Questionable politics - Monocolumn | Monocle


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28 May 2014

The votes for the European Parliamentary elections are in. While I don’t find the details especially compelling, I do wonder whether the UK electorate might have put a little more thought into who they send to Brussels on their behalf. Plenty of column inches have already explored UKIP’s backwards-looking take on immigration and the racist undertones of its rhetoric, so I’ll leave that for now. But while we're in Europe, I think it's sensible to at least demand representatives who do actually clock in and have their say.

To bring you up to speed, last Thursday’s vote was a successful one for the populist, anti-EU UK Independence Party. Not only did UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s merry men take their first-ever Scottish seat, the outfit almost doubled the 13 seats it won in 2009 to a stately 24.

By contrast, the traditional triumvirate of political power in the UK foundered. The Tories lost six representatives and, despite middling gains in London and the north, Labour still only emerged from the melee with 20 seats. The less said about the Liberal Democrats’ disastrous night, the better.

This is only the will of the 35 per cent of the population who turned up, mind. But is this loose alliance of isolationist, gaffe-prone, single-policy, pint-with-lunch politicians really cut out for elected office? What about when they start ranting about closing the borders and how they ‘don’t want be to in Europe’ anyway?

So what exactly will these MEP’s be up to when the confetti settles? Well, among other responsibilities, the role will involve discussing and engaging with a huge range of often unglamorous [read deeply boring] topics from the chemicals used in manufacturing to the costs of phone calls between European countries.

Farage isn’t the man for the job. For a start his attendance was just 43 per cent in his last term and on average his loyal roster of not-quite-nine-to-five MEPs could only be bothered to attend an average six out of 10 votes held between 2009 and 2014. By contrast the Lib Dems, many of whom will be replaced by UKIP MEPs, boasted a robust 90 per cent attendance record.

If UKIP’s blustering campaign is anything to go by, there’s not much to suggest its troops will be hard at work reading the small print and actively participating in the political process. A fact that sadly seems unlikely to benefit the UK public in the long term.

While European elections have never been the be-all-and-end-all of British politics, I’m pretty sure that while we’re in Europe it’s better to turn up and have our say. As it happens, I fear we've opted to fund a procession of anti-European blowhards to stay at home and complain about being part of it in the first place.

Josh Fehnert is edits section editor for Monocle.


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