Posted by: secretperson | June 21, 2008

Why I will no longer refer to EU elites

Following the Irish no vote, there have been non-stop columns in newspapers, blogs and comments discussing the result. Some of those dismissing it have claimed various things, for example:
1. Voters who voted know hadn’t read or understood the treaty – probably true but neither had voters who voted yes or those politicians who supported it – Brian Cowen has admitted as much. Plus surely the status quo is better than the unknown.
2. Voters were influenced by the media, scare stories etc – Yes on both yes and no sides.
3. Voters are too ill informed we should leave decisions to representatives.

Us EUsceptics have been throwing around accusations of out of touch ‘elites’ ignoring the votes of the ordinary man and pushing through their own project. One comment under an article suggested he would rather have elites decide than council estate Sun readers. Which led me to consider the word elite.

Elitism as a concept of excellence (which I can support) has been undermined by its use as a term of abuse from the left wing. An elitist institution is one that discriminates, or is elitist based on money and background rather than ability. It is in this sense that I have referred to the EU elite, but I am now worried people might be getting the wrong message, that these elite are in fact the best of the best!

It is clear to me that those who run Europe, at least for the moment while the balance of power hangs with the nation states. Nick Clegg came from MEP to MP, clearly seeing it as a progression in his career. The commisioners and those with more power than the elected parliament are often retired or failed national politicians like Kinnock and Mandelson. So they are not the elite of politics, but our national politicians on the whole supported Lisbon. Do they constitute an elite who know better than us?

I don’t believe they do. I haven’t read the whole Lisbon treaty, but when it was first debated in parliament there wasn’t an English translation available! A whipped party political animal is less likely to have read, understood or considered the treaty than a member of the public. Let us not forget those who vote are more likely to be informed than those who abstain and can’t be bothered.

When I looked into the issue of the EU attitude to the death penalty it was hard work finding the treaties amending treaties and footnotes to conventions and the rest, but I figured it out correctly in the end I believe. At the same time I emailed five or six of my MEPs asking them to clarify the situation. One correctly said the EU opposed the death penalty at all times, but gave me no details (my original letter contained quotes from and internet links to EU treaties) so I just had to take his word for it. One replied that the death penalty was a matter for national parliaments which isn’t true at all. No others replied.

None of this gives me faith in the ability of our elected representatives to represent our views, to interact with their voters, or to understand fairly important details of the institution they work for. (They should, of course, be working for us). To be fair my local MP, when I wrote to him on the matter, replied that he would consider whether the Lisbon treaty had constitutional implications deserving of a referendum. I thought this was a non-answer, but he voted for a referendum and against his party line, so he obviously did consider it.

Anyway my conclusion is that elite is too good a word for the political class, and I will not be paying these people such a compliment in future.

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