Andreas Whittam Smith: Why I won’t be voting in the European election

I’d rather break the habit of a lifetime than cast a vote in this pointless European election. The “parliament” just doesn’t work

 

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I am not going to vote in next week’s elections for the European Parliament. This abstention would be a first for me. Until now, I have voted in every election for which I am eligible, national, European or local. The main reason why I won’t make the short walk to the polling station round the corner this time is a basic one.

I have little idea who the candidates are. Only the Conservative Party has communicated with me thus far and told me the names of the people it is putting forward to represent London.

But they are not boldly announced or presented. They are merely identified in the caption to a group photograph. That is all. There is no information about what they have done in life.

To discover just the bare names of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip candidates, I would have to do a search of the internet – and there is only one week to go before voting takes place.

I detect here the habitual arrogance of professional politicians. They assume we would cast our ballots without even wanting to know what sort of people we are being asked to support.

In fact the Conservative election pamphlet is an example of using one election to fight another. The front sheet is dominated by a picture of David Cameron, who isn’t standing next Thursday, together with three statements, two of which have nothing to do with the work of the European Parliament.

“A stronger economy at home” - yes, but irrelevant. “Renewed respect abroad” - even if true, also beside the point. “Real change in Europe” - at last, a reference to the matter in hand.

It also contains one statement that is inaccurate. This is where it states “People feel the EU is heading in a direction we never signed up to”.

Correction: everything that the European Union does has been signed up to by successive British governments, Conservative and Labour alike, including Mrs Thatcher, in a series of treaties - the original Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act (1986), Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2007).

As the Conservative communication is the only one I have, I analyse it more carefully than it might otherwise deserve. It states: “This year’s elections are the most important in a generation.” If that is the case, then surely it should give an explanation of how the very different European method of voting actually works.

The Conservative document is silent on this question. The system is not the first-past-the post method employed in general elections. For European elections are based on proportional representation. You don’t vote for individual candidates but for a party list. Moreover Britain has chosen to use the most rigid version.

This unpleasant, un-British system, which cuts the personal link between electors and candidates, is enshrined in various treaties, each one approved by the UK Parliament.

This use of a party list is another reason for my unwillingness to cast my vote next week. However, I have explored the internet to see what I could discover about the Conservative candidates. Among the eight on the list, there are some impressive people.

Dr Charles Tannock was a consultant psychiatrist at University College Hospital, London. Dr Lynne Hack set up a Diagnostic Molecular Biology Laboratory in the Institute of Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London. She has published over 60 scientific papers in the field of cancer genetics.

Sheila Lawlor founded the centre right think tank Politeia, whose stated aim is to encourage reflection, discussion and debate about the place of the state in people’s daily lives. Rather than sit in a pack, they should have been given star billing.

I shall also abstain because the European Parliament is not actually a fully functioning parliament at all. It does not represent a single “people” and cannot therefore claim legitimacy for its acts.

Indeed the latest estimates show that populist anti-EU, anti-austerity, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment parties could win as much as 31 per cent of the votes and 218 out of 751 seats. In other words it is likely that a third of the members of the new “Parliament” will be hostile to its purposes.

Nor does it have the prerogatives of a parliament. It does not supply the executive, since the European Council takes the principal decisions. This comprises the heads of the governments of the member states wearing different hats. Nor does this “parliament” have the power to tax.

What it mainly does is to revise proposals for new European laws. It is like a House of Lords without a House of Commons. I cannot vote for that.

Football’s spirit of grace, even love, makes an outsider’s heart swell

I keep an eye on football rather than being passionate about it. My attention still focuses on the teams of my youth – on Merseyside, where I was brought up, and in Manchester where my father’s family lived. So I have been much moved by reports of how the supporters of Manchester City handled their triumph last weekend in the Premier League, and how Liverpool coped with its disappointment.

At Manchester City’s ground, there was the banner held aloft saluting the manager with these words – “Pellegrini: This charming man”. What a wonderful compliment. How unlike what one would expect to find at a sporting event.

I was even more impressed when I learnt that the phrase “This charming man” was a reference to a 30-year-old song by the band The Smiths, who hailed from Manchester. By The Smiths, too, who chose their name because of its very ordinariness. How utterly remarkable the whole thing was.

Then to Liverpool where the manager, Brendan Rodgers, gave an end-of-the season address to supporters that emphasized love. He said: “In many respects the defining feeling from this season has been an enduring love. It is the love from the supporters that has created the wave of feeling that has engulfed Liverpool.

“It has been the love of the game and our entertaining that has driven our players to defy the odds and compete for a title no one gave them a hope of competing for. It’s been the love of the Hillsborough families for the memories of their relatives that has inspired us and a nation.”

I have sometimes wondered why football is described as “the beautiful game”. Now I know.

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