The British Euro-Election results: Labour’s loss rather than anyone’s win.

Monday, 8. June 2009     0 comment(s)

The headlines in the UK on the European Parliament (EP) election this morning have been dominated by the win of two MEP’s seats by the far-right British National Party (BNP). Looking at the past histories of the two men elected to the parliament in Brussels it is easy enough to be shocked; both Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons have records of open racism and anti-semitism and have long been part of Britain’s neo-Nazi right. The first-past-the-post electoral system has always kept the fringe parties out of the Westminster parliament, so despite the BNP’s constant background presence – including a few local council seats – it is still a major upset for such people to be voted in to a major political office.

Nevertheless there has been no sudden swing to the far-right amongst British voters. The BNP increased its vote from the 2004 EP elections by only 1.3 percent, a rather small rise. The same trend is visible in the other big story of the night, the second place of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the over-all national vote. UKIP gathered more votes than either Labour or the Liberal Democrats, but again – in comparison to the 2004 European elections – it increased its share of the vote by only a tiny 0.3 percent. Even the party with the biggest share of the vote and by far the most MEPs elected – the Conservatives – only increased their vote by one percent. The Green Party also increased its vote by 2.4 percent, but could not win any more seats than the two it has held since 2004.

Two factors therefore account for this interesting result. Firstly there is the size of Labour’s loss, dropping 6.9 percent of its vote from 2004. This was allied to turnout also falling; about 4 percent less than in the last Euro elections. Considering the travails of Gordon Brown’s government over the last week, the fact that Labour still actually polled more votes than the Liberal Democrats and avoided the ignominy of fourth place, can be considered almost a ‘defensive victory’. The government is surely still on its last legs, but it could have easily done worse. If one of the major parties faces a hard choice it is the Liberal Democrats. They the same number of MEPs, 11, as in the last parliament, but their vote actually declined by 1.2 percent. They have not been able to capitalise on the government’s weakness to their own advantage. Their leader, Nick Clegg, a man who understands the workings of the EU better than most in the UK, seems still not to be able to make a stronger case for their centrist pro-European position to the wider public.

Full results are available from the BBC website.

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