Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by the UK Independence Party (POS 41)

SUMMARY

  The UK Independence Party holds that the problem of poor turnout at euro-elections lies with the system of government rather than the system of voting. We acknowledge that the use of postal voting may raise turnout in euro-elections. However, we argue that this should not be interpreted as conferring any greater democratic legitimacy on the EU or this country's MEPs. We therefore question its fundamental value.

  1.  The issues listed in the terms of reference for this enquiry have been largely covered in reports by the Electoral Commission. The following observations are confined to the matter of poor turnout at euro-elections.

  2.  The UK Independence Party notes the Electoral Commission's findings ("Public opinion and the 2004 elections", September 2003) that poor turnouts in euro-elections are associated with a widespread lack of knowledge about the EU, hostility to the EU, a distrust of politicians and the general perception that voting is a waste of time.

  3.  The Commission suggests (p8) that "Much of the responsibility for reinvigorating democracy from the bottom up must, surely, lie with politicians themselves, who need to make a concerted effort to re-engage with their constituents". We would go further. Whilst not absolving "politicians", we suggest that the root of the problem of poor turnout out in euro-elections lies within the EU itself.

  4.  EU institutions are their procedures are opaque and complex, discouraging the acquisition of "knowledge" of the EU. Those people who do know something of the EU have typically gained this from negative experience—falling foul of some EU directive, for instance. And the few who know something of EU institutions also know that the European Parliament has very limited powers

  5.  In our view, the numbers voting in euro-elections would therefore only improve significantly if (a) the European Parliament became a real parliament, responsible for initiating and enacting legislation, (b) this change was understood by voters and, in particular, (c) there was general support in the UK for the principle that UK law should be decided by the EU. There is not the remotest chance of any of these conditions being satisfied.

  6.  The negation of point (c) above is the essential reason why the UK Independence Party believes that Britain should not belong to the European Union. The "democratic deficit" cannot be addressed whilst Britain remains in the EU.

  7.  Turning to the issue of postal voting (either freely available on demand or in all-postal-vote `pilots'), we accept the evidence that this will improve turnouts. However, we note that the whole purpose of voting is to reflect the views of the people so that those elected are truly representative.

  8.  If some people must be persuaded to vote by means of a trivially lower cost of a visit to the post box as compared to the ballot box, the fundamental question must be raised as to whether their views should be taken into account at all. It is stating the obvious that, if people think voting is worthwhile, given the opportunity, they will vote.

  9.  The UK Independence Party believes it should be easy and convenient for people to cast their votes. But we do not believe that people need leading by the hand in order to cast their votes.

  10.  To sum up, the problem lies with the system of government rather than the system of voting. If euro-election turnout is raised by postal voting or other ways to "modernise" voting, it is not clear that this should be interpreted as a sign that our system of EU government has any greater democratic legitimacy.

Dr John Whittaker

UK Independence Party

2 March 2004


 
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