Monday, 8 June 2009

We must scrap the list system for the Euro poll



Ever since the very first direct elections to the European Parliament, way back in 1979 and at five years intervals ever since, the Monday after a European Election has always been a little odd for me.

Of the seven elections since 1979 I have fought four and been an agent on the fifth. In 1989 I lost by just 2,000 votes amongst 250,000 votes cast. In the morning I was being cheered to the rafters for an heroic defeat, in the afternoon I was helping police diffuse a hostage situation after a member of our church broke into a local day nursery and threatened her own children.

Five years later, in 1994, I was the toast of the country having defeated the leader of the Conservative Group in the European Parliament. Five years after that, I faced the desolation of knowing that I had been comprehensively shafted by elements of my own party determined that no one of my ideological perspective would hold office again.

A mixture of bitter sweet memories that always will make the day special for me at least.

Like other Labour party members I was desperately upset at the results from Thursday's polls.

During the controversy that raged about the proposed electoral system that was bought in for the 1999 elections, many of us pointed out that the peculiarities of the regional list system, combined with the D'Hondt formula would inevitably open the way for crack pots, party favourites and extremists. The results of the 2009 elections show just how accurate this prediction was.

I well remember a particularly ill informed members of the Methodist Church's own public affairs unit - without bothering to first speak with any Methodist MEPs - say what a wonderful system was about to be introduced: it would enable the parties to increase the representation of ethnic minorities and women.

Well you only have to look at this year's results to see that the representation of women and ethnic minorities has taken a massive set back. The election of the BNP must mark a particularly unpleasant depth in the success of this project.

When I was working in the European Parliament my continental colleagues were envious of the single member constituency concept. Pop into any national party office and there would be a map with the region or country divided up with specific responsibility allocated.

In my single member constituency I was able to build up a reputation and a profile - not always easy across half a million people - but build it I did. I was not an anonymous party apparatchik, but a real person doing a real job and having a personal relationship with each constituent.

Now I'm happy to argue about the "first past the post" system of allocating seats. Personally I would prefer some form of simple alternative vote which would enable a winner to emerge with the support of 50% of the electorate. That will enable more political diversity but without the over representation of political minorities which is now the result of the regional list system.

I hope that lessons are learnt from this hare brained regional list system and that future elections will be fought on a more mature basis.

Last week's election was an accident waiting to happen. And this was made clear at the time.

Let us hope that in five year's time we can have a turnout and a result of which our democracy can be proud.

1 comment:

jhoncooper said...

Dear David

Fascinating comment as ever. I always enjoy reading your exploits, experiences and reflections on your time as an MEP.

In terms of voting systems I do believe we have got the wrong form of PR for Europe election.

I would go for a mixed bag affair - as they run in Scotland where you have your FPP candidate then 'top up' via an STV system. Enables smaller parties to make a break, means less wasted votes and keeps a stronger constituent link.

These results showed the farce of the current system
- In South East England the Greens added a further 100,000 votes to their tally but didn't get a seat

- Nick Griffin got less votes than last time and got elected

With Regards

John