Monday, 26 May 2014

European Elections: the earthquake finally happened for UKIP. But it wasn't that big...

Well, it’s been an interesting night here in Britain, as it has throughout Europe, as we counted the votes for the European Parliament.

The results in Britain, as shown by the BBC
In Britain, UKIP came first. And that means that the commentators who’ve been talking up a UKIP earthquake, will feel justified. They’re not entirely wrong: UKIP have never previously won a national election of any kind, so we have to say well done to them. Even if it’s between gritted teeth.

Then, however, we can qualify that a bit.

First of all, and it’s part of the problem with the European Union, no one cares very much about the European Parliament. So they don’t mind voting strangely in European elections, handing the mainstream parties a kicking when it’s not actually going to change very much. There were indications of that in the fact that the elections were held in Britain on the same day as the Europeans, and in those local elections – which can actually affect voters’ real lives – they handed the victory to Labour.

Indeed, though UKIP came second in terms of new council seats gained, that still left them fourth in terms of representation, and in control of no councils. It seems that UKIP could only gain its victory in an election that voters felt wouldn’t affect them. 

Besides, the victory wasn’t that big: they have a lead of only 2.1% over Labour.

In many ways, what matters more was what happened to the other parties.

The Liberal Democrats are down to just one seat and saw their percentage of the vote halved. It seems that they’re being punished for having won themselves a great reputation sniping from the left at Labour when it was in power, and then joining a government of the right led by the Conservatives. We all saw it coming – I’m sure even they did – and now it’s on them.

The Greens overtook the LibDems, taking three seats and moving to near 8% of the vote and fourth position.

The Conservatives came third. That’s the first time in the entire history of the party, since its foundation, that it has come below second in any national election. Quite a record to break.

And then there’s Labour. It was only given a clear advantage over the Conservatives by the London result, a massive victory for Labour that left UKIP in third place. A result which made me feel less bad about staying up till 3:15 to see it announced. But Labour
’s lead over the Tories is under 1.5%.

Labour leading by 1.5% a year out from a General Election? That’s far too tight. As I wrote about the local elections, there’s one big lesson for Labour to come out of these elections: the party needs to lift its game and lift it big.

Meanwhile, of course, this wasn’t an election just about Britain. The saddest aspect of it? A huge victory for the Front National in France, despite its deeply xenophobic message: even UKIP, itself frequently suspected of racism, regards the FN as too racist to work with. A victory for the far right in Denmark, and in numerous other countries around the Continent. Perhaps the most worrying for its symbolism, small though it is numerically, is the election of a neo-Nazi from Germany.

There are difficult times ahead for the whole of Europe. And Britain’s problems are just part of that big picture.


Anonymous said...

Yes, a grim result indeed!


David Beeson said...

Depressing. But far from as grim as I feared...