Saturday, 15 August 2009

What is Dan Hannan's mandate?

Unless you have been living in a cave you will doubtless have heard about Dan Hannan and his exploits. For those of you that happen to have been staying in a cave recently, Daniel Hannan MEP is a Conservative party Member of the European Parliament for the South East of England. He became a poster boy of the grass roots of his party for his ferocious attack on Gordon Brown, in which he quoted former Labour leader John Smith by calling the Prime Minister "the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government." The YouTube video of his speech has received hundreds of thousands of hits, and drew him to the attention of the American media.

Recently Mr Hannan has again been in the British and American press for his comments on the National Health Service on Fox News and other outlets. Now opinion on those comments has been widely covered, and I'm not going to delve into my own personal opinions on his remarks in this particular post. However, it is necessary to ask from what position Mr. Hannan made these remarks, and whether or not he has abused his position as an MEP in making them.

When Daniel Hannan appeared in the American media, he was plugged as a Member of the European Parliament, and indeed he is. However, in this particular instance it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the viewer. Why? Because Daniel Hannan MEP has absolutely no mandate to speak on the NHS from the British people.

MEPs are elected on a closed list system. This means that rather than casting votes for individuals, as we do for our MPs and in local elections, we instead vote for a party. For each region, depending on the number of votes it gets a party then gets a certain number of MEPs. These MEPs are chosen from the 'party list' for that region. Daniel Hannan was at the top of the Conservative list at the last European election. Now this means two things; firstly if a candidate is at the top of a major party's list he is almost guaranteed to be elected. Secondly, it means an MEP is voted in entirely on his party's manifesto and overall performance. I.e. he does not have the individual mandate of a Westminster MP.

Now comes the crunch - the Conservative party and their leader support the NHS. Now before I hear howls of derision from Labour supporters hear me out. David Cameron has publicly supported the NHS, in fact in his spring conference he referred to the Conservatives as "the party of the NHS." Now this may be a false claim, as it was Labour who founded the National Health Service and Labour who have backed it with record investment and opposed Conservative cuts whilst in opposition. The point is that Hannan was elected partly on his party's health policy, and not at all on his own private views.

There is a second point to be made on Hannan's mandate - as a member of the European Parliament he has no jurisdiction over British healthcare legislation. 'Good thing too!' I hear the Eurosceptics cry, and for once I agree with them. But the point is that people on both sides of the pond have been deliberately misled. The British electorate in South East England have been deliberately misled into voting for a party who then sent an MEP to Brussels who directly opposes his party's line on healthcare. The American public has been deliberately misled into believing that this man speaks with any jurisdiction on the issue or a mandate from the British people when it comes to his views. Effectively his job title is being used by the US media to give his views false credibility.