My most confident voting prediction about Europe 2014 was that a majority of UK voters would decide not to vote. According to polls this is what has happened. This is not a political earthquake but a large yawn by the majority of voters.
This is an interesting decision in a country fabled as the mother of representative democracy, the main pioneer of the idea that everyone should have a vote and opposition should hold government to account.
People used to be able to claim that the EU did not do much of any importance, so why bother? The long list of powers surrendered in recent Treaties should alert people to the fact this is no longer true. So should the lengthening list of areas from immigration and expulsion of criminals through energy prices to fish and farming where the EU is clearly in charge or very influential.
People could also claim there was no point in voting in European Parliament elections, because even where the EU did have power, the Parliament did not. The arrival of co decision making by Parliament and Council of Ministers, and the wish of the Commission to strengthen the Parliament at the expense of the member states should change all that. In a very wide range of legislative areas the Parliament does have an important vote and voice over new measures. It is also the only way we have of trying to hold Commissioners to account, with powers to dismiss them all if they cease to please.
So why then did people still not vote? In a recent study of declining voter participation in European elections, which has occurred as the importance of the Parliament has risen, they point to the fact that the two main MEP blocs, the socialists and the Christian Democrats, vote together 75% of the time. This means there is no effective Europe wide opposition to the proposals of European government, and for all those voting for candidates who wish to join one or other of these blocs there is much less choice in practice than in a national election.
It is true that a majority of UK voters may have decided to vote for parties other than the two who are part of these blocs. The combined poll rating of more than 50% for the two leading parties in the UK who oppose the federalism of both the major blocs (Conservatives and UKIP) points to the fact that many UK electors do seem to understand the tendency of the federalist parties to vote together to extend EU power, and do not like it.
The election was not an opportunity to leave the EU. MEPs from an individual country have no power or ability to remove their countries from the organisation, a power which does still reside with national Parliaments. The MEPs we do elect do have some power to influence and help decide on whether to have new EU laws or not, and if so what form they should take. There was too little media debate in the UK over what our MEP candidates think of the current EU legislative programme, or how they will go about trying to stop the excesses of too much EU legislation, or how they will encourage EU legislation they do like if they are federalists. Those who campaigned as if the election were an In/Out referendum on the EU, or as if it were about domestic political issues, did not address the matters that can be resolved by this election. Such conduct adds to the frustration of voters who do understand how we are governed, and to the disenchantment of those who are not very interested in the first place. They feel “nothing will change” whoever they vote for in the EU elections, so why bother?
My local Liberal democrat candidate wrote to me to tell me the election was “all about the UK leaving Europe or staying in. If we are going to protect our jobs we must stay In.” That was two massive lies as the basis for her campaign.
The local Labour candidates wrote to me telling me what a Labour government might do if elected in 2015. There was little in the leaflet about what Labour MEPs would do about the burning issues of European law and government.
No wonder people asked if it is w0rthwhile voting, when many of those with a chance of winning could not be bothered to engage with the job or what they would do if they did get it. UKIP as well said little about how they would amend, tone down or defeat more EU laws, which is the one useful thing MEPs can do.
Assuming a majority have voted for the Conservatives, UKIP and other parties wanting out of the EU altogether in line with published polls, the election does at least show that a majority of the minority who bother to vote are hostile to all or most of the EU project of economic, monetary and political union. If UKIP persists in claiming Conservative voters are not Eurosceptic enough, then they also have to accept that once again they have failed to persuade a majority of those voting to vote against the EU. The Conservative voters I met voted for MEPs who will seek to limit or tone down EU laws, who have a record of seeking to limit EU power and for a party which will give us the In/Out referendum we want if we win in 2015. Most Conservative voters do not like the current relationship and think it has to change substantially so we can govern ourselves as we used to before the centralising Treaties.