Take Back Control: The EU and democracy

John Strafford is the author of “Our Fight for Democracy” – a History of Democracy in the United Kingdom and Chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy. In this article he tells us why he thinks the EU is a undemocratic institution and considers what would need to happen for electoral reform to be implemented in the UK.

In the referendum held on 23rd June to decide whether the United Kingdom should stay in, or leave the European Union 49% of those who voted to leave gave their main reason for doing so was to “take back control of our country.”   This was the number one reason for leaving.   Put another way – in spite of all the faults in our democracy - at a General Election you can vote for the person you wish to represent you in our legislature and by so doing determine who shall form our government. You cannot do this in the European Union.   Fundamentally the European Union is totally undemocratic and shows no indication of changing.

The Council of Ministers – part of the legislative process – meets in secret; the only legislative body in the world that meets behind closed doors, other than North Korea, and they are beginning to change.

The European Commission, which brings forward legislation is unelected by and unaccountable to the people.

The European Parliament, which is supposedly the democratic element of the European Union, has a number of serious flaws;

Each vote is not of equal value – a vote in Luxembourg is fifteen times the value of a vote in the United Kingdom.   The United Kingdom with an electorate of 44.5 million elects 73 MEPs. Luxembourg with an electorate 240,000 elects 6 MEPs.

The United Kingdom uses primarily the Closed List system of voting for the European Parliament. As a result, you cannot vote for the individual you wish to represent you in the parliament or indeed vote for someone to get rid of the individual who at present represents you.   Under the Closed List system you can only vote for a political party and it is the party which determines the order of the list.

Each country in the European Union can decide what electoral system to use to elect their MEPs. The United Kingdom in the same election for the same parliament uses two systems – the Closed List in England, Scotland and Wales and in Northern Ireland the Single Transferable Vote. No other parliament in the world has this kind of arrangement.

The age at which an elector can vote in elections to the European Parliament varies dependent upon the National Parliament’s criteria for voting.

The European wide turnout in the 2014 European Parliament Election was 42.54%. This was an all time low. The people of Europe are losing faith in the institution of its parliament. Without radical reform to make it a democratic organisation the electorates of other members of the Union will want to leave.   The lack of democracy is a fatal flaw in the institution.

This lack of democracy in the European Union was the main reason the people of the United Kingdom voted to “take back control of our country”.

Now that we are on track to tackle one of the democratic fault lines in our democracy we can concentrate our efforts on remedying the other fault lines – an unelected, ever expanding  House of Lords, the First Past the Post electoral system, party finance and other issues.   Let us get on with them so we can create a true and fair democracy in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most important of these issues is a change in our electoral system to proportional representation, so what are the chances of this being achieved?

Having just won a General Election and having a substantial lead in the polls the Conservative Party are unlikely to support any change in the electoral system so any change to First Past The Post will require the support of a substantial number of Labour MPs.   At present it looks unlikely that the Labour Party can win the next General Election in 2020.   If this present condition persists in 2019 there could be a move to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Party.   It is possible that he remains Leader but a new position of Leader of the Parliamentary Party is created who would lead the Party into the General Election..

If the Scottish National Party maintain their stranglehold in Scotland and UKIP get their act together and attack Labour seats in the North of England we can envisage a situation where it looks impossible for the Labour Party to win a General Election with an overall majority.   In such circumstances proportional representation may be their only opportunity to participate in government.   It could then form part of their 2020 General Election manifesto.

All this is of course academic if the Conservative Party win an overall majority in the General Election, but can one be certain of this?   Between now and 2020 the BREXIT negotiations have to be completed. This will cause bitter arguments within the Party. The economy might be facing turbulence.   The Labour Party could have a million members and thus be capable of fighting a ground campaign across the board.   The Conservative Party with 150,000 members would not be able to fight such a ground campaign.   With an insurgent UKIP, targeting marginal seats would not be possible for the Tories because of the difficulty of deciding which seats are marginal. With these disadvantages the Conservatives could end up being the largest Party in parliament but not get an overall majority.   The only way the Conservatives could mitigate this position would be to make the Party more democratic in order to attract new members.   They show no sign of doing this.

If the Conservative Party does not get an overall majority in the General Election and the opposition parties combine together to push forward with Proportional Representation they could succeed in changing the electoral system.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Unlock Democracy