Does anyone care about democracy in Europe, must we riot or should we all adopt the Gallic shrug? After last June's elections, had proportional representation helped or hindered contact with the Parliament, let alone the Commission? Already the departure of one elected member for another party has caused turmoil, for there is no procedure to restore the politically correct balance, while after another’s departure the next in line on the list has changed his mind.
Unforeseen circumstances meant none of the candidates would know me so as an ordinary voter I wrote to all those elected, once I had discovered who they were. Window posters of the losers are traditionally taken down as the results are announced, leaving the smiling faces of the winners on public display. Under PR it is neither so quick nor so simple and random sampling of voters showed they did not know their new MEP's and even political enthusiasts from the major parties struggled to recall the names at the tops of their lists. I had the luck to be handed them in a committee room of the House of Commons, but without voting figures, and it is still rumoured that Spoilt Papers qualified for two seats in the Welsh Assembly.
I wrote to each of my eleven, care of the address on the election leaflet. I asked simple questions, grumbled about Brussels bureaucracy and requested action on various points. What was the total annual budget? What would my new members do about openness, evicting the old Commissioners, auditing members' expense claims and ending the silly monthly office moves between Strasbourg and Brussels?
Our various regulators require utilities to respond to customers' letters within three weeks at the most, with dire penalties for lateness. My first reply came after two weeks, the second after three, the sixth in August and the Green after five months; I have given up on the rest. Perhaps their secretaries are long over-due to a revision of their job specifications. Or perhaps the ultimate gravy-train has arrived, matching fantastic expenses with no requirement to work and no check of either.
The Liberals and the Independent did not reply at all. Was I being deliberately ignored or were the addresses on their election literature temporary, or even false, in which case the validity of their candidature may be dubious. One of the two Labour members promised a full answer, for which I am still waiting.
The Conservatives on the other hand were quickest off the mark and every one responded. I already knew of their plans to divide the region among those elected, but the Tory MEP's themselves either did not know or could not agree on who would take me. How are other electors supposed to make contact – with whom, and where?
Every candidate should have known most of the answers before standing and opinions are easily produced. Whoever heard of a politician who could not give his views off the cuff - the problem has always been how to stop him.
The Budget replies were most disappointing. I had hoped for a one-page summary of income and expenditure but I received just one figure from one man - that of Britain's contribution for 1998. My initial reaction to this ignorance is not printable. Coincidentally, the June issue of 'European Parliament News' gave a high-level pie chart showing the budget for 1999 to be 86 billion euros. I, who hold no particular political office, regularly receive copies in the post.
For detailed information some MEP's referred me to the Internet website and the offices of the European Commission and European Parliament in London. I was also sent seven pages of addresses for EU information in the South East region, all in towns that I seldom if ever visit. These 'Information Relays' are of six types, depending on the category of the person seeking the information, though why university students might want different material from the academic community or the general public I do not understand. I have visions of a future Euro-Directive requiring public libraries to re-arrange the books according to hair-colour of readers and of denying those on gardening to cyclists or teachers.
Visits later made to the London offices were less than helpful, as the public are not welcome at the Commission and the Parliament library has limited hours. Such leaflets that were available were out of date, half were useless and one entitled 'The Amsterdam Treaty' did not contain the Amsterdam Treaty at all. Is this misleading advertising? One urged women to vote but gave neither reason nor recommendation, leaving me to conclude that the paper wasted on the leaflet would exceed that used in ballot papers.
I was not surprised to find little support for some basic criteria for MEP candidates, and it was suggested that people wanting a say in selecting candidates must join a political party, but even then there is no universal suffrage or postal vote for members; no-one seemed remotely interested in the views of outsiders. Are we expected to trust a handful of senior party officials to rule over busy-body civil servants with no direct input from the electorate? How are we to make our voices heard when we are merely permitted to tick box A, B or C every few years and are denied the satisfaction of curtailing the careers of individual politicians who are out of step with popular opinion? Where is the public input to debate and discussion on our futures? Who decides what is important for us, and what irrelevant?
My complaint about pork-barrels was treated as amusing and even produced an offer of help to get a share myself!
Only the Ten Commandments and the laws of physics are immutable - all others, including the different European treaties, are open to revision or repeal in the light of experience and greater knowledge.
I read my replies in despair. I can visualise earlier mandarins shouting 'In the name of the Emperor', 'In the name of the 'King', 'In the name of the Führer' and 'In the name of the State' without challenge. Surely we do not have to go through a revolution to get some accountability and a proper management structure? The Americans fought a bloody civil war over states’ rights and the limits of the union but two centuries later not only are we the people kept in the dark but our representatives at Westminster cannot keep pace with the paperwork emanating from Brussels.
Small pressure groups are now calling themselves political parties and exercising more power than they deserve. The RSPB has more members than any, we know its aims, but we do not ask its opinion on railways, social services or defence. In the European Parliament the smaller 'parties' are out of their depth; when their few policies are examined they are found to be either compatible with those of a major party, or so way out as to be unacceptable. Some openly ask Conservative colleagues which way to vote. If one of these new 'parties' is unable to recruit sufficient members to make it financially viable in its own right it is clearly just a single issue club and should not seek election to bodies with wider remits.Whatever the thoughts of readers on Herr Haider in Austria, it is PR that has given his little group publicity beyond his dreams. Despite setting up PR in the London elections next month (May) the Labour Party now contains a large majority against the principle and a First-Past-the -Post campaign is increasingly active; paid-up members should contact Stuart Bell MP. Meanwhile, the LibDems and Independents who had most to gain from PR have demonstrated that they are not the slightest bit interested in a possible recruit.
No, it is time to ensure only individual voters vote for individual candidates from parties that can not just support themselves financially but also have sufficient room inside for all the members to debate topics freely. I personally support many 'green' issues but see the best way forward in arguing for them within a government without doing deals.
PR has only served to increase the remoteness of MEP's and should be abandoned forthwith, now that it has been proved half of them do not care for us once they have landed their plum jobs. I will be spoiling my ballot paper in increasingly spectacular ways until the electorate are given their rights to chose direct the man for the job and a name to whom they can send complaints, questions, proposals and (hopefully) praise.Hazel Prowse