Memorandum by the UK Independence Party
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 experiencefalling foul of some
EU directive, for instance. And the few who know something of
EU institutions also know that the European Parliament has very
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
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