Looking at the British voter turnout for the European Parliamentary elections, one will notice a trend: Turnout is low and worsening. Approximately 35% of the British electorate voted in the European Parliament elections in 2009, below any national election turnout. People are, for the most part, uninterested. They cannot see the impact of the European Union on their lives, so they ignore the elections all together.
However, the 2014 European Parliamentary elections will be different.
In the face of increasingly popular, right-wing parties, the European elections have become a contentious topic for the news and the electorate. For the first time ever, these elections have had substantial news coverage weeks before campaigns even began. The build-up for these elections have frequently made headlines over the previous weeks. Farage, Clegg and Cameron are all pushing reasons for and against pulling out of the European Union. They know this election will decide the direction the government must take on Europe in preparation for next year’s general election. This will be the first European election that the government have particularly cared about, because it will show how the electorate feel on Europe three years before the proposed referendum on leaving.
But is this true?
People who vote in second-order elections such as this are largely attached to the purpose of the elections in some way. Either they feel strongly about the issue being contested, or they want to tell the government what they think about their performance. This election is shaping up to be a protest vote against the EU, and against Cameron’s lacklustre effort to appease euro-sceptics. This is despite the fact that this is not a referendum on membership, but a display of who we want to represent us at a supranational governmental level.
People who are emotionally attached to the EU are generally euro-sceptic. Their desire to pull away from Europe is fuelling a large anti-EU vote. UKIP, as the most popular party that appeals to the anti-EU vote, will be the main beneficiary. These are the most reliable voters to turn out because they want to tell the government something through these elections, pushing their issue into an elected forum.
However, there is no popular party that currently counteracts this vote. The Liberal Democrats, seen as the most pro-European of the main parties, will be punished for their record in government. Whatever your opinion on the Liberal Democrats, this electorate have perceived them to have given into Conservative demands. This is why the focus in the news and by the electorate is focused on the ‘party to leave’ and not the ‘party to stay’.
In this election, where proportional representation will be used, every vote will count. Every party, protest and anti-protest vote will be equally represented. The multi-member constituencies will show which areas think what about the European Union and how we should direct future government policy toward the union. The Conservatives will look at their electoral strongholds and see what people want from European Union policy, as will Labour.
However, will this be a fair and accurate depiction of what the electorate want?
Of course it will not. As previously mentioned, the electorate are voting in slim numbers. The lowest recorded vote was 35% in 2009. This obviously, in itself, was not a fair depiction of the country’s desire because of the low number of turnout. It is likely that this trend will not change, and if it does, it will not increase dramatically. As previously discussed, those with a particular agenda in relation to these elections are more likely to vote. Thus UKIP will probably get the most votes in this election as they stand as the party with the most prominent EU policy.
Through this proportional representation system, the majority of the votes will come out as UKIP. This is because those who are happy with the EU, or want to see a reform of the EU, will not vote in as high numbers as those who are fundamentally against it.
This is why not voting is effectively the same as voting for UKIP. By not increasing the proportion of votes against the party, the electorate is allowing the floodgate of votes to be predominantly UKIP. The more votes that protest against UKIP destroy their electoral percentage.
Of course, this is the same as for all of the parties. But seeing as UKIP is the centre of this election and most people who vote in second-order elections do so to take advantage of any political gain they can, UKIP voters are the ones to look out for this election.
By choosing not to vote because of party disillusionment, not being bothered or whatever other reason, your vote is effectively UKIP’s. By allowing them to gain a higher relative percentage of the vote, your lack of a vote is allowing them to take more MEP seats, and take their message of anti-EU sentiment to the European Parliament.
For all of those who have previously said that all parties now represent the same thing, the news is telling you a different story. UKIP are the party of withdrawal, the Liberal Democrats are the party of integration. Conservatives and The Green Party want a referendum and Labour wants to see more negotiation. Parties literally could not have more separate designs on the same issue. Therefore it is vital to show the government what you think about this issue through this election. It is thus also important to show that you do care, and not allow parties who do not support your view a greater percentage of the vote than it deserves.
You may choose to vote UKIP. That is your prerogative. But considering they are most likely to win the biggest percentage of the seats, it is important to either enhance or contrast from their overall percentage of the vote by voting yourself.
When the highest body of elected supranational government calls for democratic elections, it is vital that the UK is democratically elected. Allowing a popular vote to win the highest overall percentage in these elections because of a lack of total votes is not only undemocratic, but ridiculous. These are our representatives chosen by us, not our representatives chosen by a limited electorate with voters voting with an agenda.