Through the early hours of this morning, results from the European Parliament elections started to pour in from across Europe. Unlike most European Elections, which normally only warm the cockles of the most ardent political anorak, the 2019 election has captured the headlines and been touted, as a proxy vote on Brexit.
While some presumably voted with transnational policy in mind, it’s fair to say that most voted to simply re-affirm their views on Brexit. Aware of this, political parties focussed their campaigning efforts accordingly. The Brexit Party – not content with a self-explanatory name, rather daringly didn’t even bother with any policies beyond ‘Give us Brexit!’ The Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP, employed similar tactics, urging voters to back them to ‘Stop Brexit!’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those parties – with unambiguous messages – were the big winners. UK-wide, The Brexit Party topped the poll with some 32% of the vote. The Lib Dems trebled their share to take 21% and the Greens grew to 12%.
The Tories and Labour had evenings they will want to forget. With rumours swirling around Whitehall on the day of the election, it was clear the Conservatives were (tragicomically) toying with the idea of forcing the Prime Minister to resign to improve their electoral hopes. Infuriatingly, we never got to see if this tactic would’ve worked – with the PM announcing her departure the next day. In the end, the Tories were brutally punished for their public squabbling and failure to deliver the Brexit so many of their supporters want. Indeed, when Tory grandees, like Lord Heseltine and Ken Clarke suggested that either they or the membership would be voting Liberal Democrat, you knew things were going wrong. Hard line Tory Brexiteers also found themselves comfortably voting for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Stripped of support from either wing, the Tory vote slumped to a paltry 9% – their worst result in a national election since 1832.
In the olden days, a loss for the Tories would’ve been a gain for Labour – as British politics see-sawed between the two dominant parties. But, no more. Labour, too, had a shocker and, with no clear or convincing message on Brexit, found themselves bleeding votes. It’s said that if you sit on the fence, you’ll get skelfs in your bum and Labour’s failure to either endorse or reject Brexit and their confused position on a second referendum left voters, looking to express their Brexit feelings, unable to lend them support.
In Scotland, the SNP were rampant, scooping up 38% of the vote and gaining an additional (third) MEP seat. Some way behind came the Brexit Party (15%), Lib Dems (14%), Conservative (12%), Labour (9%), Green (8%). If nothing else, Scottish voters were consistent on constitutional issues, with 62% of voters backing pro-remain parties and 46% voting for pro-independence parties – almost exactly reflecting the referendum results of 2016 and 2014.
So, what to read from this? At a UK level, the Brexit Party were clear and outright winners. From a standing start, this appears a huge and unparalleled populist surge. Naturally, they are claiming this means public appetite for Brexit has grown and they hope to push the next Prime Minister to deliver Brexit quickly and at all costs.
But, scratch the surface slightly and there’s a slightly different story to be told. To begin with, while the Brexit Party’s explosion on to the political scene is remarkable, they are effectively UKIP 2.0 and certainly took all of the 24% vote share that UKIP lost. As the only serious Brexit party standing, it isn’t all that impressive to see them inch the 28% UKIP vote from the 2014 Euro Election up to 32%. Secondly, were you to add together the votes of the avowedly ‘Remain’ parties (Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru, SNP, Change UK, Green), the vote share tots up to 40% – slightly more than the 35% UKIP/Brexit combined vote.
The soul searching in the Labour Party and the selection of a new Tory Prime Minister will be the game-changing outcomes of this election. Will the Tories pitch further to the right in an effort to out-Farage Farage and win back Brexiters? Will Labour recognise they cannot compete in a crowded pro-Brexit field and seize the apparent opportunities of adopting a pro-remain or second referendum position?
In Scotland, the map is, once again, yellow and will provide another shot in the arm to a government still riding high after 12 years in power. To what extent will the SNP use this to advance independence – in the knowledge that not everyone who supported them supports independence? Will the appointment of a new and unpopular Prime Minister make the prospect look irresistible?
The spin and positioning of the political parties following this election will be fascinating to watch. With so much up in the air, we’re keen to hear your views as events unfold.