Letter: An MP for Europe - representation for expats
The Distinction between ‘Voting’ and ‘Representation’. Voting is a mechanical process. Representation is a dialogue.
There is a confusion is between 'voting' and 'representation'. I explain by reference to the work of a GOOD constituency MP in Britain. [‘he’ is used generically throughout to include both male and female MPs and voters.]
The GOOD MP has 'surgeries' frequently. He visits societies, factories, the local authorities and their councillors, schools, hospitals and youth clubs, elderly people’s homes and so on. He gives occasional public speeches in his physical constituency.
In this way he attains a DIALOGUE with his constituents. The channels for a TWO WAY relationship exists. The MP gathers a true understanding of the lives and local difficulties of the constituents.
The expatriate constituent under the system of VOTING for a British based constituency has no possibility of such a DIALOGUE. The MP cannot truly represent the ‘voter’.
In my position, I vote for Mark Harper. I have a thick file of correspondence with him. But he has little understanding of the problems I face in my life here (and if he does get near to understanding, he can do little about it, and has implied as much.) And – Mark Harper is probably more able than most MPs.
Other MPs do not even attempt to understand the lives of their expatriate constituents. I have correspondents who have been given the brush off by their British based MP, even saying in effect “You live abroad and I cannot represent you”.
Further, this system of voting for a British based MP just dissipates information over 600+ MPs and no one MP ever sees the big picture.
In other words the existing system can never achieve the position whereby an MP based on a constituency in Britain can be representative of any expatriate.
It is for this reason that the majority of expatriate citizens just cannot be bothered to vote. They know that true representation just cannot exist under the current system.
As a result, the Government assumes they are not interested.
EUROPE a special case
In EUROPE there is a 3-way political relationship with expatriates (The UK; the Host State; and the EU).
The MEPs. Unfortunately the MEPs are almost useless. Neither a British based nor a host State MEP can understand the complexity of the 3-way relationship of the expatriate.
That is, they neither understand what it is like being a British person living in France, or Spain etc. subject to financial laws of two countries (which confuse), and concerns with the way Britain is moving in relation to the EU or vice-versa.
My personal correspondence with MEPs confirms this.
I observe - The European Commission Report on EU Citizenship 2010 deplores the lack of Representation in States like the UK of the expatriates across the Union.
A New Order?
Let us suppose that a New System existed whereby the British Citizen in Europe could vote for an MP who is truly representative! An MP for Europe!
Let us examine how such an MP could function.
He would very rarely, have meetings at consulates, but the consulates could have an important role.
The consulates would maintain lists of registered electors. Each elector, as now, would register themselves individually. The vast majority would have email addresses. Much work on registration (and voting) could be done by secure internet communication. The relatively few others could do so by post.
The MP would try to establish voluntary contacts/spokespeople in the neighbourhood of all major towns or where concentrations exist. The MP would visit regions where many expatriates live, though necessarily rather sporadically.
Through these channels the MP would communicate between Whitehall, the British Government, the host Government, and even the EU.
He would be a listener in the grass for the issues affecting the expatriate and again would largely communicate via the internet.
I would suggest that one expatriate MP could cover Spain and France, and another for the rest of Europe. And they would be worked damned hard!
The expatriates in the rest of the World?
Obviously it would be desirable that there should be an MP to represent these citizens. One can see that the European citizens are indeed a special case and MPs for Europe must be given priority. The success of that process would no doubt lead to a further extension of democracy and an MP for expatriates in the wide-world.
At this time, the political interest amongst expatriates under the current system is so weakened (as indeed it is amongst the resident UK population) that a change to a world wide MP would be impracticable. Nevertheless the extension of the vote to all could be made. The expatriate would need to be able to choose for which constituency he would cast his vote, if he has no immediate allegiance to a particular location.
The Thrust of the current Campaign for the VOTE.
We may in the short term acquire a permanent 'vote' for a UK based constituency MP.
But I doubt if it will particularly appeal and the numbers of voters will not rise very much.
Some say - "Let's be simple and seek the universal vote (first) - one step at a time"
It would indeed be a step forward, a very small step forward. However, it would cross the threshold of recognition that the expatriate in Europe exists and that a new age of democratic representation is upon us.
The Effect on Power in Parliament of expatriate MPs.
If there were one, two or even three ‘expatriate’ MPs, the effect on power politics within Parliament would be minimal.
It would achieve a voice for the citizen abroad within Parliament. The MP(s) could stand up and voice the feelings gleaned via the channels above. That would be a real achievement.
This would make the expatriates feel wanted and respected.
This would in turn reflect on the standing of Britain among the Nations.