Opinion: Britain is the mother of parliamentary democracy, yet on Friday its Prime Minister voted against it

cameron-europeFor political historians, the 27 June 2014 may go down in history as the day a British Prime Minister voted against parliamentary democracy. For that is what the Juncker nomination was really all about, and which many commentators in the UK fail to understand. Comments such as “two-faced EU leaders”, “Europeans fed up with the UK”, etc, as read in several articles this weekend, reveal a lack of understanding of the process that has been building up in the EU in the past two years.

Without even mentioning Cameron, the Brussels correspondent of France’s Liberation newspaper, Jean Quatremer, accurately explains here why the PM’s anti-Juncker campaign was doomed from the start. Here are a few extracts, which I have translated:

  • “The European Union is experiencing a real democratic revolution. By making the nomination of Christian Democrat, Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission unavoidable, the European Parliament has ushered Europe into an era of parliamentary democracy.”
  • “In the same way that the majority arising from legislative elections determines who leads the government in Germany, Italy, Great Britain or Spain, in the future it will be thus for Europe.”
  • “The European political parties considered it necessary to push further down the democratic path…. Up to now, the legitimacy of the European Commission, ‘the government of Europe’, has stemmed from the national governments which nominate it, and not from the European Parliament, which is directly elected by the citizens: hence the feeling of the people of being governed by an unaccountable body.”
  • “The big political families (the conservatives of the EPP [from which Cameron withdrew the British Tories in 2009], the socialists, the liberals, the greens, and the radical left) each appointed a European “top candidate” for the 2014 European elections, and committed themselves to electing as President of the European Commission the top candidate who would receive the backing of a majority in Parliament.”
  • “The [heads of government] did not take this democratic drive by the European Parliament seriously as shown by their silence during the process which led to the parties designating the top candidates…. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, dragged her feet until the end of May, until she realised that her public opinion would never forgive her for a return to the old ways.”

The decisive factors here are that a) responding to the people’s wishes for a more democratic EU, the European political parties set an unstoppable train in motion, and b) in some key member states, such as Germany, the media and the electorate swung behind the process with enthusiasm. In others, the media and voters may not have been enthusiastic supporters, but the electorates were at least informed to varying degrees.

It should therefore come as no surprise that when the EU heads of government found themselves facing a choice between, on the one hand, sticking to the old “behind-closed-doors” method at the risk of enfuriating public opinion, or on the other, showing support for greater parliamentary democracy in the EU, no matter what they felt about the winning top candidate, at the risk of enfuriating Cameron, they opted for the latter.

The question, therefore, is not why did Cameron lose this battle, but rather, why was the British electorate largely kept in the dark about this real democratic revolution in the EU, and why, if one of the UK’s recurring complaints about the EU is that “decisions are taken by unaccountable officials”, was the Prime Minister of the country often referred to as the “Mother of Parliamentary Democracy” happy and proud to be practically on his own voting against what is arguably the biggest step taken in recent times to render the European executive accountable to its Parliament and therefore the European citizens?

* Sean O'Curneen is Secretary General of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the Committee of the Regions, the EU's Assembly of Regional and Local Elected Representatives.

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139 Comments

  • I totally agree with the fundamental point made by Jedibeeftrix: There is no European “demos” i.e. shared community of culture, aims and interests, therefore there cannot be pan-European democracy.

    Liberals believe in localism, accountable government and devolution of power to the lowest effective level. The unauthorised power-grab by the European Parliament is a centralising move that runs counter to these principles.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Jul '14 - 9:43am

    Sean O’Curneen

    The question, therefore, is not why did Cameron lose this battle, but rather, why was the British electorate largely kept in the dark about this real democratic revolution in the EU,

    Because the leader of the “party of in” chose to join in with the attacks on Mr Juncker rather than to make this point?

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Jul '14 - 9:47am

    RC

    I totally agree with the fundamental point made by Jedibeeftrix: There is no European “demos” i.e. shared community of culture, aims and interests, therefore there cannot be pan-European democracy.

    None, not at all? I myself do very much feel I am among people who are like myself when in most European countries in a way I do not feel when I am in Asian or African countries, and in particular when I am in the USA. The USA always feels weirdly foreign to me.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Jul '14 - 9:47am

    I’ll just third the noble Jedi’s words above.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    “why was the British electorate largely kept in the dark about this real democratic revolution in the EU”

    In what way is the EU more accountable to British voters and their concerns and interests following this move? I can’t see any way in which it is. In fact, quite the opposite.

    Juncker was not put up by any of the major parties as “leading candidate” in the UK.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    “None, not at all?”

    Some at a cultural level, but not enough to want to be governed by them, because I recognise that they often have completely different traditions of law, government and politics, many in stark contradiction to our own.

  • Simon McGrath 1st Jul '14 - 10:42am

    Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all opposed Juncker for the very good reason that he is the archytpial centralising eurocrat who has repeatedly shown contempt for the views of voters. So he will make it less likely that the UK will stay in the EU – reason enough for those of us who support our membership to oppose him.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Jul '14 - 11:23am

    “Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all opposed Juncker for the very good reason that he is the archytpial centralising eurocrat who has repeatedly shown contempt for the views of voters.”

    If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.

  • What this amounts to is that the exponents of morbid nationalism don’t want to be part of any institution that is not merely decorative and that they can’t be sure of controlling.

    All this business about “different aims and cultures” is rubbish. I defy anyone to identify a specific cultural trait that makes it impossible for Britons to work alongside French, Germans, Finns or Greeks in the same institution.

  • I defy anyone to identify a specific cultural trait that makes it impossible for Britons to work alongside French, Germans, Finns or Greeks in the same institution.

    Clearly there is no such thing: The British, Frence, Germans, Finns and Greeks all work alongside each other in NATO perfectly happily.

    The difference is that NATO is honest that it is an association of member states, and doesn’t pretend to be a single state like the EU does.

  • Whoops, not the Finns. But the British, French, Germans and Greeks all do.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 12:40pm

    The EU is dead for me. No democratic legitimacy at all. The only reasonable future now is to dismantle the EU and start again.

    I participate in national elections that elect the head of my government. Like most Europeans, I am not interested or informed about MEPs, but I am certainly aggrieved when those clowns decide to have a spitzenkandidaten process that ignores the head of my government. Even if I happened to vote for a different party.

    One of the laughable things is that the people who gleefully celebrate the embarrassment of national heads of government now, will not be gleefully celebrating when they understand that MEPs form a government too – one that is far less accountable, transparent, or movable than the national ones.

    I’m just off now to join UKIP. The EU has failed.

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Jul '14 - 12:51pm

    The Finns being a case in point, re NATO.

    It does not meet their needs, so they have refused to be part.

  • I agree with Matthew Huntbach: I do regard myself as European, I do identify with European culture and regard the European wars of the last century to be in many respects civil wars, but ones that because of the empires involved had a world wide dimension.

    I understand that the EU has evolved from a premiss, articulated most clearly by Schuman and Monet, that such conflicts should be rendered inconceivable.

    Yes the UK (including the Liberal Democrats unfortunately) is out of step, in large part as a result of a sustained hostile canpaign from much of the media against the EU. In other countries the link between the EU elections and the nominated candidates for President of the Commission was quite explicit. No one who watche the news could have missed it.

  • David Allen 1st Jul '14 - 1:30pm

    Both sides are talking nonsense on this topic!

    There is nothing at all democratic about selecting the Commission President by horse-trading and back-room dealing between the 28 heads of government. The spitzenkandidat idea is a mouse of a step towards democracy.

    Only a mouse of a step, however. The sceptics are quite right to point out that nobody knew Juncker was what they were voting about. Also, that proper democracy doesn’t mean arbitrarily electing the representative of the largest single party. It means setting and making clear the rules in advance – either that the voters should directly elect the President, or that the Parliament should do so. In the latter case, one cannot have spitzenkandidats, one must allow the Parliament to have a mechanism that elects by majority vote (and if the Catholic Church can do that, in what is quite a democratic manner, surely Europe can!).

    Europe is doing everything backwards. Instead of gradually evolving proper democratic internal mechanisms, it has sought to impose union by foisting an unworkable currency system on its members, and then desperately trying to make it workable by sticking-plaster techniques. I won’t join Richard Dean in UKIP, because I want a Europe that works – but nobody is getting that right!

  • Just suppose that I’m a Juncker fan. Poster on my bedroom wall, manifesto and speeches all read several times, and he’d be my Mastermind specialist subject.

    Let’s also suppose that I’m a fan of the Spitzenkandidaten approach, have listened to the debates, and wanted to vote Juncker. How would I do this? There isn’t a single party who stood for the Euro elections in the UK as a member of the European People’s Party (EPP.) So I had no way of voting for him, even if I wanted to.

    Even worse, after the elections, the parties decide what group they were in. So even if I voted for my EPP party just to get my man as President of the EU Commission, how would I be sure that the day after the election, they don’t shuffle off into another group – all the horse-trading and shifting party groups undermine this idea.

    So describing Juncker as having popular support for President, and this being a fresh expression of democracy seems far-fetched, to put it midly.

  • While I don’t deny that the European Parliament has some democratic legitimacy, the idea that it has more than the European Council is laughable.

    I suspect that the percentage of people who voted in the national elections which elected the members of the European Council is at least double the percentage who voted in the recent European Parliament elections.

  • matt (Bristol) 1st Jul '14 - 2:00pm

    I don’t see that the spitzenkandidat system would be explicitly undemocratic in and of itself, if it were explicitly mandated by a democratically endorsed coalition (now, what would one of those look like? Is referendum ineivtably required? I sidestep this question for now).

    The thing is, I don’t see that it the current appointment an inevitable interpretation of the existing but highly muddy treaty phrasing – however the ‘landgrab’ by the political party groupings has succeeded and the precedent has been set.

    In a federal constitution, does the leader (if that’s what the president of the Commission is) not require to be appointed in a way that allows for representation across the entire federal entity? This is why the President of the USA is appointed via direct popular election balanced out through what are technically electoral colleges.

    I feel (but why should anyone listen to me) that the preferable system would be to have election where three elctoral colleges are equally balanced – ie the Council, the Parliament and a popular vote. Nominations could come either from the COuncil (with a certain number of national leaders backing a candidate) or from the parliament, with a rule that no European political party should seek to use sanctions to prevent national leaders from voting according to their judgement rather than their party allegiance.

    Agree totally with what others have said about the process needing to be definite and in-public and open to scrutiny.

  • matt (Bristol) 1st Jul '14 - 2:00pm

    SORRY!

    “I don’t see that the current appointment IS an inevitable interpretation”… in second para above.

  • The EU needs a Great Reform Act.

  • Couple of points for the angries here.

    Jedibeeftrix, you’re going on about demos and kratos and how you’ve got nothing in common with the Europeans. Ironic, the terms you choose to dress your insular attitude up in.

    RC, you ask how big the EPP is in the UK. But here’s another question – how big are the Tories in Scotland? How many MPs do either of the three biggest parties have in Northern Ireland? The arguments you use to attack the EU are as effective if not more so when deployed against the UK.

    And Richard Dean, your head of government at the time signed up to the Lisbon Treaty that brought democratic control of the European Commission Presidency to the fully elected and proportionately representative European Parliament. Anyone who actually read the damn thing would have been able to see this. Still, since you care about democratic legitimacy, you need to look at Westminster where more than half of the legislators are not elected, instead being appointees, hereditary ‘lords’ or just senior clerics in one church of many. What is UKIP going to do about that? Sweet FA is what.

    And Matthew Huntbach, also agreed.

  • @matt (Bristol)

    Perhaps it might work better if the European elections to the Parliament were followed by a runoff vote between the two leading candidates? This would make grand coalitions harder to form, making future power grabs much less likely. It would mean transferring influence from the Council to the European voter, which wouldn’t please these ‘no such thing as Europeans’ types we have here… nor would it please the Council. Perhaps if they were able to nominate a third candidate from the ranks of the union’s elder statesmen if neither lead-candidate appeals to them, though?

    Regardless, it’s looking like any long term settlement will need a treaty change and a constitution. This will trigger a UK referendum, which will at least resolve our immediate question of whether or not to commit geopolitical suicide. Interesting times.

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Jul '14 - 2:31pm

    @ George – “Scotland didn’t vote for the Conservatives in 2010 yet got a Conservative Prime Minister. Does this mean that the United Kingdom is undemocratic?”

    The Scots are going to have a referendum on that very question, george:

    Are the British my people? Do I consent to common governance, and assent that this whole may act in my name and agree to be bound by the result?

    This is the very essence of the Scottish referendum!

  • matt (Bristol) 1st Jul '14 - 2:54pm

    @T-J, creative and fascinating as your suggestion is in balancing the need for endorsement of any one candidate by the national governments, the EP, and the European electorate as a whole, I would personally avoid any electoral process that involved a Euopean-wide electorate in repeat elections over a short period, for fear of the run-off being monumentally under-participated in and therefore capable of manipulation or of having its democratic legitimacy challenged subsequently.

    Otherwise, I agree that treaty change is probably inevitable and a subsequent referendum hard to deny the case for (although it’s not impossible).

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 4:12pm

    @T-J.

    Quite right. A mistake was made. The following is the minimum needed to restore democratic control in the EU:

    > De-politicising of the Commission
    > Cancellation of the office of Commission President, replacement by Administrative Head
    > Commission to be instructed directly by the Council of Ministers after they make decisions by QMV
    > All such QMV votes to be voted on in national parliaments before the vote in Council
    > Commission to report directly to the Council of Ministers
    > Removal of all powers from the European Parliament, other that the power to express an ignorable opinion
    > Re-assessment of what is a valid expense for an MEP, and what is an appropriate salary
    > Enforcement of full accountability for all expense claims by MEPs
    > No Juncker lies. No backroom deals. Full FOI for everything done by the EU

    I may add more if and when I cool down. National governments are democratic, their voices must dominate. An EU election turnout of around 30% in many countries, less in some, does not make MEPs a legitimate government.
    http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/turnout.html

  • Why is there a European Parliament anyway? No other international organisation has a Parliament: not NATO, not the UN, not the commonwealth.

    And that’s before we even get to the massive waste of money caused by moving the whole thing twice a year!

    The whole European Parliament should be abolished. It was an attempt to produce a unified European polity by pretending that such a thing already existed, and it has predictably failed, as its stagnating low turnout in elections proves.

    It is both a waste of money and a dangerously power-hungry institution devoted only to perpetuating itself and gaining more and more power over the very nation-states it is supposed to serve. It needs to go as the first step of EU reform, in order to turn theEU back from the path of becoming an attempted proto-nation-state and instead returning to being a free trade organisation of countries for their mutual economic benefit.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 4:24pm

    @Dav. Quite right. The EU Parliament is clearly a failure. I cannot remember any news anytime in the history of the EU where the parliament made any kind of difference to anyone, except when they try to grab power.

  • EU election turnout depends on the relevance of EU elections. It’s a perverse turn of events that as the European parliament becomes an increasingly meaningful institution, the UK electorate increasingly consider it a place to have a little tantrum.

    All power to the parliament; this is the democratic revolution the EU needs.

  • matt (Bristol) 1st Jul '14 - 4:40pm

    “It was an attempt to produce a unified European polity by pretending that such a thing already existed”

    There are a very large number of constitutional changes in any number of states that have proceeded by the same processes; a polity is imagined and therefore it becomes reality despite there being any number of good reasons why it should not be and people who believe the contrary.

    The Act of Union is a good example of this, and even if it is unpicked this year, it stuck for a good long time. And why did Cumbria seem to stick as a county council whereas Avon didn’t? Neither were either intrinsically awful ideas nor inveitable successes, neither was created nor destroyed by popular outcry.

    I don’t see why the EU shouldn’t have some form of representative democray within it; admittedly it wasn’t part of the original blueprint and the EP didn’t exist in its current form until the late 70s/early 80s.

    As an adherent of a minority party I refuse to behave as it the leader of the UK (democratically appointed as he is) always acts in my personal best interest and therefore should always be considered to be my representative at an EU level. The EU needs checks and balances in its decision making processes and should not be ruled by a cabal of national leaders alone. But neither should the EP be an unchecked unicameral legislature for the entire continent (which it is still a way away from being).

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 4:41pm

    @Jack. You don’t believe in parliamentary democracy in the UK then?

  • Sean O'Curneen 1st Jul '14 - 4:45pm

    Many thanks to all who have commented on my post. I would like to react to Jedibeeftrix’s first comment which tackles head on the central premise of my article. Whether one likes it or not, or whether one believes it was the right way of going about it or not, the simple fact is that the spitzenkandidat system stemmed from a desire to introduce parliamentary democracy into EU politics and thus create a link between the vote of citizens and the resulting EU executive. [Those who say it was a power grab or a power struggle with the national governments, are not wrong per se, but miss the point which is that it is a battle between two visions about how the EU should be accountable: to citizens as in most European democracies, or to heads of government].
    Many national leaders did not particularly like this development but felt they could not be seen to go against it – indeed most national leaders belong to parties which in turn belong to the European parties which participated in this process. However, the Prime Minister of the “mother of parliamentary democracy” felt he could go against it, and he did. I ended my post asking why. Due to length constraints, I left the question unanswered. Jedibeeftrix provided an answer, and to a certain extent I share Jedi’s analysis. Yes, for those who feel there is no need for any kind of common future with the rest of Europe (or the bare minimum), what the European political parties have done can be disregarded, and no doubt Cameron (who withdrew the Tories from the European People’s Party in 2009) felt that way. But I think there is more to it: Cameron was happy to vote against Juncker because he knew most people in the UK had no idea about this new process, so the discussion would end up being about the personality of Juncker and he would not be seen as going against parliamentary democracy. Secondly, he is trying to prevent UKIP from undermining support for the Tories. But perhaps more signficantly: for the eurosceptics, ultimately it doesn’t really matter how the EU is reformed or improved as long as it is in one direction – more power to the nation states and less to the European level (even if it were to make sense to cede powers in a given domain to the EU!). In other words, the position of many anti-Europeans has become dogmatic and not pragmatic (while many pro-Europeans recognise that there is a case for the EU not dealing with some of things it deals with now). And the result is that even though the UK is a parliamentary democracy, and most people in the UK support the concept, and that one of the most commonly heard complaints in the UK about the EU is that “it is unaccountable to the citizens”, the UK has now officially voted against providing greater accountability. From now on, eurosceptics will no longer be credible when they complain of lack of accountability at EU level.
    As to why the debate about the EU in Britain has become so dogmatic, that is another question for another day.
    Thanks again to all for the lively discussion.

  • @Richard Dean

    > De-politicising of the Commission

    You would have to change how the Commission is constituted and what powers it has. It is currently made from the political appointees of the heads of government of Europe. It would need to be changed such that Commissioners are appointed on merit as seen by the Commission itself, not as seen by party leaders in government. Nationality quotas could probably be imposed without damaging the idea too badly. The Commission would also have to lose the power of legislative initiative.

    > Cancellation of the office of Commission President, replacement by Administrative Head

    So you mean re-naming the Commission President ‘Administrative Head’? Whatever, that’s also a valid job description for the current position and would end the situation where Europe has two offices bearing the title of President.

    > Commission to be instructed directly by the Council of Ministers after they make decisions by QMV

    No. The Commission is implementing the regulations and policies generated by Parliament and by its own legislative initiative. If you want a politically neutral Commission it would have to lose legislative initiative, but it should lose it to the European Parliament, which is the body constituted on a Europe-wide basis to propose and debate legislation and programmes to address issues that exist on a Europe-wide basis.

    We need to have a robust discussion about what those powers should be, and a realistic assessment of what problems there are that are too large for the nation states to address alone. We also need to think about when to pass an issue up to Europe-wide consideration so that we can avoid harmful races to the bottom. But we will not do that by passing the buck to a gang of 28 national ministers who hold a vested interest in ensuring that the race to the bottom happens.

    The Council of Ministers is ideal for acting as an Upper House, constituted from equal representation of each member state, to ensure that majority interests are not riding roughshod over those of the minorities. But that is one part of a properly democratic system, not the whole, be all and end all concern.

    > All such QMV votes to be voted on in national parliaments before the vote in Council

    Do you suppose that the Council of Ministers just makes up its ideas based on whim? You will find that Parliaments and Governments throughout Europe do try to keep something of a handle on what their ministers are doing in the Council. With majority governments or coalitions bound by formal agreements, you will find that anything the Government tells its CoM delegate to do would also pass a vote in the domestic parliament.

    > Commission to report directly to the Council of Ministers

    Commission to report directly to the Parliament. See above, the Commission should report to the body that proposes, debates and passes the legislation and programmes that the Commission is implementing.

    > Removal of all powers from the European Parliament, other that the power to express an ignorable opinion

    So, the great democrat tells us that the way to improve democracy is to strip our elected representatives of all power and reduce their institution to a pointless talking shop for expressing ignorable, and therefore perpetually ignored opinions?

    UKIPpers like to accuse Liberal Democrats of being in favour of any Europe at any price. This is not true. I am fully and totally against the one you propose and would vote against it, after campaigning vigorously against it in a referendum. And should it win, I would then migrate out of it.

    Luckily for me, I would have no need to take such drastic measures, because your proposals are unlikely to find any traction anywhere in Europe.

    > Re-assessment of what is a valid expense for an MEP, and what is an appropriate salary

    Sure, whatever. Make sure you look at the MPs, Lords and assorted parasites on the British political system while you’re at it, though.

    > Enforcement of full accountability for all expense claims by MEPs

    Yes, why not, let’s enforce the laws that are already enforced. The only time we don’t get this is when people like Farage set the lawyers onto the question and tie it up in the courts.

    > No Juncker lies. No backroom deals. Full FOI for everything done by the EU

    Again, ask and ye shall receive.

  • @Richard Dean

    ‘ I cannot remember any news anytime in the history of the EU where the parliament made any kind of difference to anyone’

    Then you need to get your head out of the sand and take a look around.

    It is European legislation in the form of the working time directive that limits exploitative contracts in the unskilled jobs market, it is European legislation in the form of common energy standards and regulations that delivers progress on efficiency and climate policy, it is European legislation in the form of the new declarations of human rights that keeps your government from torturing British suspects alongside the ones unfortunate enough to be Jordanian or Iraqi or whatever and it is European legislation that is increasingly the only force holding anti-competitive action on the part of the multinational corporations to account and tackling that problem.

    There’s four that I just happen to know about off the top of my head because of recent events in my life and in the press.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jul '14 - 5:16pm

    @Richard Dean: Local authority elections often have turnouts below 30%. Does that make those illegitimate as well? Do you propose replacing them with unelected bureaucracies

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 5:19pm

    @T-J.
    In fact, all of that European legislation that you mention was formulated by the Commission, not the Parliament. All the parliament did was vote on what the Commission proposed. The Parliament’s votes meant something but the final decisions are supposed to be taken by the Council of Ministers, as you would expect in a democratic system where the ministers come from democratically elected national governments.

    In respect of environmental policies, the UK government is probably ahead of the EU Commission. Did you notice Vince Cable’s belated approach to zero-hours contracts – not exactly an EU success! It is not the EU that prevents our government torturing people, it is our democratic government and democratic institutions and popular good sense that do that. It is certainly helpful to have an international response to anti-competitive pressures from multi-nationals, but business is not the be-all and end-all of life.

    Juncker should be the moment when all of us blinkered people wake up and see.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 5:22pm

    @Alex Macfie
    No. I would hope that someone would do something to change things. At the EU level, UKIP seem to be the only party willing and able to do that. I don’t like much of what they stand for, but at least they do stand for the UK.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 5:27pm

    @Colin.
    You’d prefer the pre-beta EU?

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 5:37pm

    @Colin.
    It’s helpful to know where you stand, and that few in the UK would support your wish to import continental systems. There is freedom of movement of labour in the EU. If you’re so dissatisfied here, why not simply move to Germany?

  • @Richard Dean

    ‘In fact, all of that European legislation that you mention was formulated by the Commission, not the Parliament.’

    So, the Parliament is too powerful, but it doesn’t do anything? Right.

    But its not the case, of course. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission is asked to formulate proposals on laws in certain areas by Parliament, which then debates and votes on it, along with anything else that the Commission decides to put before it. Agreement and compromise is sought between Parliament and the Council of Ministers, with a successful bill requiring both a simple majority in Parliament and a qualified majority (usually double-majority except for some areas which need a larger supermajority) from the CoM.

    To say that the CoM is the final say, though, is like saying that the US Senate has the final say – it fundamentally misunderstands the role of an upper house in a fully democratic system. Of course, being British, we will take a while to get used to that, since our own system relies so heavily on unelected legislators using the upper house as nothing more than a grand-scale stumbling block. @Colin has a perfectly valid critique of the British system, stuck as it is on its early prerelease form.

    Also, your naivety on the record of recent British governments as regards human rights and torture is charming but also a little frightening. I find your excess of faith disturbing. You’re also just flat out wrong on environment policy. And you can’t complain that the EU is taking too many powers one minute and then whinge about how they haven’t magicked away zero hours contracts the next.

    You also asked Colin if he preferred the pre-beta EU democracy.

    Frankly, yes I do.

    Its a pre-beta, but it gets updates and patches released regularly. What we’re looking at with British democracy is a system that we bought at great expense centuries ago, got a few service packs for in the early years but are now sitting waiting on a major version update that was due around 1920. Its full of bugs and design limitations, the antivirus frankly doesn’t work and the system doesn’t really meet our use cases anymore. The developers blog is dead and there’s no sign that there’s any progress being made on the next service pack, let alone the version update.

    Its for this reason that we are now facing a referendum that seeks to simply uninstall British Democracy 0.8 and replace it with Alex Salmond’s homebrew system of Scottish Independence 1.01a. Even if he fails, the fact that it got to this point in the first place ought really to knock some of the stars out of your eyes when it comes to looking at the British system we have left festering in place for too long now.

  • @Colin

    I would steer well clear of the French system myself. The Fifth Republic is seriously coming apart at the seams and really, it only looks like a matter of time before either a Movement for a Sixth Republic under a new constitution and a more parliamentary government gains traction, or Marine Le Pen simply bins the whole thing and crowns herself Empress of the Third French Empire post any NF presidential victory.

    The problem is that I’m not sure Britain can be brought into the 21st Century intact. Its been left to get so badly divided that it would certainly be easier to let Scotland build itself a Nordic style bicycle monarchy while England tries to find a solution for itself. I imagine it’ll end up looking quite German if we get it right, or quite French if we don’t, but it needs to happen.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 5:53pm

    @T-J.
    Thanks. I guess you are putting a liberal or Libdem position, sounds like it anyway. Makes me glad I’ve left the Libdems and am in process of joining UKIP. That will be a new adventure, since I really don’t like many of their policies, but the LibDem desire to sell UK democracy down the river and replace it with a huge, unaccountable, untransparent, and corrupt dictatorship isn’t my idea of good.

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Jul '14 - 6:06pm

    @ Colin – “The UK is a joke as a democracy. How anyone here can stand up and claim that we are with a straight face is beyond me.”

    Some perspective please my dear chap; In. Your. Opinion. The colour of a democracy is in the hands of its citizens, either people fundamentally disagree with you or you need to make greater efforts to persuade them. Which is it I wonder…?

    “Here in this town in Surrey where I live, it is practically impossible for anyone but a Tory to be elected.”

    Here in mid wales where I live there will NEVER be a tory elected, which may or may not be a bad thing depending on your PoV, but the rest of us seem to muddle along quite comfortably with that ‘calamity’.

    “What I don’t prefer is us English getting up on our high horses telling everyone that we’re so much better and that everyone had better listen, because we’re so much better.”

    Instead, it would seem, you’d prefer that the english had a system of governance foisted upon them that is not theirs and not wanted. Nice!

  • @Richard Dean

    The Liberal Democrat position should always be one that holds the principle of subsidiarity as of prime importance.

    Decisions must be made at the most local practical level.

    The lowest practical level means that if a decision were to be made at a lower, and thus more directly accountable level, but would not have any impact, or would be avoided, or would simply be insignificant, then it should be made at a higher level.

    But if a decision could remain effective, significant and would not ensure a race to the bottom through avoidance of the rules, then it should be made at a lower level.

    If you’re going to join UKIP, fine, do so. But you must expect some resistance to your new party’s Westminster Knows Best agenda for government. You will find it, firstly in the outlying regions in the form of independence movements, but soon enough it’ll come home to roost in England.

    UK Democracy, as you have been told countless times and as you must have previously believed before your recent conversion, is unfit for purpose and in need of reform. It is more than half unelected and has utterly failed to deliver for anyone outside of a very narrow set of key constituencies centred around the financial hub.

    It cannot be sold down the river, because it has already sold out to the vested interests.

    And as for the ‘unaccountable, untransparent, corrupt dictatorship’ line, that is nothing but UKIP propaganda, in essence, a lie. Unaccountable? No, we just had an election. Untransparent? No, our media simply prefers not to report on it. And corrupt? You’re about to join a party led by a man who has claimed two million pounds of taxpayers’ money for doing nothing, and who refuses to let the auditors see his accounts! You clearly don’t give a brass farthing about corruption or you’d have more of a problem with that.

  • David Allen 1st Jul '14 - 6:20pm

    George Potter,

    “We do actually have a mechanism where parliament can decide the Commission President … they can simply reject every potential Commission President until they get one who commands majority support.”

    Yes, but parliament wouldn’t actually dream of doing that. It would be seen as an abuse of the power to reject, which was intended to let them occasionally block a specific candidate they found unsatisfactory. It wasn’t the intention to let them play at rejecting a long series of candidates in order to enforce their own preference. If they tried it, they’d suffer.

    So Europe still has a mountain of a “democratic deficit”, and after all this time, its failure to resolve the problem is pretty inexcusable.

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Jul '14 - 6:27pm

    @ T-J – “What we’re looking at with British democracy is a system that we bought at great expense centuries ago, got a few service packs for in the early years but are now sitting waiting on a major version update that was due around 1920.”

    And here you are offering us EuroDemos 2.0, a radical rethink of the way 21st century governance should work…Except:
    The corporate blog is nothing but a marketing portal, and the feedback webform hasn’t worked in living memory. Instead, what we suspect, is that this Business Management monolith is built round a creaking sculptor database that has been left to fester well out of view of a thriving development community, to the point where it is beyond their capabilities to replace. Instead, they lumber onward furiously bolting on badly implemented features ad-hoc that they are dimly aware are wanted by the masses. Really, they only further diverting development time into maintenance of a product that is loved by no-one, and survives only by vendor lock-in and buying out competitors. They keep on telling us the enormous service contract is worth the investment, but all we see if a huge drain on our time chasing them to implement work-arounds for problems that were identified years ago.

  • @Jedibeeftrix

    Thank you for buying British Democracy 0.8 (c) Gladstone-Disraeli Associates 1870

    We would like to remind all our users that our latest patch, Parliament Act was made available in 1911, make sure you’re running the latest version too!

    We are pleased that you are calling to enquire as to the progress of our next service pack. We can assure all our customers that version 0.9 is definitely on schedule and hasn’t been cancelled, no matter what you might have heard in 2011 or 2013.

    Unfortunately, nobody is available to take your call right now, but if you would like to leave a message, one of our representatives will be around shortly before the election to pretend that we still give a damn.

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Jul '14 - 6:44pm

    British democracy, much like common law, has been in a state of constant evolution for a very long time.
    Which is why it is just about the most successful system of governance that has been known to exist.

  • Ah, there’s those stars in your eyes too. Amazing.

    Evolving and changing? The European Union is an evolving, changing thing. As a nation, we haven’t really decided we’re comfortable with what its evolving into, but it is most certainly a dynamic thing.

    Wheras the United Kingdom hasn’t significantly changed since 1911, with its political system designed from the ground up to block any changes before they get anywhere near the statute books.

    This is why the UK is facing calls for breakup from within its governing parties’ former heartlands. Remember, Scotland was solid Tory country through the 40s, 50s and 60s. Nothing delivered. It was solid Labour through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Another delivery of nothing duly arrived.

    Is it any wonder that independence is now a serious proposition rather than the slightly nutty fringe proposal it was back when Britain last updated its constitutional arrangements?

  • (For any Labour supporters who might take issue with my assessment of Scotland’s having recieved nothing from Labour – a parliament with fewer powers than any federal unit anywhere else in the world designed solely to neuter an already mounting swing towards the nationalists doesn’t really count.)

  • T-J, are you sure you are right about the Commission’s ability to initiate legislation? I thought it could only do that at the behest of the Council of Ministers, the Council and more recently from the Parliament. I suppose that some legislation could arise as a result of international negotiations or as a result of EU Court of Justice decisions, but then they would have to go to the Council of Ministers.

    Perhaps it all depends on what is meant by initiate. I did not think that the Commission can initiate in the sense of initiating policy.. Any initiation of legislation surely has to be a function of policy.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jul '14 - 8:14pm

    @Richard Dean:

    “the final decisions are supposed to be taken by the Council of Ministers,”

    Wrong. You are very out of date. The European Parliament now has co-decision with the European Council (to use the correct terminology — “Council of Ministers” is the old term) on all matters of EU Law.

    as you would expect in a democratic system where the ministers come from democratically elected national governments.

    Except that the ministers are appointed, unlike the directly elected European Parliament. And often it is not the ministers making the decisions in the Council, but their civil servants. And this country there is little parliamentary accountability over the actions of ministers or their civil servants, and any vote on the Minister’s position would be a rubber-stamp anyway due to the massive payroll vote in the UK Parliament. I find the directly elected European Parliament to be a far more effective defender of the interests of the people of the EU than the indirectly elected Ministers of national governments, especially when MEPs have much more independence than national MPs (e.g. there is no ‘payroll vote’).

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 8:16pm

    Clauses 1 and 2 of Article 9D of the LIsbon Treaty state:

    1. The Commission shall promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end ….. It shall initiate the Union’s annual and multiannual programming with a view to achieving interinstitutional agreements.

    2. Union legislative acts may only be adopted on the basis of a Commission proposal, except where the Treaties provide otherwise. Other acts shall be adopted on the basis of a Commission proposal where the Treaties so provide.

    Like I suggested before, the only rational solution is to scrap the EU and start again.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 8:32pm

    @Alex Macfie
    It’s even changed since then. Post-Lisbon, co-decision is part of the “ordinary legislative procedure”, which has a special conciliation process if the Parliament and Council do not agree (Art.294 TFEU). There is also a special legislative procedure when one of those bodies takes a decision after consultation with the other (Art.289 TFEU), though in practice it is usually the Council who decides and the Parliament who is consulted.
    http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/institutional_affairs/treaties/lisbon_treaty/ai0016_en.htm

  • @jedibeeftrix – “Why? Because it is not [our] revolution. It is not [our] Demos, therefore we reject that it might [become] our Kratos.
    ‘They’ are not ‘my’ people. ”

    Whether you like it or not, all citizens of EU member states share a common “Citizenship of the European Union”, hence you share a common citizenship with your fellow EU citizens, so they are “your people” at least in matters that the EU impacts on (which is 95% + if you are stupid enough to believe UKIP 🙂 ).

    Parliament here in the UK made that democratic decision , hence based on your comments above it appears you reject the concept of Parliament here in the UK making decisions for the British demos when they make decisions you disagree with. It would appear to be a case that in practise you are just as hostile to the British demos since you don’t accept democratic decisions made here in the UK by Parliament on behalf of the British people.

  • Richard Dean 1st Jul '14 - 11:40pm

    @Paul R
    That is a typical dry intellectual’s misunderstanding of ordinary people. For ordinary people, citizenship is not the thing that is written in paper or that some stranger decides to write, It is a feeling of belonging and of shared culture.

    What happens with the EU seems to be that people who don’t like the democratically-elected UK government are all gung-ho about how wonderful the EU is, people who are part of the democratically-elected UK government use the EU as a scapegoat, and people who are part of the EU government don’t bother to do their democratic duty of keeping the electorate informed of what they do and propose to do and asking the electorate for views.

    No wonder this whole subject area is a complete disaster!

  • @Martin

    ‘T-J, are you sure you are right about the Commission’s ability to initiate legislation?’

    ‘Perhaps it all depends on what is meant by initiate. I did not think that the Commission can initiate in the sense of initiating policy.. Any initiation of legislation surely has to be a function of policy.’

    The Treaty of Rome back in 1957 laid out a fairly simple process – the Commission proposed legislation to address issues it saw as being important, the Council then adopted or rejected it and the proto-Parliament had an advisory role but could be ignored. Its basically what our former friend Richard Dean wants to see us go back to.

    The Maastricht and particularly Lisbon treaties greatly expanded on Parliament’s role, to the point where it is now an equal co-legislator with the Council, but the Commission is still the body that presents proposals for new legal instruments to them.

    Since Lisbon, Parliament or a delegation of one quarter or more of the member states or a citizens’ petition exceeding one million signatures (or the ECB and ECJ, on certain limited areas relating to themselves) can also request that the Commission place a given proposal for new or amended legislation before Parliament for consideration, but the convention remains that it is formally the Commission proposing it, not anyone else.

    The analogue is that in the British system, anyone theoretically can propose a bill, but it is generally the cabinet that generates the bills that actually pass. The Commission (that is, the 28 member body drawn from political grandees from each member state) functions essentially as a cabinet at this stage along the process of democratic reform in the EU.

    In practice, only about 10% of European legislative activity comes about as a result of the Commission putting a proposal that originates from its own plan before Parliament. Generally, two or more of the potential legisation initiators cooperate to draft a proposal that will then be put into the process. Communication and co-decision is a fundamental component of the legislative process in the Union. Because of this, the majority of legislation tends to pass through the European Parliament on its first reading, then go forward to the Council and be passed there as well. However, those that are not go forward to a conciliation committee drawn equally from MEPs and Council members, then to second and third readings in the Parliament and Council. After the third reading, the proposal dies and has to be re-proposed if the initiator wants to try again. The Commission can choose not to submit this reproposal to the process, however.

    Also, the Parliament as the democratic organ of the European Union’s lawmaking process has the right to end the process at any stage for certain policy areas, and has the ability to end the legislative process after the first reading in the Council if it decides that the Council’s position does not offer any compromise – that then requires a new proposal to be submitted.

  • The European Parliament has an animated flowchart describing its process on its website: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0081f4b3c7/Law-making-procedures-in-detail.html

    I should also mention that the high proportion of first reading passes is a feature of the now-previous parliament, and was not seen in previous ones. It also is unlikely to be seen in the next one, as the EPP is less powerful, there are greater ideological divides between the parties and the Council is likely to be more robust in putting forth its amendments now that the priorities of immediate crisis management give way to the politics of managing a recovery and laying the groundwork for reform.

  • “a feeling of belonging and of shared culture” : This well describes my sentiments for Europe.

    P.S. to Richard Dean: in contrast to Paul R, I suppose your misunderstanding is typically wet. One problem the EU has is that when it does seek to inform it is often accused in the UK of issuing propaganda and wasting money.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 12:34am

    @T-J.
    None of the interesting and useful information and link you provide, none of it confers any kind of democratic legitimacy. All it means is that they have procedures in a talking shop. By contrast, democratic legitimacy is conferred by the people who are governed supporting the process by which they are governed.

    It’s clear that support for the EU process is reducing very dramatically throughout Europe, and that mostly this is associated with so-called “nationalist” feelings. For older people like me, a major reason for supporting the EU was the prevention of war. The heat the EU is now generating means it’s failing in that purpose.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 12:36am

    @Martin
    So ordinary people are “typically wet”. What does that say about the arrogance of liberals? And their unelectability?

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 12:38am

    So, ordinary people are “typically wet”? Will that attitude help Libdems gain the support of ordinary people in any kind of election?

  • T-J: There seems to be ambiguity about the term ‘proposes legislation’. In effect doesn’t this mean drafting legislation which has been initiated elsewhere? Is there any legislation that could not be said to have originated in the Council, the judiciary or the Parliament?

    In the UK, if the Cabinet decide that legislation is required, the relevant minister would instruct the Civil Service department to draft the legislation, this then goes to the committees and parliament. In the EU, in place of the Cabinet there is the Council of the ministers with the appropriate brief from member states. However that said it is all too easy to imagine ‘Yes Minister’ behaviour in Brussels , just as w e can imagine it in Whitehall.

  • @Richard Dean

    Democratic legitimacy? You mean the sort of legitimacy that comes from every elected government from every nation within the European Union choosing to remain in it? The sort that comes from separatist parties having precisely zero seats in the national parliament of the most sceptical member of the union? That sort of legitimacy?

    What the information I have provided shows is that there is an evolving democratic system in Europe, with procedures that can be understood and that are followed, legislating through the principle of subsidiarity on issues that cannot be effectively tackled on a more local level. Whether or not you think it is legitimate, I frankly couldn’t care less and we’ll settle that question sooner or later in a vote.

    ‘For older people like me, a major reason for supporting the EU was the prevention of war. The heat the EU is now generating means it’s failing in that purpose.’

    Really. Where are the combat zones? Where are the front lines? Who are the major field commanders, and what strategies are they implementing?

    The European Union does prevent war in Europe. One recent example is the lack of conflict between Romania and Hungary, despite four years ago there being the same sort of passport-issuing separatism stirring crap that’s led to a civil war in the Ukraine going on. The EU’s economic influence and its systems for protecting the rights of minorities within its borders have dealt fairly with the situation.

    That’s just the one that I know about through friends and contacts, and I’m fairly sure a new kipper won’t be too bothered about the Union providing a forum that prevents the re-emergence of conflicts in the east. But it applies for the old Europe too. Where once the European powers would have been shooting at eachother over the recent economic catastrophes, we are now developing a cooperative, democratically accountable system for working out our differences and working for our mutual benefit.

    As a younger person, I strongly support the Union. Partly because it provides the forum for peacefully settling issues as above, partly because it provides the economic opportunities that my generation will need and that simply aren’t available for us in UKIP’s fantasy of competing with China for cheap labour. But mostly because it offers a vision for a cooperative future that gives us all a voice loud enough on the world stage to actually make a difference on the issues of our time, while also through subsidiarity making sure that our communities and their interests are not crushed under the overbearing weight of central government and authoritarian policymaking.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 1:03am

    @T-J.
    You didn’t read what I wrote. Democratic legitimacy is granted by the people, not by the governments. And that is not an age issue.

  • Richard Dean: that is just sophistry that plays on the word ‘ordinary’. I was just demonstrating that your use of ‘dry’ as an adjective lacked substance and was a non argument, merely serving as a jibe.

    By the way, on mainland Europe there really is very little appetite for dismantling the EU or the Euro.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 1:14am

    @Martin
    Ah, yes, Marine Le Pen with 25% of the French vote certainly shows “very little appetite for dismantling the EU or the Euro” … http://rt.com/shows/sophieco/164660-europe-politicans-victims-ukraine/ , though admittedly it’s a “news” outlet funded by Putin

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 1:17am

    @Martin. English is certainly difficult language. Try item 17a or 18 in …. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dry

  • @Martin

    T-J: There seems to be ambiguity about the term ‘proposes legislation’. In effect doesn’t this mean drafting legislation which has been initiated elsewhere? Is there any legislation that could not be said to have originated in the Council, the judiciary or the Parliament?

    As I understand it, the 28 Commissioners take the role of the cabinet and instruct the 20,000 strong civil service, the European Commission proper and the ‘Brussels Bureaucrats’ of legend, to draft legislation that they then propose to Parliament, from where it proceeds to Council, conciliation and its second and third re-readings.

    Legislation can originate outside of the judiciary or Parliament, but only in the sense that the delegation of member states or the citizens’ petition asks the Commissioners to instruct the civil servants to draft a given piece of legislation.

    There are however a limited number of legislative areas that are deemed to be important enough to the interests of the member states that they retain supremacy in all ways, and for those areas there is a Special Legislative Procedure where the Council acts as sole legislator. These areas at the moment include foreign policy, anything to do with military cooperation and most of the body of competition law that the EU has, among other things.

    This procedure sees the Council, as the gathered representatives of the nation-states, negotiate a single position which it must then seek an opinion on from the Parliament. Some areas like the accession of new members or the appointment of new Commissioners then require the Parliament to deliver a yes/no verdict, but without the ability to amend.

  • @Richard Dean

    I read exactly what you wrote. You don’t think Britain’s participation in the European Union is democratically legitimate. An opinion I disagree with and consider to be inconsistent with itself. The nation-state government you say is the only legitimate expression of democracy has made a decision to participate, however ineptly. Is it not legitimate? Or is democracy only legitimate when it delivers an answer you both like and think is popular?

    Oh, and before you get too starry eyed about Marine Le Pen and the Front National, their position on everything from the Euro through to the French Monarchy changes with the wind. One day they’re arch-federalists who want to see a Bonaparte crowned as President of the Council instead of van Rompuy, the next they want to set France up as a communitarian agrarian state under an elected president for life, the day after, who knows…

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 1:34am

    “starry eyed”? That seems to describe many of those who support the EU. I can’t see it applying to a realist like me!

  • @Richard Dean

    You’re an uncritical supporter of the current Westminster arrangement of nation-state democracy overriding all other possible levels either broader or more local, regardless of the effectiveness of legislation at that level and regardless of the failures of that system.

    You’re starry eyed in that regard, and you are hopelessly out of touch with the developing reality on the fringes of the British state.

    Canvass here in Scotland and you’ll detect a certain thinning out of patience with the wait for Westminster to reform. Three election cycles more, maybe four, and even if No wins in September it’ll be curtains for the UK as it is presently constituted.

    You’ve also picked the party of Nigel Farage to express your dissatisfaction with corruption and politics-as-usual. This must indicate something is wrong with your ability to perceive political reality, as he is frankly the most corrupt and least willing to countenance reform in Westminster out of any potential leader you could possibly have chosen.

    If Europe has become the sticking point preventing your association with the Liberal Democrats, you would have done better to consider the Greens – they want a referendum and say no to Europe as currently constituted, but aren’t a reactionary gang of homophobic, jingoistic hard right thatcherites with an agenda to tear apart the state and revert the post-war social settlement to a new Victorian era of hardship and poverty.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 1:59am

    @T-J.
    Scotland? I think I understand now! Good luck with your independence referendum.

  • Richard Dean: I think the position of the Front Nationale at the last elections was to remain with the Euro but leave the EU, but I think they still wanted the Common Agricultural Policy.

  • T-J: thanks for that, however, surely the Commissioners take their instructions from the Council. How the Commissioners act is surely supposed not to be political.

  • jedibeeftrix writes :
    “In extremis, I hold open the option of turning up outside parliament with a pitchfork,”
    And it could be argued that Ukip is the embodiment of that pitchfork?
    [If], “I have a multitude of likeminded company [with pitchforks], then people therein [Westminster], had better start listening!”
    But 5 weeks on from a severe political pasting, and there are still some here that are holding their hands over their ears.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jul '14 - 8:56am

    Matthew Huntbach:

    Because the leader of the “party of in” chose to join in with the attacks on Mr Juncker rather than to make this point [about European Parliamentary democracy]

    Indeed. But what were we expecting him to do? During the election campaign, he and the rest of the party made no attempt at all to discuss what the European Parliament does — there was scant mention of the Lib Dem MEPs’ voting record in the European Parliament, and how it contrasts with those of the other MEP groups, whether from the UK or elsewhere. But we weren’t alone; in the UK only the Greens and (to a limited extent) Labour campaigned on issues that MEPs actually discuss and vote on, and how these would affect their electorate. By this I mean bread-and-butter issues that happen to be decided at EU level, like the CAP, trade, consumer protection. Instead we chose to have a head-to-head between our leader and Nigel Farage, and the maxim “never argue with a fool” definitely applied here. We allowed Farage to frame the debate around an issue over which MEPs don’t have any influence at all. And Clegg essentially agreed with Farage that the European Parliament doesn’t matter, and that the only possible positions anyone can take over the EU are uncritical support or withdrawal. Our shockingly inept Euro campaign gave the electorate no reason to vote Lib Dem as opposed to one of the other parties. And that is why we did so badly.

  • Alex Macfie: although the reason we did badly cannot be entirely attributed to the Party’s incoherent position on the EU Parliament, your points are well made.

    Lib Dems appeared to endorse the process until Olli Rehn stepped aside in favour of Guy Verhofstadt. Was it at that moment that the Lead Candidate (Spitzenkandidaten) system was rejected? Rejected by whom? – Nick Clegg? The Parliamentary Party? The national Party? MEPs (I think not)? What has happened appears to lack principle as it seems that the Party or important elements in the Party would have clearly endorsed Olli Rehn.

    With only one MEP, the danger is that those at the top of the national Party will persist in sidelining the European Parliament:

    The Party of IN? – wouldn’t that be good?

  • There’s a fundamental misunderstanding throughout this conversation that the “point” of democracy is that the leaders are voted for., and a better voting system means a better democracy. That’s a necessary aspect, but not in my view the true benefit. For me, the point of democracy is that the leaders should always feel accountable to the citizens, that they should be forced to take into account the views and interests of those citizens when formulating their decisions.

    By this metric, of course, the EP is an utter failure. MEPs can do pretty much whatever they want in that chamber in the sure and certain knowledge that it will have minimal influence on whether they are reelected. Hence the backroom deal that got Juncker, a woefully underqualified individual notable mainly for his longevity and personal connections within EU institutions, chosen as spitzencandidate.

    The argument therefore that Cameron (who whatever you may think of him is keenly aware that he must be seen to serve at least a large proportion of his electorate) is acting in a somehow “antidemocratic” way in opposing this seems questionable.

  • Tristan: You totally undermine your argument as soon as you assert “a woefully underqualified individual notable mainly for his longevity and personal connections”. This serves only to indicate ignorance.

    This ignorance, I suggest extends to the series of debates between the candidates for President of the Commission that took place during the European Parliament campaign and to how the EPP chose Juncker in anything but “a backroom deal”. The EPP press release (7 March 2014) on their website is clear:

    The Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) today elected Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, as the EPP’s candidate for President of the European Commission, ahead of the May European Parliament elections.

    The vote took place at the finale of the EPP 2014 Elections Congress in Dublin. Of the 627 votes cast by the members of the Congress with voting rights, 382 voted for Jean-Claude Juncker, while Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, received 245 votes.

    In nominating a candidate for President of the European Commission, the EPP was the only major European political party to have implemented a process which was open, transparent, competitive and democratic.

    Following his election as the EPP candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker emphasised: “We have to explain why the EU is not a phenomenon of the past but a need of the future. I thank you for the trust that you have given me. We are going to win these elections.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 11:56am

    Alex Macfie (in response to my comments on Mr Clegg’s approach to the EU elections)

    Indeed. But what were we expecting him to do? During the election campaign, he and the rest of the party made no attempt at all to discuss what the European Parliament does — there was scant mention of the Lib Dem MEPs’ voting record in the European Parliament, and how it contrasts with those of the other MEP groups, whether from the UK or elsewhere.

    Yes, and that is another indication of the complete incompetence of Mr Clegg and those surrounding him. They played into Mr Farage’s hands by letting Mr Farage set the agenda.

    AFTER the elections there were all these tears about our good hard-working MEPs who had lost their seats. So why didn’t we hear about them and what they were doing BEFORE the election? Why, instead did we just get wall-to-wall Clegg? Ditto our councillors who lost their seats.

    The man is a disaster he MUST GO NOW!!!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 12:11pm

    Stephen W

    The idea that Juncker had any democratic legitimacy is laughable. 90% of European voters had never heard of him, including voters who theoretically voted for him. Moreover, in no sense did the EPP gain a majority, they gained a thin plurality with 29% of MEP’s

    This is the British way of doing things. We don’t have directly elected Leaders. We elect assemblies who chose the leaders, and the leaders are accountable to the assemblies. That is how Parliament is run, and that is how local councils are run, except those which have introduced the execute mayor system which is alien to the British way of running things.

    We don’t directly elect an all-powerful leader of the country who can dismiss local representatives because he or she has a direct majority vote. No, we have a Prime Minister who depends on the local representatives, and can be thrown out by them. And long may it remain this way. We don’t want that system they introduced on Germany and Italy in the last century, we want the traditional British and liberal shared power system.

    If there were enough MEP who supported some other person, they should have got together and made that known. If there were just 29% of the group which directly supported Juncker, than Juncker’s endorsement relied on others to gain a majority. Just as Mt Cameron’s did in our current Parliament. I did not cast a vote for Mr Cameron, or Mr Brown or Mr Clegg in the last general election. I cast a vote for the candidate to represent my local area, with the trust that the person elected would use good judgement in choosing who would be leader.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 12:24pm

    Simon McGrath

    Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all opposed Juncker for the very good reason that he is the archytpial centralising eurocrat who has repeatedly shown contempt for the views of voters.

    Could you give me some examples of view of the voters that Juncker has shown contempt for and explain how that contempt has been shown?

    Is it really the case that the people of this country are so in love with Cameron and Clegg and their government that they could not abide anything which might act as some sort of control over some aspects of what it does?

    Is it really the case that all that the Cameron-Clegg government is pushing through is so popular with the British people that they would hate to have any sort of more alternative? Is the sort of moderate centre-right policy direction of the European Christian Democrats so at odds with how the British people feel that the British people are outraged at it, and want instead to flock to endorse the more hard-line right-wing economics of the Cameron-Clegg government?

    Or is it the case that people have been whipped up in a frenzy over this thing as a distraction by the economic far right forces which now govern us? A distraction from the way our governing party is now in the hands of foreign potentates (see here) who pay to get it to hand over control of the country to them? How come we hear nothing about that from all those right-wing papers who go on and on about the EU threat to British independence?

  • Could you give me some examples of view of the voters that Juncker has shown contempt for and explain how that contempt has been shown?

    How about his statement about the French referendum on the proposed Constitution?

    ‘If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.’

    How is that not showing contempt for voters: explicitly disregarding their votes even before they have been cast?

    And that’s before we even get to, ‘When the going gets tough, you have to lie.’

    I cast a vote for the candidate to represent my local area, with the trust that the person elected would use good judgement in choosing who would be leader

    You cast your vote in part because of who your representative would choose to be leader, though, didn’t you?

    If you didn’t you are very unusual. Certainly I will be casting my vote next year mainly on the basis of who I want to be Prime Minister, and I suspect so will most people.

    In the European election, on the other hand, most people cast their votes based on which domestic political party they wanted to give a kicking to, for purely domestic reasons (not just in the UK, across Europe). How on Earth can that possibly translate into a democratic mandate for Mr Junker?

  • “Si c’est oui, nous dirons donc : on poursuit ; si c’est non, nous dirons : on continue !” I thought ‘Keep calm and carry on’ was very British of him.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jul '14 - 1:50pm

    @Dav: In local elections, many, perhaps most people in practice cast their votes based on which national political party they want to give a kicking to, for purely national reasons. Does this mean that local authorities don’t have a political mandate?

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 2:00pm

    It is really the case that the EU is seen as a problem rather than a solution.
    http://online.wsj.com/articles/germany-defies-eu-on-energy-policy-1403878496

  • Does this mean that local authorities don’t have a political mandate?

    Do you think they do? On turnouts that sometimes approach single figures? Why?

  • Stephen W: across “the vast majority” of the EU, the debates between Juncker, Schultz, Verhofstadt, Keller and Tsipras were widely reported on TV, radio and in the papers at the time of the elections. But you did not know that of course.

  • David White 2nd Jul '14 - 2:25pm

    Here, and now, with sadness, I bid a sad and fond farewell to the dear, old LibDem Party, after many years of allegiance. I also say adieu, less fondly, to LDV – which provided the last straw to break the back of this old beast.

  • jedibeeftrix 2nd Jul '14 - 2:26pm

    ” Is the sort of moderate centre-right policy direction of the European Christian Democrats so at odds with how the British people feel”

    Yes, Matthew, they form an explicitly federalist group which is the antithesis of Tory desires.

  • Dav If we believe Councils have no mandate, why do we bother with them? The same, of course, applies to supranational democratic entities such as the EU. Oh sorry, we don’t bother with them either, do we? The main reason we don’t take them seriously is because of our one-sided media’s focus. As the, self-defined democratic party in the UK, and one that is focused both ways, internationalist and localist, we should be doing our damnedest to show why democracy applies at different levels, and what we are doing as a Party at each level. Not trying to knock holes in pluralist democracy, playing into the hands of unitarists like Farage, Redwood etc, whose main focus is to intensify business power over the democratic sphere – “less red tape, blah blah blah” etc.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 4:26pm

    jedibeeftrix

    Yes, Matthew, they form an explicitly federalist group which is the antithesis of Tory desires.

    I wrote “British people”, not “Tories”. Are the Tories so popular in this country that you might as well use “Tories” to mean “British people” as they are nearly the same thing?

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 4:36pm

    Stephen W

    A vast majority of voters across Europe have probably never even heard of the EPP, let alone Juncker. Comparing the two situations is ridiculous.

    Yes, that is why we elect people to represent us to make these decisions. If I have no idea who Juncker and the other possibles for this post are, then it makes sense for me to elect someone I trust, based on their local political standing, to join in making the decision. That is the principle of representative democracy: we cannot all know everything about everything, or have time to work out our own exact position on everything, so we choose a representative to do that on our behalf.

    The National Governments have far more democratic legitimacy than the groups of the European Parliament, which are shifting, vague coalitions that have never been on a ballot paper.

    Sorry, I have explained representative democracy to you above. We have just had elections to the European Parliament, and I voted for my representative there, someone who I could trust to make decisions on my behalf. Well, actually I’d have been able to do that more directly if we had STV rather than the list system, and the list I voted for got so few votes that not even the person at its top got elected. Anyway, most other people had a representative elected of their choice. Those representatives get together to make decisions. That’s representative democracy. If people choose not to take it seriously, well, that’s their problem. If the EU is this big dominating powerful thing people say it is, people ought to take its elections seriously, and the issues discussed in those elections should be the issues those representatives will be voting on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '14 - 4:42pm

    Dav

    In the European election, on the other hand, most people cast their votes based on which domestic political party they wanted to give a kicking to, for purely domestic reasons (not just in the UK, across Europe).

    Well, more fool them. Suppose I decided to vote Conservative in the next general election in order to give a kicking to the Labour Party because I don’t like the way they run my borough? Then I think I would have no right to complain if the result was that I got a Conservative national government.

    Of course, if people choose not to take the EU elections seriously because actually the EU (like local authorities in England) doesn’t have that much power, then that shows up those who are ranting and raving about “rule by Brussels” as talking nonsense.

    So, either the EU is this big powerful thing its opponents say it is, therefore we should take its elections seriously, more fool us if we don’t. Or it is not, so we should stop going on about it.

  • Are the Tories so popular in this country that you might as well use “Tories” to mean “British people” as they are nearly the same thing?

    On this particular issue (that is, being against a federal European Union), yes, yes they are.

    If the EU is this big dominating powerful thing people say it is, people ought to take its elections seriously

    If the EU is this big dominating powerful thing people say it is, then it should be dismantled and attacked and circumscribed until it is no longer big or dominating, and is as powerless as it can be while still fulfilling its function of being a free trade area.

  • @Dav

    You’ve confused the European Union with EFTA.

    Of course, membership of EFTA comes with its own pricetag and frankly isn’t worth it when EU membership is not only possible but already in place. But if England wants to take its influence and national interest, wrap it in a bundle and flush it down the toilet, well, democracy means that voters are allowed to make stupid decisions and I am not inclined to protect you from the consequences of that one.

    The European Union needs to redesign the way many of its institutions function, in the light of the financial crisis and the problems that it has revealed. It also needs to settle what role, if any, there is for fringe members, and then create or amend treaties to suit.

    Then we should vote on it, and the consequences that flow from that decision I think I’ve already covered.

    @Martin

    ‘ thanks for that, however, surely the Commissioners take their instructions from the Council. How the Commissioners act is surely supposed not to be political.’

    I see. I understand that the Commissioners have their agenda set by the European Council, the body formed from heads of state/government and whose president is currently Herman van Rompuy, but that the EC doesn’t do this through any formal means but rather as a function of their stature as leaders of member states and of the Council President’s ability to broker negotiations. As often happens, I was focussing on the role of the Council of Ministers in the legislative process.

    A major area for reform though is the politicisation of these Commissioners. Their role of proposing legislation to Parliament etc is inherently open to politics, and any reform idea has to look at changing how Commissioners are chosen, from where they are drawn or how they relate to the EC and the Council of Ministers.

  • You’ve confused the European Union with EFTA

    No, its the European Union that got confused when it lost sight of the fact it was supposed to just be a free trade area and started trying to be a federal over-state.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jul '14 - 10:43pm

    According to the EU website, the Council of the EU represent governments, the European Parliament represents populations, and the Commission represents “Europe”.

    If that is true, I wonder what constituency the Commission represents? It can’t be the governments, and it can’t be the populations. What’s left? … businesses!

    I’d suggest that the minimum necessary reform is to remove the idea that the Commission represents “Europe”, and replace it with the idea that the Commission be a non-partisan servant of the Council and Parliament.

  • Did I just imagine a bunch of liberals defending the UK’s democratic system? I mean, I know the EU’s a ramshackle laughing stock in almost every imaginable way, but there’s no need to start defending our own shambles.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Jul '14 - 2:38am

    @Stewart.
    Probably not. Liberals, it seems, are not concerned with what the electorate prefer. The views of the electorate are irrelevant – only their own preferred system is deemed worthy.

    Next question: Are the electorate strongly supporting the liberals, and if not, why not, do you suppose?

  • @Alex Macfie

    The Lib Dem councilors I speak to campaign hard on local issues, and believe a significant portion of the electorate cares how they perform in their jobs. Local news covers what the council gets up to, and the performance of council services is immediately apparent to the electorate (although city council things may get blamed on the county and vice versa). By contrast noone has any idea what our MEPs do all day or how they affect our lives.

    Yes, many people vote on national issues, but the councilors still believe their job performance has an impact on reelection hopes – if not of themselves then of their colleagues. Can you honestly say MEPs think the same thing?

  • Richard – I very much doubt the vast majority of folk give a damn what our electoral system is. Ah, well.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Jul '14 - 1:04pm

    @Stewart. I think you may have just provided a clear example of what I was saying!

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '14 - 5:37pm

    Dav

    If the EU is this big dominating powerful thing people say it is, then it should be dismantled and attacked and circumscribed until it is no longer big or dominating,

    Well, ok, can you give me some actual examples of it being big and dominating that interfere with people’s lives here in a way they don’t like? People like you just seem to state it as a fact, but we get big long discussions on it without any such examples being raised. You say the British people are all against it, but is that because they have actual negative experiences they can cite as making them against it, or is it just because all they ever hear about it is people like you making these claims?

    Sorry, if I am coming across as madly pro-EU, it is not because I actually am. It is because I like to hear both sides of the case, and I like to hear actual examples of problems, not just take it in trust. I’d be taking the opposite approach if discussions like this were full of people saying how wonderful the EU was, without actually citing things that make t wonderful.

  • Well, ok, can you give me some actual examples of it being big and dominating that interfere with people’s lives here in a way they don’t like?

    Well, there’s the breathtakingly ridiculous sight of a foreign court presuming to tell Parliament who should have the franchise, for one thing. At least that seems to have been settled by ignoring it, but it was a massive unwarranted intrusion into domestic policy.

    If the EU succeeds in implementing a Financial Transaction Tax, that will harm the entire continent but the UK more than most as financial business moves away from London, meaning lower tax revenue from the City, meaning the rest of us will either have to stump up more or endure yet more cuts in public spending.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '14 - 7:27pm

    Dav

    If the EU succeeds in implementing a Financial Transaction Tax, that will harm the entire continent but the UK more than most as financial business moves away from London,

    Well, ok, but is this something the British people as a whole are getting worked up about? If you stop someone in the street and ask them “What do you think about the EU?” will they answer “Oh, our poor, poor bankers, how cruelly they are treated by the EU”?

    Or does this say a bit more about why the anti-EU feeling has been whipped up? It is actually about protecting the wealthy elite, but of course that cannot be put directly because the British people wouldn’t be sympathetic to that. So instead it’s all but very dramatically, but vaguely.

    In my experience, a lot of people vote UKIP saying things like “I’m fed up with politicians, they only care for the rich, they don’t care for ordinary people like us”. So here are people being whipped up to support just what they think they are making a protest against. Neat, eh?

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Jul '14 - 7:33pm

    why shouldn’t they get worked up about it? It is a useful litmus test for how society intends to treat the principal of wealth creation, e.g. whether it is to pay for services or to be harnassed as part of some broader equality drive.

    after all, many people on the left get terribly worked up over how much rich people get paid, and terribly indigant that they only pay 30% of their income (after taxes and benefits – ONS), even though they use the same doctors and teachers…

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '14 - 7:40pm

    Stewart

    Richard – I very much doubt the vast majority of folk give a damn what our electoral system is.

    Well, yes, but isn’t there something a bit strange about people moaning and moaning about the Liberal Democrats “propping up the Tories” while at the same time not giving a damn for the fact that the biggest thing propping up the Tories is the electoral system. Had the Liberal Democrats not had so much of a targetting strategy in 2010, they could have got exactly the same share of votes, but more spread out and so fewer seats, and the Tories with the same share of votes winning a clear majority. So why it is considered a terrible thing for the LibDems to “prop up the Tories” to the point where the party has almost been destroyed for it, but an unimportant matter that we have an electoral system which in most cases does just the same thing?

    Perhaps people don’t give a damn because, unlike the EU, they are not being whipped up by most of our newspapers into getting all worked up about it. Suppose the Sun, Daily Mail etc for some reason decided to make a big fuss about the electoral system, going on and on about how unfair it is, how a party with just 35% of the vote has complete control of the government, and how we should regard that government as illegitimate on that basis. IF every time people opened their newspapers, they found comment on this sort of line, I suspect they would start giving a damn about it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '14 - 7:44pm

    jedibeeftrix

    why shouldn’t they get worked up about it? It is a useful litmus test for how society intends to treat the principal of wealth creation, e.g. whether it is to pay for services or to be harnassed as part of some broader equality drive.

    No, that wasn’t my point. My point was whether they ARE getting worked up about it? Is this the thing ordinary people tend to quote as why they think the EU is a bad thing? You and UKIP and the like may think it a bad thing, but is it what UKIP puts on all their promotional material when they are trying to win votes? I don’t think so. Why not? Because they are attempting to win votes by deception, they want to hide what they are really about.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Jul '14 - 10:55pm

    @Tristan

    noone has any idea what our MEPs do all day or how they affect our lives.

    That;s because the media never report on it. When was the last time an MEP other than Nigel Farage was on Question Time? And that is the problem. Similarly the BBC news programmes routinely report on European issues without interviewing a single MEP. When the national media become interested in MEPs who are not called Nigel Farage, then things might start to change and we might start to see some interest in and understanding of what MEPs do and how voting in Euro elections changes EU Policy.

    Of course the Lib Dem Euro election campaign didn’t help. I have frequently opined that our national campaign did NOTHING to elucidate what MEPs do and what difference it makes to have a Lib Dem MEP as opposed to a Labour or Tory MEP. I have kept on saying that we should have had an MEP-led campaign, not a Clegg-led campaign, and it should have been about what our MEPs have done as LIBERALS to make a more liberal EU. As far as I’m concerned, European election campaigns need to be ideological, and issue-led, in the same way as national ones are. But what did the party leadership do? They joined in the media conspiracy of silence over what MEPs actually do, and set up a debate between Clegg (who wasn’t even up for election) and Farage on an issue over which MEPs have NO INFLUENCE WHATSOEVER, and in doing so gave Farage and UKIP a lot of free publicity. Instead of attacking the political consensus that EPs don’t matter, our party leadership promoted it and continues to do so.

    So you can complain that most people don’t know what their MEPs do, but the reason is that the media and political establishment in this country chooses to ignore the work of MEPs. And this applies even to our party leadership, perhaps because MEPs have a certain independence from the Westminster bubble that makes them a thorn in the side, so the Westminster-based politicos prefer that as little as possible is known about them

  • Richard Dean 4th Jul '14 - 12:06am

    @Alex Macfie
    I disagree about blaming the media for this one. MEPs need engage proactively, not wait to be asked.

    It would be simple for MEPs to write columns or even letters in newspapers, or offer themselves for interview on radio and TV stations that are actually desperate for news quite a lot of the time.

    MEPs also have significant expense accounts which they could use to fund informative pamphlets or public speaking engagements – and possibly that is one of the things they are supposed to be doing with that money.

  • Well, yes, but isn’t there something a bit strange about people moaning and moaning about the Liberal Democrats “propping up the Tories” while at the same time not giving a damn for the fact that the biggest thing propping up the Tories is the electoral system

    I think you mistake what the British people think an electoral system is for.

    The British people think that an electoral system is to there provide a strong government that they can then complain about.

    The problem with a PR system, or AV, would be that it would not be entirely clear who the government is (due to making continental-style consensus politics and coalitions more likely), and therefore it would be more difficult to complain about.

    They therefore voted against it.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jul '14 - 6:01am

    @Richard Dean: MEPs do do all the stuff you talk about. Do you really think that they do not offer themselves for interview or put out press releases or write letters to the press? The problem is that all too often their offers are not taken up. As for “informative pamphlets”, whenever any EU body puts those out, they are accused in the UK media of spending taxpayer money on pro-EU propaganda. You can’t win.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jul '14 - 6:02am

    Also if you notice I do not entirely blame the media, but also my own party’s Westminster-based leadership.

  • Richard Dean
    If you saw the sort of information – spreading via all sorts of media that our former MEP Graham Watson, and before his earlier defeat, Robin Teverson did, and campaigning and general media work, I don’t think you would make that statement.

  • Yes, jedi, but Daniel Hannan is feeding into many of the media’s prejudices. When you try to say something the media has decided is NOT its storyline, many of them just don’t want to know. I remember many years ago at Conference, when the media were looking out (as so often) for splits, the otherwise admirable Peter Snow asked my wife for a quote, and she gave him something quite feisty saying that the conference was a good atmosphere, she had seen no splits etc, and he turned away, and that was that! MEPs trying to tell the truth from their angle are not generally welcome in Britain’s media.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jul '14 - 9:40am

    Dav

    The British people think that an electoral system is to there provide a strong government that they can then complain about.

    Well, sure, so shouldn’t they be pleased with the LibDems for just “rolling over and giving in to the Tories” and therefore giving them the sort of government they want?

    The problem with a PR system, or AV, would be that it would not be entirely clear who the government is (due to making continental-style consensus politics and coalitions more likely), and therefore it would be more difficult to complain about.

    Well, sure. But if they don’t like government that comes about from different parties negotiating and reaching a compromise, why are people moaning at the Liberal Democrats? Aren’t you saying that giving in and just agreeing to what the Conservatives want is the behaviour the British people would want? Wouldn’t it be the case that if the LibDems stepped in and were more forceful and stopped Tory policies like ending subsidy to universities and privatising the NHS, that would be just that sort of consensus-style politics you say the British people don’t like? So why aren’t they cheering on the Liberal Democrats for not giving it to them?

  • So why aren’t they cheering on the Liberal Democrats for not giving it to them?

    Because the whole point is to elect a government that they can complain about. To cheer them on would miss the point!

    The function of the British government is (partly) to be a thing for the public to vent its frustrations on. Therefore the Liberal Democrats are fulfilling that function by being hated.

  • Richard Dean 4th Jul '14 - 10:47pm

    @jedibeeftrix
    I looked up Daniel Hannan on Wikipedia and read the section called “Publications”. My impression from it is that he is a nice competent chap who communicates with a very small fraction of the electorate, mainly the 2% or so who read the Telegraph. What I am saying is that MEPs need to communicate with many more people than that.

  • Richard Dean
    I am not sure whether you were being ironic about Daniel Hannan? Of all Tory MEPs he gets the most TV coverage, by far, because he is essentially an out and out europhobe. Most of the others are just like the rest of the Tories. For a Lib Dem, he is neither nice, nor particularly competent. If you say that he must be competent because he gets coverage that others don’t, it should be obvious that any politician at whatever level can get a lot of publicity by being outrageous, or ultra-populist. Talking about the nitty gritty of work as an MEP, or about the core functions of the Parliament and what our MEPs contribute to that gets precisely zero coverage.

  • By the way, are you saying you had to look him up on Wikipedia before you understood what manner of man Daniel Hannan is? I thought you were someone interested in politics with a desire to comment. I am now inclined to wonder whether you are just a dilettante.

  • Richard Dean 5th Jul '14 - 3:07am

    @Tim13
    Play the ball not the man. It’s less confusing for everyone, and avoids rudeness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on Breakfast TV, or the evening news, though admittedly my job takes me abroad several months every year. My point is that MEPs (and MPs) need to be proactive in doing their duty of communicating with the electorate. If the news people don’t find them interesting, it’s an indication they’re doing something wrong.

  • Well, sorry, Richard – however, it would be interesting to ask other posters here whether or not they are aware of Daniel Hannan. I thoroughly agree with the point of communicating, both directly with the electorate, and through the media. However, you have not answered the basic point I am making, which is that the extraordinarily prejudiced manner in which our media reports the European Parliament and our elected representatives there means that it is people like Hannan (sorry, I think there is really only one of him) get masses of reportage, because his storyline fits into the media’s.

    Are you, Richard Dean, saying that you wish reports to stay within those tramlines set by our media, or would you, like me, wish to have a much more diverse reporting of what they do and what they achieve for us and the wider electorate of Europe? I also wondered whether your time abroad also gives you any different perspectives on the work of the EP?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Jul '14 - 4:57pm

    Dav

    The function of the British government is (partly) to be a thing for the public to vent its frustrations on. Therefore the Liberal Democrats are fulfilling that function by being hated.

    Well, that shows why it has been such a disastrous tactic for Clegg and those surrounding him to go on and on about us being a “party of governance”, “in government” and so on. They’ve been doing this since the formation of the coalition, and I’ve been saying it’s the wrong thing to do since then. Clegg and the Cleggies genuinely seem to have thought that people would be impressed by that and we would gain support. Instead, we’ve lost it with a double whammy – we’ve lost support for the reasons you’ve said, and we haven’t even had the compensation of ACTUALLY being a party “in government” in terms of directing the main force of government.

    From the start we should have made clear that the coalition was not our choice, it was an acceptance of the verdict of the people in electing a Parliament in which the Tories had the most seats and in which the distortions of the electoral system left us with a very reduced influence, by leaving Labour and the LibDems combined without a majority we did not have the main bargaining position we needed in order to be able to push through anything but minor alteratios to basically Tory policy.

  • From the start we should have made clear that the coalition was not our choice, it was an acceptance of the verdict of the people in electing a Parliament in which the Tories had the most seats and in which the distortions of the electoral system left us with a very reduced influence, by leaving Labour and the LibDems combined without a majority we did not have the main bargaining position we needed in order to be able to push through anything but minor alteratios to basically Tory policy.

    But then you would just have looked ungrateful.

    ‘Look at the Lib Dems,’ everyone would have said, ‘in government but complaining about it! Didn’t they want to be in government? Haven’t they been saying for years that they want to be part f a coalition government? If they hate it so much being part of a Tory-led coalition, why did they do it? Why not just force another election?’

    It wouldn’t have helped.

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