The European Parliament elections this Thursday are nothing like next year’s Election. Russell Brand’s well-known call for people not to vote will make some sense in relation to next year’s vote – I’ll vote because I’m an opinionated hothead, not because I actually believe it’ll make any difference in my home constituency of Wantage – but Thursday is different.
Rightly or wrongly, us Cambridge students bang on about how stressed we are and how little time we have. European elections may thus seem like a waste of our time; the EU might seem a far-off place, where heavy-handed bureaucratic decisions are made that cost a lot and don’t seem to affect most of us most of the time. That’s simply not true:
Britain receives more university funding from the EU than any other country in the Union; London received £700m in funding for the 2012 Olympics; the Erasmus education scheme has received €3.1 billion (c. £2.5 billion) from the EU in 2007-13; in the past 10 years, the Natural History Museum has received £40m from the EU; 320 million hens and 12 million pigs benefitted from recent EU legislation on animal welfare; Since 2009, 149 murder suspects, 113 rape suspects, and 120 paedophile suspects have been extradited to or from the UK using EU Arrest Warrants; EU migrants put £22 billion into the UK economy from 2001-11.
Europe not only matters for us in terms of the legislation and funding that it provides internally, but for the presence it gives us on the international stage. The GDP of the European Union as a collective is estimated at $16.63 trillion. That’s about $1 trillion larger than that of the USA, and about twice that of China. It offers us two voices in the G8 group of nations and in the G20 group of Finance Ministers. Germany, France, and the UK come 5th, 6th, and 7th respectively in international rankings of GDP, but as a united whole with all other members of the European Union, we soar to first place.
With countries like China, Brazil, Russia, and India only growing in economic and political strength, it will not be long before our own national place in both forums is jeopardised – we’re (thankfully) no longer the great British Empire, and we can’t just blithely sing ‘Rule, Britannia’ to block out the opinions of the rest of the world like we used to. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that, by 2050, our economy will be the 11th largest in the world – enough to exclude us from the G8 group of nations. Similar projections by CEPII show the European Union as being the world’s 3rd largest economy in the same year – under such projections, is it really such a stretch of the imagination to envisage our places in the G8 and G20 groups, and even on the United Nations Security Council being replaced by spots reserved for the European Union?
Credit: Flickr: G8 UK, The G8: soon to be bereft of its beloved Yorkshireman?"
It’s clear, then, that Europe matters, and will only continue to matter more and more as the world changes dramatically in the coming decades, but the question that Thursday’s vote will pose is not whether or not we should be members of this Union (this Union with which 80% of trading British Businesses trade, to which 3 million British jobs are linked, which is estimated to increase GDP per person in the UK by over 20%, and which many of our largest businesses warn is vital to their continued presence in the UK). Thursday’s vote is about your representation in the world’s only directly-elected international parliament.
It’s for you to decide whether you support the laziest party in the EU, whose MEPs turned up for only 61% of votes in the last 5 years (no prizes for guessing who), or whether you support parties who push for the capping of bankers’ bonuses, protection of the environment, pursuit of gender equality (35% of MEPs are female, vs 22% of MPs), and fight the discrimination of LGBT+ individuals (the others). It’s for you to decide whether you vote for parties that want to remain an integral and formative part of the world’s largest superpower, or parties that want to see Great Britain turn into Little England.
Photos Credit: Chatham house, Go on – make my day
But to see why your vote tomorrow could actually make a difference, let’s go back to Wantage. In 2010, it voted Conservative with a majority of 24.1%. It’s exceedingly likely to do so again in 2015, in which case my vote, and the votes of 30,000 others will be rendered useless; such is first-past-the-post. On Thursday, however, we have a fairer option: MEPs are elected by proportional representation, which means that if more people vote for the BNP, we will get more BNP MEPs – now there’s a thought. For us in the East of England constituency, there are 7 seats to be decided. For better or worse, it’s likely that the Conservatives and UKIP will take 5 of them between them, but the last 2 seats are anyone’s guess. It’s likely to be a five-way fight, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Conservatives, and the Green Party all in with a very viable chance of taking them. With support for the Liberal Democrats at an astonishing low, polls putting the Green Party in double figures for the first time ever, and confidence in the Labour party falling rapidly, this is an election where every vote really will count.
We know that students’ views are often vastly disparate from those of the nation as a whole. In a city, and a part of the country, in which students form such a prominent part of the population, our politics can mould the politics and the results of the region as a whole.
Credit: Data from YouthSight and YouGov – Students views vs those of the public: Polls conducted April 2014 and May 18/19 2014 respectively.
It’s hard to talk about this subject and ignore the obvious; that we have a civic duty to vote; that not voting is an insult to those who fought so hard to extend the right to vote to so many of us. If you are a woman recall the legacies of Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison, and the countless other suffragettes who fought for your right to vote. Meanwhile, if you’re a man under the age of 30 who doesn’t own any property and you choose not to vote, the tireless work of several 19th century governments would appear to have been in vain. Throw in the fact that there are many who would have this be the last time we ever get to elect the members of this parliament, and the fact that for many of us, myself included, this will be the first opportunity we have to vote in an election that affects the whole country, and voting suddenly seems like a pretty good idea.
There are many I’ve spoken to who say that they won’t vote as they don’t know enough about the parliament, the candidates, the parties, the policies, and/or the point of politics. It’s true; there are complications – the Conservatives, the largest party in parliament, sit in the EU’s third-smallest parliamentary group, whilst the Green Party, the smallest, sit in one of its largest, but as students of what has once again been deemed the country’s top University, such ignorance seems to me to be a completely invalid excuse. In the age of the internet, such knowledge is so easily accessible and helpfully digested that a lack of information is absolutely the least of our worries.
Photo Credit: Youtube, greenpartyew, The start of something new?
So whether you think that Europe is earth’s answer to heaven, that Eurovision is the best night of the year, and that the EU Superstate is the future, or if you think that the EU is 2014’s ‘1984’, that ‘this other eden’ is quite alright on its own thank-you-very-much, and that Eurovision is a cheesy europop abomination, it’s your duty to say so.
Your vote on Thursday will shape the future of Europe, of the UK, and of your life. If you care about any of those things, get out and vote. If you don’t; it’ll be a fun day out.
(While you’re there, why not vote for your local councillors too?)