In a democracy, people who want to change or undermine the system have the option to gather support and stand for election within that system — but they then have to decide what to do if they’re elected within the very system they want to break up.
If you’re elected to a parliament of which you disapprove, there are two honourable ways of behaving:
- Like the Scottish Nationalists in the UK Parliament, you can take your seat and then participate constructively in the work for which the electorate chose you, acting in your country’s interests while intending to change its membership of the system. If you do this, you can honourably take the appropriate salary and incur parliamentary expenses.
- Or, like Sinn Fein, you can refuse to take your seat, decline the salary and not incur any parliamentary expenses.
What I find dishonourable is to invent a third alternative, where you refuse to do any work but still take the salary and expenses.
With a few exceptions, UKIP MEPs went for this third alternative in the last parliament.
Nigel Farage notoriously failed to attend more than a single meeting of the Fishing Committee on which he sat, during a period when a vital reform of fishing policy — crucially important for Britain — was being thrashed out. He was happy to posture in a few set-piece debates, where his status as a party leader means he was called early, but that was all. He never once rolled up his sleeves to do the job to which he was elected, even when Britain risked a raw deal as a result. Other UKIP MEPs did even less, and many of them boasted about it.
Of course, UKIP lost nearly half its MEPs in the last parliament because of their internal feuding. So will their new lot be any different, and act any more honourably? So far, I doubt it.