An EU Election Analysis | Sarah Stook
- Brexit Party- 5,248,533- 30.5%
- Liberal Democrats- 3,367,284- 19.6%
- Labour Party- 2,347,255- 13.6%
- Green Party- 2,023,380- 11.8%
- Conservative Party- 1,512,809- 8.8%
- Scottish National Party- 594,553- 3.6%
- Other, including Plaid Cymru and Change UK- 12.1%
- Brexit Part +29 seats, no change
- Liberal Democrats +5 seats, +13%
- Labour Party -10 seats, -10.8%
- Green Party+ 4 seats, +4.9%
- Conservative Party -15 seats, -15.1%
- Scottish National Party +1 seat, +1.1%
Nigel Farage is probably throwing down alcohol in his local pub, delighted. Vince Cable is probably dusting off his drafts in favour of a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn is probably trying to deflect the results by praying for a general election. Jonathon Bartley and Siân Berry are probably picking up plastic from their local beach. Theresa May is probably thanking God she chose to resign. Nicola Sturgeon is probably watching Braveheart on repeat.
Depending on your political stance, you’re either extremely pleased or very disappointed. The polls were pretty spot on for once, with the Brexit Party soaring into first place, snatching victory from the Conservatives and Labour. For those who were happy to stay up for the results, it was a night that wasn’t short of thrills.
Emily Thornberry talked about a second referendum. Alistair Campbell made the case for remain, two days before being booted from the Labour Party. Nigel Farage spoke of the victory for Brexit. Vince Cable had life in him. Depending on who you saw being interviewed by savvy journalists, it was clear that there was a deep split. Whilst the BBC, among others, attempted to frame it as a Brexit v Remain election, it was a lot more complex than this. It was an election, as usual, on ideology and on party loyalties- or lack thereof.
Let’s dive into what it means for the main party.
- Brexit Party
For a party that started six weeks ago, they did pretty well to sail to the top of the charts. Now the largest party in the EU parliament, beating Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), those supporting the Brexit Party have been thrilled. Nigel Farage, the main man behind it, is back as an MEP, along with old favourite Ann Widdecombe and new ones such as Annuziata Rees-Mogg. It’s not a difficult party to explain- they want out of the EU and a say in the negotiations for Brexit. In terms of PR, it is clear that Nigel Farage is a leading influence in the decision of many voters. A man loved and loathed in equal measure, it was his star quality that brought UKIP to the political fold. Now he has left, he has brought that same star quality to the Brexit Party.
The party itself will have had supporters from many parts of the political spectrum, from voters in the Labour heartlands of the North to die hard Tories angry at their party’s failure to leave the EU. Whilst the Lib Dems and Greens stole Labour support in the south and the cities, the Brexit party really stole it from the North. The Tory Party also lost to it, receiving the most bruising loss at the night. Both were ripe pickings for the Brexit Party- Tories are fed up of a lack of actual Brexit whilst Labour voters are conflicted by the party’s lack of message and tendency towards remain.
In the EU? They will be fighting for Brexit, allying itself with other Eurosceptic parties in their European of Freedom and Direct Democracy alliance in the EU parliament. Perhaps they’ll help destroy it from the inside.
- Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats have gained a lot in recent months. Their respectable showing in the council elections of 2019 proved an upset to the traditional parties and now they have managed to make second place in the UK’s European elections. This is a far show from the 2015 election, when they went from coalition parties with 57 seats to dropping to 8. 2017 onward was an uptick, going to 12 (now 11) in the Commons.
The Lib Dems have a simple message- an alternative to Labour and an antithesis to Brexit. They talk of a second referendum in order to look a little more respectable, but they are also of the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ view and want to revoke Article 50. For the people in Labour who remain left but aren’t Brexit fans, Lib Dems are a natural home unless they’re seen as enablers of Brexit. For others, it’s a centrist home. Though the Lib Dems are often seen as political joke, they do have a fair base of support.
In the EU? They will support further integration in their pro-EU Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe bloc. Along with this, they will continue to support a soft left agenda.
- Labour Party
The Labour Party did the best of the ‘losers.’ Though they did lose ten seats, they weren’t as battered as the Conservative Party were. Labour’s campaign was an interesting one, due to the actual lack of focus on European policies. Nobody really knows what Labour’s positions on the EU are, with views ranging from a second referendum to a soft Brexit. They geared themselves towards a general election, their election literature talking about local infrastructure and austerity. It’s not hard to argue that they would rather have that GE than the EU elections.
That Brexit message came to bite them hard. In the south and the cities, the Lib Dems and Greens stole votes. On Jeremy Corbyn’s 70th birthday, he as gifted with the Lib Dems winning his stomping ground of metropolitan elite Islington. In the North and working class areas, it was the Brexit Party that won their vote. For example, in old mining area Bolsover- home of the infamous Dennis Skinner, the Brexit Party got 52% of the vote with 7612 votes, whilst Labour got 18% with 2564.
In the EU? When the Labour leadership decide what they want, that’s when we’ll find out.
- Green Party
Ah the Green Party, the softer version of the Lib Dems. Like their yellow comrades, they have found themselves in a rather respectable position. They gained four seats, managing to jump to fourth place over ‘governing’ party. They went on the left wing remain position, advocating for environmentalism, freedom of movement and worker’s rights in the European Union. To those who already support that, it’s an easy jump from other left parties such as Labour and the Lib Dems.
As said in the previous paragraph, the Green Party have shown that they want a reformed EU. They have, to their credit, criticised many parts of the EU whilst still being in favour of being in the organisation. This is not something that we have seen too much from in other parties, either due to willingness to leave or a simple lack of detailed policy. Interestingly, this is very much a chance to see if the party has a chance to shine. In the continental EU elections, the environmental parties have done well in liberal Nordic areas but have tanked in others. Brexit may have opened a niche for the Green Party, prompted by a desire for ‘soft’ left wing policies and an almost angry approach to the political state.
In the EU? Part of the Greens-European Free Alliance, they will put forward a progressive view and will fight for reforms in the areas they care about.
- Conservative Party
Sometimes the ruling party comes second or third. This time, they came fifth behind a party often seen as a political joke and another that started six weeks ago. The Tories really had a bad time in these elections, losing a mortifying fifteen seats in areas that are usually safe blue. It’s not hard to understand why people have left the party in droves- their lack of Brexit and just general incompetence. It’s telling that Theresa May announcing her resignation any earlier would have helped the party.
The Brexit Party were the main ones who stole the votes, but many would have fled to a variety of other parties. Like in the local council elections of 2019, the Conservative Party were expected to be decimated though this time they weren’t wiped out quite as much as predicted. The Conservatives policy was basic- we’re the only ones who actually have the chance to get you out of the EU, we’re the ones who have been pushing against it. The voters weren’t stupid. Tories on social media defied threats of suspension by proudly announcing that they were voting for the Brexit Party. Brendan Lewis was working overtime.
In the EU? Daniel Hannan, who thankfully kept his seat, will work with the Brexit Party. The others will just pray for it to be over soon.
- Scottish Nationalist Party
The SNP did fairly well, but not incredibly so. With an increased seat of one, they remain a major power in Scotland but a minor player in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. Voters probably voted for SNP upon party lines as opposed to Brexit lines, though their promise of a second referendum and a remain push was probably helpful. As usual, Nicola Sturgeon used it as a rallying cry to push for an independent Scotland. Still, the Brexit Party managed to come second in their back yard.
Unlike those parties also listened, the SNP didn’t gain from the failure of others nor did other parties profit from its losses. Since Labour support has started to collapse, the SNP has entered itself into the vacuum, though that is not a new phenomenon. Out of everyone, the SNP had the least remarkable or surprising election. In a world where politics has gone mad, maybe some normalcy is nice.
In the EU? They’ll get allies in on the off chance they get independence and decide to remain in the EU. Otherwise, it’s reform.
- Plaid Cymru
Plaid Cymru went from zero seats to one, so nothing too remarkable but pretty good for them nonetheless. They seemed to have quietened down since the 2015 and 2017 general elections, which was a peak for them. Leanne Wood stepped down as leader some time ago, another thing that had lessened their profile somewhat. Similarly to Scotland, they focus on regional and Europhile policies. Considering one can only vote for them in Wales, they don’t have a chance of moving forward in terms of votes- though, being pro-Welsh independence, they won’t mind too much.
They probably had the quietest post-results press, which is something that shouldn’t surprise us. Plaid Cymru’s regionalism is probably the biggest barrier to further success, with Wales being seen as a somewhat lesser power as compared to Scotland. It will test whether they can achieve further success in future elections, but the rise of the Brexit Party will test that.
In the EU? Basically copy and paste what the SNP will do in the EU.
- Change UK
Like the Brexit Party, Change UK- formerly the Independent Group- formerly whatever other names- started off with a lot of fanfare. Seven former Labour MPs walked into a crowded press room and announced their resignations from their current party to start a new one. They were joined by another former Labour MP one day later, then later three former Conservative members. Initially a group, they later registered as a new party. Their premise was simple- a new centrist politics with an opposition to Brexit. With members lining up and down to leave Labour, they pushed for a change.
Unfortunately, Change UK did not get what they wished. Though they did muster around half a million votes, their target audience stayed mainly with Labour, the Lib Dems or other centrist parties. It was hard to maintain a veneer of respectability, but Heidi Allen tried. Though they can be compared to the Brexit Party in its sense of youth and high level defections, they had issues simply because they weren’t the only ones offering certain things. With UKIP dead, the Brexit Party could easily capture the Eurosceptic fashion. With many other parties fighting for a second referendum, they had a lot of competition and not enough of a USP.
In the EU? Obviously not in it, but would align with similar moderate groups.
To the surprise of many, UKIP managed to shoot to the top when they won the 2014 EU elections with an excellent 24 seats, the first time in years a party that wasn’t one of the main two managed to finish first. Since then, it’s been a tough time for UKIP as they shot down to the bottom. They managed to lose all their seats, following a dismal performance in the locals. Both the prominence of the Brexit Party and the scandals that UKIP have been marred in helped cause their decline. The popularity of Farage led voters to follow him to the Brexit Party, whilst rape and racism scandals caused many former supporters to become wary. UKIP has moved further to the right and has become somewhat of a fringe party.
UKIP’s policy was single issue- Brexit. A party that has been Eurosceptic since its inception, it banked on the fact that voters would want to go with a group that did truly want Brexit. Unfortunately for UKIP, the aforementioned factors made their fall fast and painful. This may be the sign that UKIP has broken, though they may yet prove us wrong.
In the EU? Obviously not in it, but would probably try to do Nigel Farage’s epic put downs.
- Northern Ireland
Sinn Féin- SF kept steady with one seat. A party that often criticises the EU, especially on neoliberal grounds, it still maintains support for membership and worries that Brexit could cause problems with the Irish border. SF is an Irish nationalist party, but asks for a united Ireland.
Democratic Unionist Party- The only thing keeping the current Conservative minority afloat, the DUP kept their seat. As in their name, they are unionists, as well as very strong Eurosceptics. Due to political and religious differences in NI, it is no surprise that parties so different could be elected.
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- APNL gained a seat; with the centre right Ulster Unionist Party losing it. Allies of the Liberal Democrats, the APNL is a centre ground as they are neither unionist nor Irish nationalist, making all three groups represented.
The NI elected representatives are examples of the three different parts of politics- two on each side plus one in the middle. It is also the first time three females have represented NI in the EU, something noted by the press- Diane Dodds being one.