Voting for a party
Sir: The political parties are discussing whom they wish to field in the European elections of 1999.
For the first time, party affiliations will outweigh voter choices. Up to now the winners in parliamentary or local government elections have always owed their position directly to the popular vote. In 1999, this will no longer be true. Voters will not be allowed to vote for individual candidates, but instead will be offered a choice between political parties. The parties will nominate lists of candidates, and will choose those members of the lists who are deemed to be "elected".
The days when an elected member owed a responsibility to all the electors will have finished. In future, queries and complaints will be addressed to regional political offices, which will decide which member of their party in Parliament, if any, should respond. In the past, the fact that Members of Parliament owed their position to the electorate in their constituency meant that they were responsive to democratic pressures. In future, members will owe their position to the party officials who appointed them, and their constituency role will shrink to a matter of public relations.
The different parties will choose different methods of selecting their lists and of putting the lists in order to decide which of their candidates will be deemed to have won once the votes are counted. Some parties are insisting on a one-member, one-vote ballot, all the way through to the numbering of the final lists. The least democratic party will be the Labour Party, which only involves its membership at the nomination stage, and which keeps a leadership monopoly over the determination of the final list, and the vital matter of the order of the names on that list. Only the top names stand any chance of being sent to Parliament.
The new system is wrong not because it is proportional, but because it gives power to the party machines which they should not have, and takes away powers from the voters which they should have. It would be perfectly possible to evolve proportional systems of election in which the link between voters and their representatives remained at least as strong as it has been up to now.
KEN COATES MEP
(Nottinghamshire North and Chesterfield, Independent Labour)