The votes are almost over with counts still underway in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it seems fair to say Ukip have taken the lead in the European elections. Worse still, far-right wins are being reported across the EU with the People’s Party making huge gains in Denmark and Marine Le Pen’s National Front storming the French elections, causing Hollande’s Socialist Party to hold crisis talks. Here are some reflections as the last few votes roll in:
1. Ukip’s gain is certainly significant.
Though ‘earthquake’ is probably too strong. Farage’s prediction of a people’s army inflating the turnout has been decidedly underwhelming: turnout up only fractionally on the last European elections. And while it is unprecedented for a party with no MPs or councils to win a national election, most polls forecast the Ukip vote somewhere in the thirties when they actually received somewhere in the high twenties. This is not to downplay how worried we should be by Ukip’s victory, but we should remember that this result is unlikely to translate into more than one or two seats in Westminster next year due to different general election voter tendencies and the first-past-the-post voting system. Do say: Ukip are likely to get an MP. Don’t say: earthquake.
2. Labour can reasonably expect to win the 2015 general election.
While Ukip’s share of the vote has increased by 11 percentage points, Labour’s share has increased by almost 10. Furthermore, Labour doubled their seats in London and the other major cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool have come back red. Gains in these traditional strongholds should see Labour take the next election, and it’s likely that Ukip’s rise will now actually split the right’s vote in many areas – much to Labour’s aid. Do say: Labour are taking back the big cities. Don’t say: anything which has been said on the BBC or in the Mail.
3. The next Greek general election will be one to watch.
Pasok are nowhere to be seen while the conservative New Democracy have pulled in at second place. Meanwhile the far-left Syriza have taken the lead. Syriza formed as the parliamentary expression of the Greek anti-austerity movement. As they are the parliamentary opposition, the European win could see them win the generals too – remember that the recent history of Greece’s relationship to the EU is a big factor here. However, perhaps the biggest upset was that fascist Golden Dawn managed to come in third with around 10% of the vote. Do say: Syriza are on the rise. Don’t say: Golden Dawn are a fringe party.
4. Left alternatives are gaining.
Syriza is the headline story for the left, but Sweden’s Feminist Initiative have caused a huge stir by achieving their first MEP. The party emerged from the Swedish Left Party and stands on a platform of gender, class and racial equality with key policy areas being access to abortion and justice for survivors of domestic violence. Meanwhile in the UK the Green Party have increased their MEPs from two to three, holding London and the south east while gaining in in the south west – traditionally Liberal Democrat heartland – and are now in fourth place nationally. Although their overall share has decreased very slightly, their gain in seats owes to the increased concentration of supporters in certain areas, which could signal the Greens returning a couple of MPs next year, or at least becoming the main opposition in a number of constituencies. Do say: many left of Labour are turning Green. Don’t say: protest vote.
5. The Liberal Democrats are headed the way of the BNP.
Poor electoral performance? Infighting within the party? Plummeting membership? No it’s not the BNP (well, it is), but the Liberal Democrats! Down to a single MEP from 10 and polling at 5th place, they’ve shed almost 7% of the vote (the BNP are down 5%, for comparison). The party can probably expect to remain in third place come the general election albeit having taken a hammering in seats. What remains to be seen is whether Nick Clegg will be leading the Lib Dems into the elections. Cabinet members are rallying to prop him up, but calls from the grassroots for him to resign are also being echoed in the party’s federal executive. Do say: Clegg’s past his sell-by date. Don’t say: the Lib Dems won’t get any MPs.