Saturday, May 29, 2004

Is anybody going to vote?

Just as strenuous efforts are made to prove that the European Union and, in particular, the European Parliament are acquiring some legitimacy in the eyes of the EU electorate, new poll figures show that the turn-out for the elections on June 10 and 13 may well hit an all-time low.

Some people prefer to see it differently, pointing out that the latest poss shows that 43 per cent intend to vote, whereas an earlier one showed only 32 per cent. But when you take into account the fact that election campaigns have started in most of the member states, the growth in numbers become less impressive.

With less than half the population intending to vote and more than one third being unaware of the elections at the time of asking, this will not be a happy time for the EU integrationists or the various heads of state and government that will converge on Brussels less than a week later.

Voting intentions vary from 76 per cent in Belgium, where voting is compulsory to 32 per cent in Britain, 31 per cent in Sweden, 27 per cent in Slovakia, 26 per cent in Estonia and 25 per cent in the Czech Republic. In fact, the chances are that on the day the figures will be even lower.

It does not seem to have taken the new entrants long to work out that the European Parliament is not worth the piece of paper you cast your votes on.

In Britain the turn-out is promising to be slightly higher than usual because of the coincidence with local elections (as well as London Assembly and London Mayoral elections). However, the combination of different voting papers, with the European Parliamentary ones being long and complicated as it is a list system, will probably mean a larger than usual number of spoilt papers on the day.

Then there is the question of regions that will have a postal ballot only. Against all advice, the Government decided to go ahead with the experiment in the four regions they were hoping to secure a largish Labour vote. So far the whole process has been shambolic, with papers not printed, printed with egregious mistakes, not delivered in time and so on.

Nor is it particularly clear that postal balloting is safer than individual appearances at the polling station. Certainly, in the past there have been serious infractions of electoral law.

The point that neither the Government, nor the EU, nor, indeed, any other politician seem to want to accept is that there is a reason why people do not bother to turn out to vote. It is not inability to work out how to vote or how to get to the polling station. It is them, the politicians. The people of Britain do not want to vote for any of them. When it comes to the 732 members of the European Parliament, not many want to vote for them across the EU.

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