Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

British MEPs are ranked by value for money

The Daily Telegraph - 20 December 2010

by Daniel Hannan

One of the drawbacks of having a Telegraph blog is that youíre thought to be responsible for everything that appears in the paper. In fact, this blog is my only connection to the Telegraph these days; but that wonít stop half my Euro-colleagues being convinced that I am in some way behind the Sunday Telegraphís league table of MEPs.

For what itís worth, Iím all in favour of MEPs being held to account in this way. But itís important to remember the methodological limits of such surveys.

To pluck some examples from the air, an MEP whose constituency is in Scotland or Northern England is bound to have higher travel costs than one who is lucky enough to represent the lovely southern counties. An MEP whose constituency expenses (communications, internal travel etc) are high could reasonably argue that it proves he is working hard. An MEP who was campaigning during the final week of the British general election will have a worse voting record than one who spent the week in Brussels (there were twice as many votes that week, with several reports deferred from the previous session because of the Icelandic eruption). An MEP who emails the Commission for information instead of putting down a formal written question can plausibly claim to be saving the taxpayer money.

The Sunday Telegraph was, of course, doing its best with the information available. And some of its findings are incontestable. Euro-MPs from all parties will privately concede that Charles Tannock, the straight-talking London Tory who topped the list, is enormously dedicated. On the other hand, it is bizarre that James Elles should be in last place. James and I represent very different political traditions: he will doubtless be relieved to hear that I canít recall the last time we agreed. But no one could call him lazy: he is virtually the only MEP who understands the EU budget, and can often be found poring over its clauses when lesser men are in bed.

Not that Iím complaining: assessments of this sort keep politicians on their toes. But the only assessment that really matters is the one carried out every five years among the electorate as a whole. Just as Ofsted inspections can skew a schoolís priorities, just as local councils can become more worried about being rated excellent by the audit commission than about the wishes of their ratepayers, so MEPs should remember that these leagues are incidental. A Euro-MP whose sole objective was to score highly in the next survey would stay at home for three weeks in four (thus incurring no travel costs), would never reply to constituents (thus incurring no office costs) and would put down hundreds of written questions for no purpose except to propel himself up the table.

Iím sure voters understand this. As I never tire of pointing out, people are generally wiser than their leaders.

Oh, and to save you from having to comment, I havenít changed my view that weíd be better off if there were no such thing as a British MEP. I promise to vote for my own abolition as soon as the opportunity presents itself.