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

  • Featured Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite, Labour’s biggest affiliate, have announced that they’re donating £1.5 million to the party’s campaign – and will consider donating further. The news was was made public in a statement from the union’s Executive Council. The union expressed concern that the Tories could be elected on a ‘tide of big business cash, while Labour remains under resourced.’ In July, we reported that the Tories campaign fund was three times bigger than Labour’s and over the summer it emerged the Conservatives had raised millions from private […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Practical ways to get more young people registered to vote

    Practical ways to get more young people registered to vote

    Recently, there has been a lot of comment about the drop in the number of people registered to vote. But instead of just talking about it, I suspect most colleagues are looking for are practical suggestions as to how this can be remedied. In my Borough of Sandwell, the Electoral Participation Officer has carried out research looking at whether 17-to-18 year olds who attend secondary schools in the area are registered to vote.  Of the 16 schools in the borough, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment No, of course Labour haven’t approached Sinn Féin about a coalition

    No, of course Labour haven’t approached Sinn Féin about a coalition

    It was hyped up with a story in The Sun(£). By yesterday afternoon, the Tories had turned it into an online attack poster. Funny that. The claim? That Labour are hoping to rely on Sinn Féin MPs to prop up a Miliband Government in a hung Parliament. The glitch? Sinn Féin refuse to sit in the British Parliament. We all know this already. But it didn’t stop the Tories photoshopping Ed Miliband rubbing shoulders with Gerry Adams outside Number 10. Ivan Lewis, […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News You’ll never believe what’s said in the latest Lib Dem political broadcast

    You’ll never believe what’s said in the latest Lib Dem political broadcast

    UPDATE: One of the first comments on the video is a man claiming to appear in it – who says he did not know it was for the Lib Dems. We’ve not yet confirmed if this is true. —————————– The Lib Dems have a new political broadcast – and it’s not bad. Nick Clegg knocks on a few doors, and voters say a few nice things about him and the Lib Dems over some uplifting music. Standard fare really. And not […]

    Read more →
  • News Tory backbenchers attempted to sabotage documentary on Westminster

    Tory backbenchers attempted to sabotage documentary on Westminster

    It’s emerged that a group of unnamed Tory backbench MPs tried to covertly put a stop to a documentary about goings on in Westminster. Michael Cockerell the documentary-maker, who’s well known for making ‘Hotline to the President’ that analyses Britain’s relationship with the US, said he was tipped off by House of Commons Doorkeepers. He explained that “the doorkeepers are eyes and ears of the place and the internal security system.” It was through them that he found out about the […]

    Read more →