The Kamikaze Politics of Protest Voting

Any opportunity to vote should be taken seriously. That is why, when I hear people referring to a protest vote -- and I also consider failing to turn out to vote to be a protest vote -- I cannot resist bringing to their attention that they are missing an opportunity to choose the person that will best defend their interests.

With a significant percentage of the laws that affect the UK coming from Brussels, the European elections are giving the public a chance to vote for MEPs that will fight for their aims at EU level by engaging, changing laws or stopping them in their tracks altogether. Since the beginning of my term as an MEP, I quickly realized that to get meaningful reform in the EU, you need to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. You cannot just grumble loudly from the sidelines, offer no solutions, no engagement and expect results. If the pundits are to be believed, people will treat the European elections in May as a protest vote. Although recent polls have steadied, it seems that Ukip is expected to do well. Nigel Farage has been in the European Parliament for 15 years. In a decade and a half can anyone point to a single achievement or outcome that he or his party can take to the British public? There simply isn't one. It is all bluster. I should say from the outset that I have always been and remain in favor of the UK's departure from the EU. The diktat churning colossus that the EU has become is not the free-trade one that we signed up to back in the seventies. My experience as Chief Accountant in the European Commission back in the early aughts taught me that the EU is a huge money spinner, with a huge amount of disdain shown to how it controls taxpayers money and that it is almost impossible to reform it. However when you speak to business leaders and the public in general you find many would like to continue in the EU but with a different arrangement. In fact they seem to favor the conservative renegotiation position. They want a return to an EU where costly, burdensome and unneeded regulation is gone in favor of Member States working, sharing information and trading together without barriers. For my part, I remain skeptical that such a turn-around is possible given that there is an all or nothing attitude that pervades within the European Commission and is shared by a large number of MEPs, not to mention the Council President Mr Van Rompuy. But it may well be worth a shot. We can then take the results of any deal to the British public in a referendum that -- and this is important -- only the Conservatives can and will deliver in 2017. People need to understand that even after a vote to extricate ourselves from the EU, it won't happen overnight. The negotiations to disentangle ourselves will take many months. We need a solid and committed team to sort this out. In any case there is a long way to go until we actually leave or change our membership terms, a period in which a lot of legislation will come out of Brussels and where we need to make sure we get the best out of it. This is one of the reasons why I left UKIP. For me, being an MEP is about getting results. When David Cameron secured the first cut to the EU budget in over 10 years, I was delighted because this is something I had been fighting for a long time. When he then promised a referendum in 2017 after a period of renegotiation, I knew that British withdrawal from the EU could only come about through the Conservatives. When EU legislation that could have negatively impacted the city, when EU laws threatened our position as a hub to do business, it was mostly conservative MEPs who headed them off at the pass. Personally I have been responsible for exposing countless stories on waste, profligacy and fraud in the media, thus raising public awareness and garnering support for change. I remain hopeful that people will take the opportunity to vote in the May European elections seriously reflecting on who can get the best job done for them in Europe. If they choose instead to register a protest vote or do not turn out to vote at all, they will have missed the chance to get people in Brussels who actually -- both tangibly and measurably -- do something to defend their interests and their hard earned money. More importantly they will have missed to opportunity to have a say in a referendum on the EU. That's why for me a protest vote in the European elections is kamikaze politics.