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(Alternate post title: Westminster MPs: Not as corrupt as UKIP MEPs…)

The last few days of revelations about Westminster MPs’ taking advantage of lax expenses rules - many of the allegations decidedly sexed-up, a number of them mistaken, but nonetheless indicative of a long-running problem with the way politics is conducted in the UK and elsewhere - have unsurprisingly been hitting the opinion polls hard.

As such, old predictions of UK voting intentions at the European Parliamentary elections, now just three weeks away, should now be entirely discounted. The latest polls shows both Tories and Labour taking a -4% hit (and that was conducted a few days ago - since when a whole bunch of new stories have appeared about alleged Conservative abuses).

The only likely impact of this constant stream of stories about Westminster MPs seemingly being on the make - especially coming as it does so soon before an election - is a major boost for the smaller parties, both through reduced turnout with a public now even more disillusioned with politics than they were before, and through misguided protest votes. Hell, even old Tory grandee (and bogeyman of the British left) Norman Tebbit has explicitly warned right-wingers not to vote for his party at the European elections to register their disgust.

This is, of course, entirely missing the point that if you want to punish the actual transgressors in this expenses scandal then to vote out MEPs is rather like spanking your niece because your nephew stole your wallet. “Ha! I’m punishing someone who’s got nothing to do with the wrong that’s been committed! THAT’ll learn them!”

Most likely beneficiaries of all this? Well, disgruntled Labour voters are likely to shunt either to the BNP or to the Greens, while disgruntled Tories are more likely to head to the other major centre-right eurosceptic party - often a leech on Tory votes in European polls in any case - UKIP. A party its hard not to see the strongly anti-EU Tebbit having a great deal of sympathy for in any case, and which was - until this little furore - likely to lose a good number of MEPs at the upcoming elections thanks to a combination of David Cameron (largely at the behest of Shadow Foreign Secretary and ex-Tory leader William Hague) taking the Tories in a more eurosceptic direction again and the loss of the Kilroy-Silk factor, which so boosted their media coverage and vote in the 2004 elections.

Ashley Mote and Tom WiseBut, lest we forget, UKIP is a party with only one competent elected politician - its articulately populist, platitude-spouting leader Nigel Farrage. It also has a tendency to pick candidates, like MEPs Ashley “convicted benefit fraudster” Mote and Tom “charged with money laundering and false accounting” Wise, who put even the worst Westminster politicians to shame. (And that’s not to mention the on-going infighting that has plagued the party since its inception, including ongoing allegations of seemingly institutional corruption.)

Yep, UKIP’s pound symbol logo does seem rather appropriate…

Then again, to be fair, a vote for the Tories in the European elections is a wasted one anyway. Having pulled out of the EPP, the largest centre-right group in the European Parliament, in order to have any influence at all in Brussels and Strasbourg they need to join another political group (as without EP group membership, securing the all-important committee places where all the real work goes on, Tory MEPs will be effectively powerless). The only other viable existing centre-right EP group? Independence/Democracy - leader? One Nigel Farrage… Which means the Tories won’t be able to join it, which means they’re stuck on the fringes with other outcasts like the former members of the right-wing Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty Group - such charmers as Jean-Marie Le Pen, Alessandra Mussolini and assorted other fascists.

The simple solution? Check out Votematch.co.uk to get an idea of which parties have policies you might like (as these are often rather different at European level), then check your local candidates for the European Parliament, visit the invaluable Votewatch.eu to check the performance of your local sitting MEPs, and cast your vote based on the character, policies and dedication the of candidates the parties are putting up.

No, you can’t vote for an individual candidate in the European elections (an horrific flaw in the system that needs rapid alteration), but you can make a moderately informed choice about the likely value those on offer are going to provide to their constituents. Have a poor attendance record, like UKIP MEPs Godfrey Bloom, Trevor Coleman and John Whittaker, the Lib Dems’ Baroness Nicholson, the Tories’ Jonathan Evans and Caroline Jackson or Labour’s Eluned Morgan? Think hard about whether they’re worth your vote.

Me? As ever, I’m not endorsing any party. In fact I’m still sorely tempted not to vote at all, thanks purely to the British electoral system for EP elections preventing me from endorsing an individual candidate whose jib I like the cut of. But that way, thanks again to the awfulness of the party list proportional representation system that the UK uses for these things, lies more seats for the likes of UKIP and even (possibly) the BNP. With the Tories out of the EPP, to vote for some sensible MEPs to represent the UK is essential lest the country become a laughing stock. The question now is how to play the system. And for that, the greater the turnout, the less the chance of the smaller, more extremist parties getting representation. I may not like the bigger parties either, but at least they’re (usually) not as mad.

In short: No matter what your political outlook, your vote is important. But your vote is for the next five years, not the last five days. Don’t let short-term disgust with an unpleasant scandal affect which box you tick when that vote is for members of an institution who have nothing to do with the scandal in question. Base your vote instead on the performance of those politicians and what you want to see happen at that institution - because the European Parliament, no matter how much national politicians like to use it as proof of their domestic support, is a very different beast to that in Westminster. Want to punish corrupt Westminster MPs? There’s a general election less than a year away. You’ll have your chance then. That’s the way democracy works.

/stating what should be the obvious…

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