Friday, May 18, 2012

European Parliament Elections - scrap the "Closed Lists"

Members of the European Parliament in Great Britain are elected using the closed list form of proportional representation (Northern Ireland has used the Single Transferable Vote since 1979).
There is nothing voters can do in a closed list system to pass individual judgement on MEPs they support or oppose.   In most regions the top candidates of Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP were more or less guaranteed election.   Even without fully anticipating the UKIP surge in the 2004 election, it was possible to identify 50 out of the 75 MEPs before a vote was cast.
Closed lists tend to reflect internal party preoccupations rather than the priorities of the electorate.   Because of the large size of each region, they tend to reward fame over ability to a greater extent than with selections for Commons constituencies.   Even when the parties use one member one vote, as they did for selecting candidates for the 2004 European Parliamentary elections, this would not be transparent to voters only to party activists.   Closed lists risk increasing party patronage and are less accountable and open to scrutiny.    Those chosen are accountable to the party rather than the electorate.
Northern Ireland used the Single Transferable Vote system of election to elect its three MEPs.   Turnout in Northern Ireland has been higher than in Great Britain in every European election since they began in 1979.   The Northern Ireland election showed significant advantages over closed lists in that voters chose between candidates and could be confident that their vote would not be wasted, either because their favourite candidate was elected easily or by backing a candidate who turned out to have little support in which case their second vote would count.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.   The turnout in the elections for the European Parliament in 1999 was 23.1% in Great Britain as against 57.7% in Northern Ireland.   The difference was not so great in 2004 being 38.2% against 51.7% but remember in Great Britain the local and European elections were held on the same day and postal voting was brought in on a massive scale.   It is time we had the same basis of election throughout the United Kingdom and that basis should be the Single Transferable Vote.
       The European parliament electoral system can be improved without losing its advantages.   Open lists and STV would both allow greater choice for voters, and STV would be much fairer to candidates without support from a major Party.   STV would be a better system for future European elections.
The present system of closed lists for the European parliament elections should be abolished.   It should be replaced by a STV system of election where each constituency elects three MEPs.

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