Monday, 26 May 2014

The European Election - Preliminary Thoughts

So, the count is almost complete, with just Scotland and Northern Ireland to declare. If we look at England and Wales, we have the following European election result:

Party Share of vote Change
UK Independence Party 29.07% Up 12.27%
Labour 25.35% Up 10.53%
Conservative 24.56% Down 3.08%
Green 7.85% Down 0.58%
Liberal Democrat 6.85% Down 6.60%
An Independence from Europe 1.62% Up 1.62%
British National Party 1.17% Down 5.14%
English Democrats 0.87% Down 1.06%
Plaid Cymru 0.77% Down 0.10%
Others 1.88% Down 7.87%

In terms of seats, we have:

Party Seats Change
UK Independence Party 23 Up 10
Labour 18 Up 7
Conservative 18 Down 7
Green 3 Up 1
Liberal Democrat 1 Down 9
Plaid Cymru 1 Unchanged
British National Party 0 Down 2

One thing to note is that there was not a huge Conservative to UKIP desertion. A fall of 3% is good for a governing party - this is a smaller decrease in vote for the Conservatives than at the June 1984, June 1989 and June 1994 elections.

What did hit the Conservatives hard was the way that UKIP consolidated votes. A little example will show what I mean.

Suppose, under the First Past The Post system we use for the House of Commons, a party gets 40% of the vote in a particular constituency. Has it won or lost? Well, the answer is that you need to know what other parties got. If it had a rival on 60%, then it lost. If it had two rivals, one on 35% and the other on 25%, then it won.

Now consider a 3-member constituency using d'Hondt, with the result:

  • A - 35%
  • B - 30%
  • C - 20%
  • Others - 15%

A, B and C would each win a seat.

Now consider the following result:

  • A - 45%
  • B - 30%
  • C - 21%
  • Others - 4%

A would win 2 seats, while B would win 1. Despite increasing its vote, C loses its seat. A has effectively consolidated votes - it has hoovered up votes from the minor parties and made itself the party for people who don't like B and C to back.

If we look at the change in votes, we see this happening. The minor parties and others saw their vote plummet - the British National Party's and English Democrats' fall in votes is just over half the UKIP increase. There was probably a fair bit of anti-Government switching from the Liberal Democrats (even in June 2009, UKIP were coming top in areas which elect Liberal Democrat MPs - Devon North being the prime example).

I am reminded of the Scottish Parliament election of May 2011. We are often warned that Proportional Representation leads to there being loads of minor parties around, holding the balance of power. In 2011, the Scottish National Party won an overall majority on 44% of the vote, with there effectively being 3 parties (SNP, Labour, Conservatives) - a far cry from the diverse one elected in May 2003, with its good performances by the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish Socialist Party.

I am, naturally, disappointed to see UKIP top the poll in Southampton. For months, the local paper has carried, on practically a daily basis, letters from what I call the UKIP Letter Writing Society, a small, but vocal, group who have letter after letter after letter published (and it seems quite often to be no more than one member congratulating another on their letter). Whatever the topic, it gets onto EU-bashing. Whatever the issue, the European Union is The Problem causing it, and Brexit is The Solution.

Even writing about Enid Blyton's books can turn into EU-bashing!

What I have found with these is that they are often inaccurate, but only a handful of people - including me - challenge them. We learn, for example, that the European Parliament is just an expensive talking shop with the Council of Ministers having to consult the Parliament over proposed European legislation, but free to ignore. Or confusion over how the President of the European Commission is chosen, with them ignoring the fact that the Parliament has to approve the European Council's choice. And, after all, if the Parliament is just a Toytown one with no powers, then it doesn't matter whether you send the Man in the Moon there; just use it as a protest vote.

Like the SNP, they believe that they can make promises on behalf of other (e.g. the SNP approach that the EU will allow Scotland to automatically become a member, that NATO will waive its rules and allow a Scotland with a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons to join, or that rUK will allow a currency union). So we find that:

  • If we left the EU then we would automatically become members of the European Free Trade Association, with full access to the Single Market but able to pick and choose which of its rules we follow
  • Worried that after Brexit, the EU might punish us by giving us a bad trade deal? Don't worry, the World Trade Organisation will ensure that the UK gets the bestest trade deal possible
  • Failing that, there's Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all on tenterhooks waiting for Mother England to leave the EU, ready to tear up trade deals with the USA and Asian nations on Brexit Day and give special preference to us

The constant drip-drip-drip of their letters must have had an impact.

I am sad to see the Liberal Democrats nearly wiped out. As a Conservative, I welcome the fact that in May 2010 they could have chosen the easy life of Opposition, and joined Labour, Plaid Cymru etc. in obstructing a minority Conservative government at every turn. Instead they stepped up to the plate, made tough choices, and have been punished for doing the right thing.

So, fellow Conservatives, please don't gloat about what happened to the Liberal Democrats.

In a way, this shows a feature of pure PR - there is no place for localism. Doesn't matter if you do well in Rochdale, Stockport and South Lakeland, as this all gets overshadowed by poor performances in the rest of North West England.

While UKIP came top, they didn't "win". From England and Wales, parties supporting exit got 23 seats, those supporting reform got 18, and those supporting the EU as it is 22. No majority for Brexit. Instead, Prime Minister David Cameron wants a via media, of reform of the Treaties and a referendum. In a way, UKIP's success helps him, as he can point out to other leaders that there is growing opposition to the EU which can only be dealt with by major reform.

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