Changing Of The Guard? – European Parliamentary Elections Explained

As we wait for MPs to get back from their holibobs, with only the depressingly common stories of antisemitism within the Labour Party and far-right headbanging from within the Conservative Party to keep us company in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about what comes next.

Yesterday, I explained why there is such a hoo-ha about the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. This was largely framed from the perspective of the structure of the European Parliament and why it represents a democratic issue, but it’s worth looking at what the results might mean, too.

Opinion polls, despite having a recent track record of being laughably wrong, have predicted losses for the Conservatives over their inability to deliver Brexit. Labour, while technically ahead, will be dismayed at how little they have taken advantage of the Tories destroying themselves from within.

UKIP, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Change UK, The Lib-Dems, The Greens – all of these fringe parties now have a real opportunity to make a massive impact and take votes away from the two main parties.

A vote for the European Parliament is, some would argue, of less importance than voting in a General Election. Additionally, the way that people vote for their MEPs will be different from how they vote for their MPs. The elections will, however, be a fascinating demonstration of where public opinion is on Brexit and what might happen when the inevitable General Election is called within the next couple of years.

Let’s have a look at what might happen.


The Hard Leavers

Interestingly, while support for the Tories has leaked dramatically to the two Brexit-delivering parties, the fact that there are now two parties entirely focussed on Brexit, as well as an ostensibly Leave-backing major party, means that the vote is now split between three. As such, it means that it might be harder for one to get a majority over the other.

Voters who want Brexit have these options:

  • Continuing to vote for the Conservatives out of hope that their party will get its act together;
  • Voting for UKIP, who already have the highest number of MEPs in the European Parliament and are an established anti-EU force (yes, they won the last European elections…);
  • Or voting for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – UKIP have lurched alarmingly right for some voters, with Gerrard Batten’s leadership welcoming figures like Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) and their openly-racist philosophy.

So there are three options for delivering Brexit, now that Labour have essentially said that any deal made must come with a second referendum attached. UKIP’s alarming undertones have put off many supporters, and Farage himself set up his new party because he didn’t want to be a part of the UKIP that he once proudly led.

Because of this, there could be no clear majority for any of those parties – even if the majority for votes were for Brexit-supporting groups, they would be split into three and could lose out to a unified Remain-supporting party. Indeed, the most recent polls have put the parties at:

  • Conservatives: 13%
  • UKIP: 17%
  • Brexit: 12%

So a Remain-supporting party could get a majority over this divided vote.

If there was only one Remain-supporting party, that is.


The Ardent Remainers

Perhaps the most interesting case study for this is Change UK – The Independent Group. The breakaway group of MPs from the Labour and Conservative Parties that formed in February have now been declared an official party, and as such are going to run in the European elections. They openly state their case to be the party of Remain.

They put out a message asking for candidates for the European elections to put themselves forward and received over 3,700 responses, including some high-profile names (according to Anna Soubry, one of the members).

However, their profile is not quite where they want it to be yet, and they would require a huge amount of campaigning in the run-up to the elections to be considered a real force – currently they are polling at just 4%.

Other openly Remain-favouring parties such as the Greens, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru are polling at around 20% combined, with most polling at under 10% each.

So the issue here is the same as above – a split vote might mean no clear majority for one Remain-supporting party.


The Old Dogs

And what of Labour? Currently they are leading the polls at 29%, but who knows with them anymore. The constant rumblings of antisemitism are damaging the party’s reputation, as well as the fact that the majority of its MPs and members want to Remain, but Corbyn ostensibly doesn’t.

If he fails to campaign Labour MEPs as being pro-remain, he could see many Labour voters move across to one of the Remain-supporting parties. Additionally, if he fails to listen to some of his Leave-supporting members and allies, he might see that vote move across to UKIP or the Brexit Party.

Additionally with the Conservatives, while we have already mentioned that hard-Leavers would have little problem in shifting allegiance to UKIP/Brexit Party (and have seen that many already have), the Remainers within the party might jump ship too.


So What Will Actually Happen?

It is almost impossible to say for certain.

It is worth remembering that despite how badly both parties have performed recently, voting habits die hard – some lifelong party supporters cannot even fathom voting for anyone else, so both parties will continue to see a considerable number of votes from their faithful members.

It is also worth noting that the European elections have a distinctly different flavour to a General Election, and voters tend to vote more freely – there is less danger of “If you don’t vote for us, look who’ll get in instead,” in the European Parliament.

The final thing to note is that because the constituency system is different in European elections, and the votes have more of a feel of proportional representation, a divided vote isn’t as damaging as it would be in a General Election. Despite Remain and Leave both having numerous different parties representing them, the results will still be a clear indicator of where public opinion lies, but parties will just have fewer MEPs elected.

I’ll explain this further in an article tomorrow.

Either way, the European elections might be quite a rude awakening for the Old Guard of Labour and the Conservatives… Or nothing much might change at all.

Either way, this writer encourages you to ensure you are registered to vote and to take part in the elections when they happen. Every vote will matter in these elections, and could pave the way for whatever harebrained calamity comes next in the Great Brexit Debacle…


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