European elections

The UK goes to the polls tomorrow – much of England for council elections, and all of us for the European Parliament elections, with much of the rest of the European Union to follow on Sunday.

It should prove to be an exciting and potentially seismic day. The Labour government in Westminster seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis, with Gordon Brown seeming so out of control of events that I am almost tempted to feel sorry for him. Almost, until I remind myself of his record since becoming Prime Minister and before that as Tony Blair’s Chancellor.

Labour are predicted by some to come fourth – can you believe that? – after the Tories, LibDems and UKIP, with minor parties predicted to make gains too. While I am all for a diversity of political views among our elected representatives, the flip side of the current discontent is that the far-right BNP are expected to make another breakthrough. Although given that turnout is forecast to be very low, I believe that any BNP success will be as much down to those who stay at home on polling day as those who vote for them. To paraphrase the famous saying, all that requires for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

In terms of the Scottish dimension to the election, it’s not going to be a remarkable result, I don’t think – the six seats will almost certainly be split two each for Labour and the SNP, and one each for the Tories and LibDems, with the only doubt being over whether Labour keep their second seat.

Oh, and incidentally, Scotland’s total of six seats in the European Parliament (with a population of 5 million people) compares pathetically with shares of other similarly-sized countries: Finland (5.3m), Denmark (5.5m) and Slovakia (5.3m) have 13; and Ireland (4.4m) and Lithuania (3.3m) have 12. Cyprus (0.8m), Estonia (1.3m) and Luxembourg (0.5m), meanwhile, boast the same number of seats as Scotland.

The difference? Unlike Scotland, those countries are independent, of course. No prizes for guessing where my vote will be going tomorrow.

In other news, it’s more or less the middle of my week off, and yesterday’s glorious sunshine has been replaced by grey skies again, which has been a good incentive to stay inside and write. Tonight, I am off to the cinema for the first time in ages – to see the latest installment in the Terminator series, Terminator: Salvation. Should be good.

3 thoughts on “European elections

  1. Simon, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion about whether or not having so many parties be fairly dominant in the UK is a help or a hinderance? As you know, the US really only has 2, with some people like me in a third, relatively useless independent party framework.

  2. Interesting question, Jenny. I’d say it’s definitely a help, for a number of reasons:

    1. Choice – voters in the UK have a real choice, from the hard left to the hard right. While US voters arguably have that choice, the smaller parties are stronger and more organised over here and are therefore mostly a more credible prospect than their US counterparts. Like in the US, our two main parties have become increasingly vacuous, similar and reliant on image over substance, and therefore the alternatives are very welcome. Regularly the Liberal Democrats and “others” have around 25% of the vote or more.

    2. Credibility – our political system, although being rocked at the moment, is more credible for the fact that there is this range of parties. It means, for instance, that power does not only swing between two parties who know that they can be as bad as they like because the pendulum will eventually swing back in a decade or less – as is the case in the USA, where we can say confidently that after the disaster of the Bush presidency, the Republicans will, in time, inevitably be back in the White House. Admittedly we’ve had only Labour or Conservative governments since 1945, but the prospect of a coalition involving the LibDems or others is always a possibility (and realistic at the next general election); and at the local council level, administrations are regularly led by coalitions of different parties (and independents).

    3. Reflection of the UK’s diversity – because of the make-up of the UK (four different countries), the number of parties helps reflect the diverse political debates and issues. For instance, the Scottish National Party are in administration in the Scottish Parliament, and Plaid Cymru are in coalition in the Welsh Assembly (both parties supporting independence for their respective nation). Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, they have a completely different set of parties which reflects the unique and complex situation there. Because there are – at least – a substantial minority in Scotland, England and Wales who question the union(s) with England, parties are arguably needed to provide a home for such views as well as to provide locally-tailored arguments for the status quo.

    Hope that makes sense!

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