Short answer: Everything and nothing. Long answer: Well, it depends who you ask… Wait, you’re asking me? OK. Buckle up.
The premise of this election was already fairly ridiculous. Sure, let’s elect members of a parliament that we are (probably) leaving soon! Why not?! For many, it was a de facto second referendum about Brexit, despite the newly elected MEPs having absolutely nothing to do with the leaving process. In short, it is exactly the sort of complicated waste of time you would expect from British politics in 2019.
Easy question first: Who won?
Nigel Farage’s latest vanity project, The Brexit Party, won the most votes overall. Farage quit UKIP because it had allegedly become too racist for him (you can add your own side-eye here), and took most of UKIP’s voters along with him. He probably picked up a lot of new voters from the right and the left as well — those who voted Leave in 2016 and just want it over with.
The other ‘big winners’ in the EU elections were the Liberal Democrats (2nd overall) and the Greens (4th overall), with both parties standing on a clear Remain platform. Other Remain parties were the SNP, which dominated in Scotland, and Plaid Cymru, which beat Labour in Wales, coming second to The Brexit Party. Failing to make much of a dent were Change UK aka The Tiggers, with just 3 percent of the vote, but they were still feeling relatively chipper about it.
Change UK's @Anna_Soubry tells LBC:"We're genuinely a new party. The Brexit Party is just a retread of Nigel Farage's long-standing, 20 years he's had his own political party.— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) May 27, 2019
"In my opinion, 600k people voting for a new party is very good and I don't have a problem with that."
UKIP’s vote essentially collapsed, but the biggest loser of the lot was evil fascist Tommy Robinson, who stood as an independent and finished 8th in the North West, losing his deposit.
What of Labour and the Conservatives? Well, they had a bad time of it, coming 3rd and 5th respectively, with pro-Leave voters (probably) jumping to The Brexit Party, and Remain voters (probably) opting for parties with an unequivocal Remain stance. Labour’s ‘strategy’ of trying to be all things for all people while committing to nothing seems to have backfired spectacularly, with party heavyweights immediately adopting a more precise position once the results were announced. Suddenly a second referendum seemed appealing to Labour…
The Tories are all over the place, with much depending on whoever takes over from Theresa May. For them, Brexit is happening — it is merely the flavour of Brexit that is yet to be determined. But that darned parliamentary arithmetic hasn’t changed, because this wasn’t a general election!
Can these results be used to predict voting patterns for a general election though?
Yes and no. There are a few massive flaws in attempting this. First of all, the turn out was around 37 percent. Hardly overwhelming. Secondly, EU elections work differently, using a form of proportional representation rather than first past the post, and the regions aren’t represented in the same way as our parliamentary constituencies. Thirdly, people make different voting choices in EU elections, often favouring the smaller parties. So results here don’t necessarily translate to results in a general election with a different system, a higher turn out and a different attitude.
If this was a de facto referendum, can we extrapolate anything from the results?
All the party leaders are attempting to do so, in a way that makes them look good. Farage claims that The Brexit Party’s victory shows a clear indication that The People want a hard Brexit. Remain parties point out that counted together, their votes outnumber The Brexit Party and UKIP, and so The People clearly don’t want to Brexit at all. Depending on who runs the stats, they can present any idea you want. Take a look at the following tweets — what’s really interesting here is how they refer to Labour and Conservative votes. Are they counted as Leave, Remain, or neither? What does that suggest about perceptions of the main parties’ positions?
European Election Results:— MoggMentum (@MoggMentum) May 29, 2019
The Brexit Party - 30.5%
Conservatives - 8.8%
Labour - 13.6%
UKIP - 3.2%
DUP - 0.7%
Total - 56.8%
Lib Dem - 19.6%
SNP - 3.5%
Greens - 11.8%
Plaid - 1.0
Change - 3.3%
Sinn Fein - 0.7%
Total - 39.9%#BrexitNow pic.twitter.com/u3GTRGbIHS
What happens next?
If the parties are ambiguous on an issue that voters see as key when choosing who to vote for, then that ambiguity is a highly risky strategy. Want an example? Let’s look at the boroughs that contain May’s and Corbyn’s constituencies. Both voted against them; May’s opted for The Brexit Party, with the Liberal Democrats in 2nd place, while in Corbyn’s, the Liberal Democrats narrowly defeated the Labour Party. Suddenly, their safe seats look a bit more perilous. Both May and Corbyn have haemorrhaged voters because of Brexit, and so one school of thought is that their parties should seek to align more clearly along the Leave/Remain dichotomy in order to win those voters back, or face a thrashing at the next general election. In terms of results, the UK currently looks like Mr Burns, which is something no-one wants:
2019 EU Election Results. pic.twitter.com/Hes4kbMEqQ— Bobbie☀️ (@bo66ie29) May 27, 2019
Of course, both parties could go the other way, digging in to their current position. There are some hints of that with how Labour is dealing with ‘traitors’ in its ranks — like Alistair Campbell, who has been expelled for admitting on TV that he voted for the Liberal Democrats. (But also because he’s a Blairite.)
Alastair Campbell's 'sexed up' dossier started the Iraq war and left a million dead.— Momentum (@PeoplesMomentum) May 28, 2019
Being kicked out of the party is the least he deserves.
Does the Labour Party hate Blairites more than anti-Semites? Hmmm…
Dear Labour, that was quick. Yours, a Jew pic.twitter.com/GsyK8QBN6U— Matt Lucas (@RealMattLucas) May 28, 2019
Yep I do have thoughts, he was expelled quicker than a man who threatened to kill me, quicker than a man in my CLP who denied the Holocaust, both are only still suspended. https://t.co/8dRZxC3Hd5— Jess Phillips (@jessphillips) May 28, 2019
This is HUGE. It’s the news we’ve been painfully but patiently waiting for.@UKLabour are now the only party other than the BNP to be subject to a full @EHRC investigation.— Rachel Riley (@RachelRileyRR) May 28, 2019
This has been an enormous group effort by campaigners to make this happen, and not a moment too soon. 😔 https://t.co/o1BcEdlto4
Let’s see how the chair of the Labour Party feels about tactics going forward, shall we?
Polls in the run-up to the European elections showed that voters did not understand Labour’s position on Brexit. Conference had voted to leave all options on the table to stop a destructive Tory Brexit and our position has been fairly straightforward. However, with emotions running high on all sides, it has been difficult to hold the line, with remainers and leavers all expressing opinions publicly. Labour lost voters in all directions and polling appears to show middle-class voters moving to the Lib Dems and Greens, with working-class people moving to the Brexit party.
As someone who has opposed a so-called public vote, not least because parliament has no majority for it in principle and nobody has the faintest idea what we would actually put on the ballot, I have been doggedly attacked by certain sections of the party, as well as those on the outside. It does feel that a certain portion of “leftwing intellectuals” are sneering at ordinary people and piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters. Perhaps, in reflecting on the results, we should consider the effect all of this has had.
We’d do well to remember that Labour is an internationalist party of social and economic justice, not a party of leave or remain, and that the real divide in our country is between the haves and the have-nots. We cannot win a general election by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48% and, while some polling data suggests more people left Labour for the Greens and the Lib Dems, it is equally concerning to see leakage to the Brexit party. Remember, we not only need to hold on to what we got in 2017, but we need to win over even more people.
(From The Guardian)
Not convinced you’re doing either of those things, Ian Lavery! Even Jeremy ‘this fence is quite comfortable actually’ Corbyn is being more precise than that. Sort of.
We need a General Election to decide the future of this country.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 27, 2019
Labour will continue to do everything to stop the chaos of a No Deal. We need to secure a deal with the European Union and that should be put to a public vote. pic.twitter.com/miiMtqdQ4M
Actual question: Can Corbyn slip the phrase ‘general election’ into any conversation he has? “What would you like for breakfast, Jeremy?” “General election!” “When will you put the bins out, Jeremy?” “When we’ve got a general election!” “What do you call a sexually aroused military officer?” “General election!”
So what’s next? Much more of the same, I’m afraid. The Tories will choose their new leader, Corbyn will keep saying “general election”, and there might even be one if the Tories feel their new leader can rally more voters and give them a solid majority in the House. (It worked SO WELL for Theresa May, right?) We might be crashing out with No Deal at Halloween. We might not.
All this election really shows is that we are prepared to send MEPs somewhere they don’t want to be, so that they can pout and boo, then claim compensation for losing a job that they campaigned to get and get rid of, simultaneously. And that, my friends, is Very Silly Indeed.
Header Image Source: Getty Images