Better selection and election systems would give us better MEPs

August 7, 2011 9:40 am

Author:

Share this Article

Poll VoteBy Jon Worth / @jonworth

This week I was in the audience at a Young Fabians* event about Britain and the EU with Mary Honeyball MEP as the speaker. The event was part of one of the Young Fabians Policy Commissions, with the aim of putting together ideas for the future EU policy of the Labour Party.

Mary, in her introduction, included a refrain that is all too familiar to any of us that follow the work of the UK’s MEPs – that their work is little appreciated, seldom understood, and that MEPs feel their role in their political parties is not held in high enough regard. It is not as if this complaint is restricted to Labour MEPs; it afflicts Tories too.

The problem, at least in part, rests with the election system that the UK uses to elect its MEPs, and how parties select their candidates.

The UK is divided up into 12 regions, with between 3 and 12 MEPs elected per region on closed lists. This means a voter can choose one party or another, but political parties have the complete say over the order of their candidates on the lists.

This, I said to Mary, is the very reason MEPs like her have a strong incentive to attend Fabian events packed with people who are also members of the Labour Party, as these people will determine whether MEPs will be reselected, and once at the top of a list everything is reasonably easy. The incentive to go out and talk to the general population is rather weak as a result.

To give Mary her due, she did acknowledge I had a point, but also of course stated that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas – i.e. that sitting MEPs have little determination to change the system.

There are two things that could be done – changes to Labour’s selection procedures, and changes to the election system.

First, in the Labour and Conservative parties, sitting MEPs are automatically placed at the top of the lists for the next election unless they are deselected beforehand. In the Liberal Democrats it’s subtly different; sitting MEPs and new candidates are mixed in together, giving new candidates a chance to rival sitting MEPs in a fair fight. This change – to allow a free-for-all on the Labour lists – would require a party rule change to accomplish, and would keep sitting MEPs on their toes.

Longer term, a change to the election rules would be most welcome. Countries such as Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden use open list or Single Transferable Vote systems to elect MEPs. This means that candidates need to appeal not only within their parties, but directly to the electorates as well. While this undoubtedly does not eradicate the democratic deficit in the EU institutions, it at least gives electorates a choice of an individual and a choice of party, and that is to be welcomed. Young and dynamic MEPs such as Åsa Westlund** of the Swedish Social Democrats and Marietje Schaake of the Dutch Social Liberals (D66) are candidates who used the open list system to leapfrog their more experienced colleagues, and the European Parliament is undoubtedly stronger for their presence.

* Just for the record – I am a member of the Fabian Society but no longer young enough to qualify as a Young Fabian!
** Declaration of interest – I do website design work for Åsa

Comments are closed

Latest

  • News George Osborne doesn’t accept living standards are falling

    George Osborne doesn’t accept living standards are falling

    Here’s one for the “what was he thinking?” files. George Osborne was interviewed by ITV news about today’s growth figures, yet when Economics Editor Richard Edgar noted that living standards are falling as wages have fallen behind inflation, the Chancellor disagreed with that fact, saying “I don’t accept that.” Here’s Elgar’s tweet: Living standards have fallen since 2010. So why won’t the Chancellor accept that? Is it because it punches a hole in his narrative about the British economy…?

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe Farage has chosen to cosy up with the sort of political party that makes most of us feel sick

    Farage has chosen to cosy up with the sort of political party that makes most of us feel sick

    Why do so many of us go canvassing and door-knocking in the rain? Or give up evenings and weekends for the Labour Party when we could be anywhere else. There’s always a candidate to support or a campaign to be won. But ultimately it’s about more than that – it’s about fighting for our values. We all get into politics to argue for what we think is right and to change our world bit by bit, day by day for […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland What should Scottish Labour do?

    What should Scottish Labour do?

    There is much talk in the Scottish media about a crisis in Scottish Labour. Some of it is of course froth (is the Scottish Daily Mail where we would seek advice in our best interest?). But some of it is substantial – based on the post-poll evidence, anything between 30-40% of Labour voters voted Yes in the referendum. The angst is also heightened by the surge in SNP membership to nearly 80,000, making them the third largest political party in […]

    Read more →
  • Comment For our immigration policy, Labour should forget the Tories and look to Europe

    For our immigration policy, Labour should forget the Tories and look to Europe

    Three quarters want fewer foreigners. Disillusioned voters have flocked to the radical right. The Government and Commission are at war over the free movement of labour. An EU exit is a real possibility. In case you haven’t noticed, immigration is back on the agenda. And that means Labour, to stand a chance of winning in May, must present credible immigration policies to voters over the next seven months – not an easy task considering research has shown immigration may have […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe McFadden (rightly) slams EU’s “unacceptable” cash grab. We need to tell Brussels to get lost

    McFadden (rightly) slams EU’s “unacceptable” cash grab. We need to tell Brussels to get lost

    As someone who is broadly pro-European, there comes a point every so often where the European Union do something so completely indefensible that makes you wonder if they want the UK to leave after all. Today is one of those times, with the UK being presented with a backdated bill for £1.7 billion, based on growth calculations that have been inaccurate for 20 years. Seemingly these changes are due to “European Union-wide changes to national accounts designed to better measure […]

    Read more →