Tuesday, 23 April 2013

MEPs for England

A fairly common objection to the European Union is that somehow it is trying to "abolish England". The objection seems to rest on the idea that since June 1999 England has been split into regions for European Parliament elections, and that these must be a plan to subdivide England for dark purposes.

There has been a lengthy history of English regions, with the Conservative government creating 10 Government Offices of the Regions in April 1994. At the May 1997 general election, Labour won and was experimenting with further regional devolution, which led to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 and defined the boundaries of 9 English regions.

The next significant piece of legislation was the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, which moved (in Great Britain) from electing Members of the European Parliament by First Past The Post in one-member constituencies to a form of Proportional Representation (d'Hondt using party lists) in multi-member constituencies. And rather than draw up new constituencies, the existing English regions were used. Hence, the first time many people became aware of the English regions was when they were used to elect MEPs.

Currently, England returns 60 MEPs. If England were a single region (and Germany, with 99 MEPs, doesn't subdivide), then the result for the June 2009 election would have been:

  • Conservatives - 19 (down 5)
  • UK Independence Party - 11 (down 1)
  • Labour - 10
  • Liberal Democrats - 9 (down 1)
  • Greens - 5 (up 3)
  • British National Party - 4 (up 2)
  • English Democrats - 1 (up 1)
  • Christian Party/Christian People's Alliance - 1 (up 1)

There is a middle path. When the Jenkins Commission produced its report into elections for the House of Commons, it recommended a version of the Additional Members System called AV+ - whereas, in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Greater London Assembly, the constituencies use FPTP, the Commission suggested the use of the Alternative Vote for constituencies in the House of Commons.

But what I want to focus on is the report mentioning:

Our investigations (see Annex A) suggest that a Top-up of between 15% and 20% of MPs would do sufficient justice to the three competing criteria discussed above to be acceptable

So, could we switch to a two-tier election - where there are some English regional MEPs, but also a group of English national MEPs to provide national proportionality? If we take the lower limit of 15%, this gives us 51 regional MEPs and 9 national ones.

The number of MEPs each region has is determined using d'Hondt's close cousin, Sainte-Laguë, and if we allocated 51 MEPs across the 9 English regions it would give:

  • South East England - 8 (down 2)
  • London - 7 (down 1)
  • North West England - 7 (down 1)
  • Eastern England - 6 (down 1)
  • West Midlands - 6 (down 1)
  • South West England - 5 (down 1)
  • Yorkshire & Humberside - 5 (down 1)
  • East Midlands - 4 (down 1)
  • North East England - 3 (unchanged)

Electing 51 regional MEPs this way gives us:

  • Conservatives - 21
  • UK Independence Party - 11
  • Labour - 9
  • Liberal Democrats - 8
  • Greens - 2

One thing is obvious - the Conservatives get more seats than they would if England was one electoral region, and the UK Independence Party gets exactly the same number of seats as it would if England were one electoral regions. Hence, it is reasonable to assume neither of these parties would get any of the additional national MEPs.

Denmark uses this method to elect its Parliament, or Folketing, with 135 MPs elected using d'Hondt on a regional basis, and a further 40 elected using Sainte-Laguë on a national basis.

If we stuck with d'Hondt for the 9 additional national MEPs, then these would be 4 from the British National Party, 3 from the Greens and 1 from each of the English Democrats and the Christian Party/Christian People's Alliance, to give us:

  • Conservatives - 21
  • UK Independence Party - 11
  • Labour - 9
  • Liberal Democrats - 8
  • Greens - 5
  • British National Party - 4
  • English Democrats - 1
  • Christian Party/Christian People's Alliance - 1

Alternatively, we could follow the Danish model and use Sainte-Laguë instead, in which case the 9 additional national MEPs would be 3 from the British National Party, 2 from the Greens and 1 from each of the English Democrats, the Christian Party/Christian People's Alliance, Socialist Labour and NO2EU.

Whether we would want some of these to claim to "speak for England" and have an "English mandate" is open to debate. But the major parties could, legitimately, but sneakingly, work around this. Imagine you are a typical Labour voter, in the polling booth, trying to find Labour on the national ballot paper, when you remember something in a leaflet that came through your door advising you to vote Labour in the regional section and for the Co-operative Party in the national section. Conservative Central Office could end up thinking about the old National Liberals and whether it's now time to bring the name back and have some National Liberal MEPs. And your Liberal Democrat activist wondering what if the 1988 merger had never happened and that there were now disagreements between the Liberals and the Social Democrats over which party contests the regional section and which the national section.

An alternative method would be for the election of national MEPs to be parallel to, rather than additional to, the election of regional MEPs, similar to the old system for the Russian Duma. Then the 9 national MEPs would be 3 Conservative, 2 UK Independence Party, 2 Labour, 1 Liberal Democrat and 1 Green.

Another option would be to use a different system for the lower-tier regional MEPs. 51 is 17 times 3, and European law requires each electoral area to return at least 3 MEPs. In the Republic of Ireland, the Single Transferable Vote is used to elect the Dáil Éireann, with each of the 43 constituencies returning between 3 and 5 Teachtaí Dála. Looking at the regions above, the 4 smallest could be single constituencies returning 3 to 5 MEPs, while the 5 largest could be divided into two constituencies. Or a set of 17 three-member constituencies could be drawn up. Or a natural patchwork of 3-to-5-member constituencies could be created roughly following the boundaries of collections of counties.

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