image: “Buckingham Palace” by Edwin Lee, EU flag overlay added by The Priori
by Kestell Duxbury
So by the next issue, we will know if Britain will remain or will leave the European Union. How exciting! May’s edition focused mainly on the arguments surrounding the Brexit debate, so June will try and move past this. However, anyone in the UK who even thinks of turning on the news will have ‘THE EU DEBATE’ shoved violently down their throats until their retching on Euros, frog’s legs and bratwurst because, obviously, EVERYTHING is down to the EU.
One point on the EU, more so against this argument of the democratic deficit, is how bad we, UK citizens, as voters, are to blame. UKIP won the 2014 European Elections and gained 24 seats, with Labour coming second with 20 and the Conservatives in third with 19. These seats were chosen via a Proportional Representation system of election and by a sweeping turnout of 35.6% percent, just over a third of the eligible voting population. At best, the UK citizens turned out with 38.52% in 2004, insane levels of participation. We fall behind the EU average turnout of 42.61% in 2014, which at its highest was 61.99% in 1979.
Now, whilst I would be daft for saying a vote for UKIP is undemocratic, a UKIP MEP who only votes once in forty-odd votes in the European Parliament is hardly representing their constituents effectively. And, as I mentioned in The Priori’s podcast this month, UKIP are well within their rights to use the resources that the EU give them to campaign to leave the organisation. However, as citizens, as voters, we should not accept their exceptionally poor voting record This should be at any level of governance and for representatives from any party (covering my apparently UKIP-bashing rhetoric).
And don’t think that I am just having a go at UKIP MEPs. The House of Lords is an example of our undemocratic institutions, our unelected second chamber full of life peers, bishops and Jeffrey Archer of all people. Admittedly, after 2015, the Lords have reviewed and thrown back some really oppressive legislation, such as their redefinition of child poverty. So it’s not all bad. But any democrat must see that our own democracy is far from perfect. If it was unelected, but representative, then maybe that would do, but when the British public are now more likely to have no religion than a religion, and our House of Lords is crammed of Bishops, then we have every right to criticise this outdated institution (see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/no-religion-britons-atheism-christianity).
Not that our own electoral system is a perfect form of democracy either. The first past the post system favours a majority government within a two party system (see Duverger’s Law), and the British public are not voting for that any more. Ask the 3.8 million UKIP and 2.2 million Green voters who have to share one MP each.
But more so than any of these examples, and actually an amalgamation of the points above, any democrat concerned with representative democracy must look to overthrow the monarchy. The Queen, whilst actually a fantastic talisman for Britain over the years, represents the relation between Church and State, one that no longer exists.
An unelected Head of State and Head of the Church who, whilst at the moment does not use, has powers far beyond our elected parliament. This is a family unit that benefits heavily from the EU being land owners with working farms. But of course, the EU is undemocratic. I think before the ‘leavers’ criticise the EU and its democratic deficit, we must be more critical of our own democratic practises. The Commission, Council of Ministers, Parliament and Citizens Initiative are by no mean perfect models of democracy. Although the fact that our European Parliament elections use proportional representation, we still must be forever critical on ourselves. A third of eligible voters turning out is simply not good enough to deliver truly proportional results. Therefore, before criticising any institution, we must look inward, and realise why we simply don’t vote if we are forever being told how important these issues are.