Who is my MEP?
There is something fascinating about watching the reaction of the powers-that-be as they adjust to the Irish “no-to the-Lisbon-treaty” vote. The very same leaders who have only recently been sounding off about the importance of Zimbabwe and Kenya abiding by the democratic vote of their people, now seem to be threatening a course in political re-education for the stupid Irish who have gone and voted the wrong way.
Democracy it seems is a jolly good thing, except when it votes for something or someone you don’t like. To be sure a whole ocean of violence, intimidation and corruption separates our eurocrats from Mr Mugabe. But they do both seem to share an “I know better than the electorate” philosophy.
Even the Liberal Democrats have lost their grip on this one, and keep muttering about having a referendum on whether we should be in or out of Europe. It is totally obvious that we should stay in and that the real question is a much more difficult one: namely, what kind of Europe, with want kind of democratic structures, do we want to invent for ourselves (and what kind do we have a hope of gaining consensus for).
The way Europe is going certainly doesn’t look very attractive. I’m not referring to the populist tub-thumping about MEPs’ expenses. They may, or may not, be on a fantastic gravy train. I really don’t know. But being regularly on the receiving end of accusations about the six month ‘holidays’ enjoyed by University teachers, I tend to be sympathetic to others similarly traduced for their ‘easy life’.
My problem is who these MEPs are. I cant remember when the last MEP elections were. And so far as I can recall I have heard nothing from my elected Euro-representatives for years and years.
I wonder how many British readers of this post could name their MEP.
Well, part of the reason you cant name him or her is that you don’t actually have “an MEP” in the same way that you have an MP. You have a whole group of them representing just 12 mega-constituencies covering the whole of the UK, elected on a party list system. As I write, it now does begin to come back to me that I spoiled my ballot paper at the last election (whenever it was) – on the grounds that I wanted to know who I was voting for not just what party. In my book, there is a world of difference between an acceptable and an unacceptable Tory, and I don’t want to be caught out.
Scanning the website, I discovered that we have 7 MEPs in the “East” constituency – all blokes (the British representation in the European parliament is not much more gender-balanced than Westminster). Only one I have heard of, let alone from: and that’s a Lib Dem who used to be on the local council.
Further exploration of their websites did not inspire much confidence. Just one of these seven guys had actually managed to get any kind of personal response to the Irish vote on his site (and that was a slightly crowing UKIP man who was “indebted to the Irish for standing up against the EU juggernaut”). One of the Tories had managed a link to the HQ’s response, but otherwise his last news item was his “championing of a colon cancer campaign” in March (honourable indeed, but not specifically euro).
In fact the websites turn out to be the usual kind of graveyards of good intentions. The colon-cancer-campaign man had only managed one of his monthly letters from Strasbourg in 2008, and the nice Lib Dem man’s myth-busting stories of the EU had long since lost their links.
But the point is not their ropey web management. It is much simpler and goes something like this. Representative democracy depends on the sense, and reality, of a direct relationship between voter and his/her representative. If even reasonably well informed citizens do not know who their representatives are and if they don’t ever get in touch with the voters, then Euro-democracy needs a shot in the arm before we take it any further.