Euro and local polls hailed as a chance to vote for change and against bigotry

Euro and local polls hailed as a chance to vote for change and against bigotry

By staff writers
4 Jun 2009

Church and community leaders across Britain have emphasised the importance of voting to stop racist and extremist candidates in today's European and local elections. Polling stations are open between 7am and 10pm.

The BBC and some sections of the press have been talking about a 'resurgence' of the British National Party and UKIP in the wake of anger towards the major parties over the MPs' expenses scandal.

But people are being reminded by local and national campaigners that there are many other choices available, from Greens to independents.

The Hope Not Hate alliance against the BNP urges people who are "proud to be British" to show their support for a fair and open society by rejecting bigotry and racism in all its forms.

Welsh faith leaders have also called upon people to vote for "a welcoming Wales". Anti-racist activists have been out in England and Scotland to get the message across. Trades union and church groups are leafleting and talking to people in areas where the BNP may be a threat.

Initial polling indicates that there may be a larger than usual turnout for the Euro election in Britain today which may also boost local council elections - where turnouts can also be notoriously low: sometimes less than a third of the electorate.

European results will start to be published from 9pm on Sunday 7 June 2009. The delay is due to the fact that polling is taking place in 27 EU countries over the course of four days, with countries such as Germany voting on Sunday. In Northern Ireland, the results will not be announced until Monday 8 June.

Council seats will be decided by the traditional first past the post system used at general elections where voters choose between individual candidates. In the European elections, seats will be awarded to the parties in relation to the proportion of the vote they received in each region. So the party that wins the most votes will get the most MEPs, starting with the name at the top of its candidate list and working down.

Candidates fear that people will vote on national issues when the questions faced locally and in Europe are different, the systems are different and the handling of matters is different.

But writing for Ekklesia, the religion and society think-tank, Terry Waite, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy and now a self-employed writer and lecturer, has said that the recent political crisis in Britain is also an opportunity for real change (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9578).

He writes: "If this crisis has succeeded in resurrecting political interest across the country and enabling the population to formulate realistic political goals that would enable us all to enjoy quality of life, then the Daily Telegraph will have done us all an immense service.

"However, the press would do well to keep in mind that if the fire of reform spreads they, the Fourth Estate, may come under the same scrutiny as that to which they have subjected Parliament."

Ekklesia has also just issued a briefing called 'State of Independents: Alternative Politics' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9579), which looks at how the political process can be re-shaped for the ground upwards. It also suggests a positive role for the churches.

The European Parliament is the only directly-elected European Union body. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) spend most of their time in Brussels debating and voting on legislation proposed by the European Commission and also gather once a month in Strasbourg.

The last Euro elections were held in 2004. This time around, 736 MEPs will be elected from across the EU, including 72 from the UK. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have six, four and three MEPs respectively while the remaining 59 will represent nine different regions across England.

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