With the European Parliament elections on 23 May looking likely to include the UK, as this email message from a top Tory official appears to confirm, which of the UK’s political parties will do well? Britain may still not take part of course, if we crash out of the European Union (EU) on Friday, or some miracle takes place in the palace of Westminster, and MPs approve some sort of exit from the bloc, but to all intents and purposes it looks like we will be taking part.
European Parliament elections in the UK are not taken very seriously by the voters at the best of times, turn out is usually in the low 30s per cent wise, but almost three years after the British public voted to leave the EU, there may be even less interest in voting this time. MEPs might not even take their seats, if the UK does leave quickly, or be in place for just a few months with a slightly longer stay. On the other hand, will angry leave voters want to stick it to the big parties, and turn out in numbers?
Smaller parties have always done quite well in these elections, with UKIP doing very well indeed the last time these elections were held. UKIP gained 26.6% of the vote in 2014, topping the poll and returning 24 MEPs. Might they do similarly well or even better this year? They could well do so, but there is another difference this time in the form of Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party saying they will stand. Both parties could do well, but they would then also split the anti-EU vote, and so in terms of MEPs not win so many.
And what of remain voters? Will they bother to turn out, or will they be more determined to vote to make some kind of statement about not wanting to leave the EU? It is very hard to say at this time, but we have had some pointers recently with opinion polls showing support for Labour and the Conservatives falling. We also had the recent Newport West by-election where support for Labour and Conservative was down, by 12.7% and 8% respectively (on a 37% turn out). UKIP came third with 8.6% of the vote, up by 6.1%, so this is surely where Conservative leave voters headed, and perhaps Labour ones too.
The remain vote, of those who didn’t stick with Labour, seems to been split between the Greens (up 2.8%), Plaid Cymru (up 2.5%), Lib Dems (up 2.4%) and the new pro-EU party Renew, who stood in the constituency for the first time, gaining 3.7% of the vote. Taken together these unambiguously remain parties got 17.2% of the vote.
Throw into the mix, the newly formed Change UK party, of The Independent Group MPs who defected from Labour and Conservatives, and have been showing at 8% to 9% in some opinion polls, so there will be a lot of choice for remainers. Then in Scotland, the Scottish National Party will almost certainly do well, in a country that voted 62% to remain in the EU.
This is, of course, something of weakness as the remain vote will also likely split, with all these options for making a pro-EU statement. But with these elections being on a proportional system, all of these parties could well win seats to the European Parliament, even if they able unable to take them up, or only warm the seats for a few months.Then again, might we not leave the EU, and they serve a full term?
With the exception of the 2017 general election where Labour and Conservatives scooped up over 80% of the vote, the vote share of the big two parties has been falling for years. In general elections the big two parties are more likely to do better, given the First Past The Post electoral system, but the upcoming Euro elections are pretty much as free a hit as it is possible to have.
If we do leave the EU shortly, then it is arguable that these elections, and the result, are meaningless anyway, but political parties look to use elections of all types, to build momentum for future elections. This could be a useful opportunity for the smaller parties, or one or two of them at least, to start to build that momentum. We live in interesting electoral times, although it might not seem like that to most people now.