criticism

Calderdale Liberal Democrat Councillor Nader Fekri has a far different view.

He feels that Diana Wallis and Stewart Arnold are being "unfairly maligned and vilified in the press and media at large".

He fought the election alongside Diana Wallis as 5th on the Liberal Democrat list for the Yorkshire and Humber region.

"The rules are very clear," he told me

"The person who finished below her should, if he is willing, nay must take her place.

"Anything else would be a travesty. It would be ludicrous to exclude that person because he happened to be married to Diana.

"Stewart won his place on the list on his own merits, fair and square."

Diana Wallis herself, interviewed for the Sunday Politics programme said that it was up to the "second candidate on the list" to decide if he would take her seat.

"Of course he will make a successful MEP," she said. "But then, I am biased."