As anticipated by polls leading up to the vote, UKIP has won the European Parliament elections with the highest share of the vote and the most MEPs elected. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have seen a near total wipe-out, going from 11 MEPs to 1 and dropping to fifth place behind the Green Party. Labour has come in second, only slightly ahead of the Conservatives in third. As this is the first time in living memory that neither Labour or the Tories have won a national election, members of both of the main parties have taken to panic. Turnout was at 36 per cent, higher than the last election in 2009.
This post is a compilation of reactions and will be updated as the day goes on. Tim Bale leads off by giving an overview of what the results mean for each party. Mary Evans gives suggestions for how to deal with UKIP without demonising its supporters. Rupert Read, who stood for the Green Party in these European elections, argues that it is time the media stop ignoring the rise of the Greens, who have seen a significant rise in support recently. Eric Shaw writes that what we are seeing across Europe is, in a sense, a reconstitution of a form of class politics. Iain Begg writes that, despite the headlines about Euroscepticism, it is the voice of those worst affected by the crisis that is now louder.
There’s no gainsaying these are great results for UKIP – as long, that is, as none of its new MEPs and councillors does anything too outrageous over the next year (although even that may not matter as much as some of its opponents would like to think). Taken together with the local election results and Lord Ashcroft’s polling of marginal seats, the European results should also allow the party to decide which constituency Nigel Farage should stand in at the general election. The smart money seems to be on Thanet South.
The big losers were clearly the Lib Dems, although it’s hard to believe that the anger among activists and defeated candidates will result in anything too dramatic: the party’s strategy – keep calm everyone and the public will eventually thank us for being a responsible, centrist partner in a coalition that delivered stability and eventually recovery – seems set in stone now; and what would be the point of replacing Nick Clegg if there’s no intention to break up that coalition before the election?
As for Labour, these results are ‘disappointing’ to say the least. But they don’t really tell the party anything it didn’t know – or at least fear – already. The quirks of first-past-the-post and the party’s potentially superior ground game both mean Labour still has a chance of finishing up as the largest party next year, but an overall majority for Ed Miliband – presuming he’s still in charge – looks pretty unlikely.
Finally, the Conservatives have done a fantastic job so far of playing down any suggestions that these results are bad news for them too. Actually, they are: if the Tories can’t somehow squeeze UKIP back down below double figures by May 2015 then Farage is almost certainly going to cost them more marginal seats, albeit indirectly, than he will cost Labour. No doubt, in private, Conservative strategists realise this; the big question is how they respond. Like Labour, they need to be very careful not to overreact and start simply ‘banging on’ about Europe and immigration. It’s incredibly tempting, but all it’s likely to do is to drive those issues even further up the media’s and the electorate’s agenda – an that can only be good news for UKIP.
The gains made by UKIP in the recent local and MEP elections have been subjected to considerable attention, with an apparent consensus that those most attracted to UKIP are white, working class men of advanced years, those ‘left behind’ by social changes which range from deindustrialisation to gay marriage. No doubt this is true but with it comes the problem of how to counter UKIP, how to reject emphatically its politics without demonising its supporters and without allowing Farage any of those moments of recognition and solidarity that underlie political allegiance. So whilst George Osborne says that he ‘respects’ Farage, the question is how to claim a space which refuses this respect for Farage and his policies without at the same time refusing respect for his supporters.
Three suggestions : the first is to assume that all voters ( and not just those opposed to Farage) are thinking people and thus repudiate and demonstrate the absurdity of all Farage’s policies. Flat-rate taxation, for example,is an idea so absurd that, as the great Jane Austen of the banknotes says, the idea is barely worth rational opposition. But saying it is essential because not to do so allows Farage to be accepted as having a legitimate space in political debate. Second, do not exhibit any sympathy for the idea that Farage represents ‘ordinary’ people or even worse the ‘little man’. Rubbish : ‘ordinary’ people run our transport system, the NHS, our schools and much else and all these people spend their lives making a complex society work through collective engagements, based on acquired skills. It is therefore necessary to say that almost none of us except the certifiably insane wish to be anywhere near, for example, a hospital or an airline run by people who think ‘rules’ and ‘regulation’ are intrusive. Third, and finally, take this former point further and make it plain that the most humanly sympathetic and creative communities ( be they institutions or towns and cities )are those accepting of difference. Make it, in short, clear that Farage’s world is an authoritarian fantasy.
Here in the East of England, we saw fit to elect 3 UKIP, 3 Tories, and 1 Labour. The Greens – in the person of your’s truly – were runners-up, once again (i.e. just like five years ago). The difference this time was only that this time we beat the LibnDems, as we did everywhere in Britain.
British politics is now five-party politics. It will no longer be acceptable for the broadcast media to ignore the Greens to the extent that they have done for the past 24 years. We won three times as many MEP-seats last night as the Lib Dems did – and they are a governing Party! To everyone who voted Green last week, I say: You have contributed to a movement that is growing, and will only continue to grow: for Green is the future, if there is to be a future at all. But it is terrifying that a Party whose basis is victim-blaming and which denies the very reality of dangerous human-influenced climate chaos has done so well at these elections. Particularly horrific here in the East, where one of the Tory MEPs (who used to be in UKIP) is also a climate-denier, meaning that the majority of MEPs from our Region are reckless ignorant ostriches.
I blame the tiny handful of multi-millionaires who bankroll UKIP, and the national media for giving them bucketloads of coverage while ignoring the rise in the Green Party standing in the polls during this campaign. I hope that once people realise what UKIP actually stands for they will turn away from it in disgust, and turn to the Green Party, which offers a positive alternative to the old, failed parties. If the Tories are the nasty Party, then UKIP are the nastier Party…
As for me: I am so sad not to have been given the wonderful right to represent the East of England Region at the European Parliament. This is goodbye to standing in European elections for me (and back to my dayjob, teaching Philosophy at the UEA). I leave it to younger others to do what is necessary, in five years’ time: to stand for election and to win, so that together we can make the changes that are necessary, in order to save the future.
The big news is, of course, UKIP’s triumph. For some Labour commentators the rise of UKIP has been a ray of light in a rather sombre sky as it promises to splinter the right-wing vote. This was always a myth and it has now been nailed. UKIP is clearly pulling large numbers of voters from Labour as well as the Conservatives (we don’t know yet in what proportions). But this is not surprising because it is part of a broader Europe-wide pattern. In countries such as France, Denmark, Austria and others too the radical right have been penetrating deeply into strata of society which have traditionally voted for the left. There is a deep rumble from the right.
Why is this occurring? Let’s take, as a point of departure, Cas Mudde’s analysis. He has identified three major strands in mass attitudes which predispose people to vote for the radical right: nativism, that is a belief that holds that only indigenous inhabitants should have full civic and social rights, authoritarianism, and populism which counterposes the ordinary people against the ‘elite’, the political class, the liberal intelligentsia. This, combined, constitutes what the cultural theorist Stuart Hall called ‘authoritarian populism.’
In his theory of ‘pathological normalcy’ Mudde contends that authoritarian populism, far from being confined to the margins, is deeply embedded within the mainstream. Two factors, one can argue, have propelled into to the forefront of political consciousness. The first is the rising salience, and emotional voltage of anti-immigrant feeling, that is to say mounting antipathy, resentment and apprehension towards those – whether they be recent immigrants, asylum-seekers or established ethnic minorities – who constitute ‘the other’.
The second is, of course, the impact of the financial crash and the economic recession. The effect of this has not been (in the UK or in a majority of other European countries) a tilt to the left. Left-wing diagnoses, at least in the UK, have had little purchase: there is only a muted sense that the gyrations of financial system is in any way responsible for what went wrong. Most people, one suspects, are left baffled by talk of sub-prime mortgages, derivatives and credit default swaps There are looking for something more tangible to blame: if not Gordon Brown than welfare recipients and, of course, immigrants.
The implication of all this is distributing for left-of-centre parties, not least Labour. Research for some while has indicated that authoritarian populism appeals in particular to the more poorly-educated, to manual workers and to routine clerical workers: the natural constituency of the left. What we are witnessing is, in a sense, a reconstitution of a form of class politics. Labour, during the Blair/Brown years, was at pains to insist that it had ceased to be a (working) class party, that it was a party of ‘Middle England.’ Many working class voters, one could say, got the message: Labour was not for them, it was not part of ‘them’ not ‘us’. Now Miliband has to demonstrate otherwise.
In addition to the high-profile matter of who should be appointed to its top jobs, the EU’s policy agenda for the next year or two includes several very tricky issues which will test the ability of the EU’s institutions to arrive at viable and satisfactory solutions. In particular, the reforms of economic governance in response to the euro crisis remain incomplete and will require difficult decisions about the underlying policy stance, burden-sharing among Member States, and the balance of power between the supranational and national levels. Many of the recent and prospective initiatives in this area, such as mutualisation of debt or the creation of additional fiscal capacities and powers to help with macroeconomic stabilisation, will deepen integration at a time when voters seems to want the opposite.
At first sight, therefore, the new European Parliament looks like a recipe for gridlock in decision-making. Not only is the traditional left-right division now overlaid by a more unpredictable division between Europhiles and Eurosceptics, but a clear message has also been sent to the elites that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Yet a more subtle interpretation could be that the procrastination and squabbling over second-order concerns cannot continue and that all the institutions need to look for more comprehensive and coherent solutions. Despite the headlines about Euroscepticism, the voice of those worst affected by the crisis is now louder. Could it be that a more sanguine reading of these electoral results is warranted?
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.