A few notes on the European election results

The back of a church with stained-glass windows, and the entrance to a church hall with the words "St James Church Hall" on a rectangular white sign in blue Swiss type. The words "POLLING STATION" are on a sign in black bold type with a plastic chair in front. An old lady wearing a turquoise top and grey trousers is walking through the doors which also have a sign saying "POLLING STATION" and giving the opening times.
Polling station, New Malden

So, last night we finally found out the results of the European parliamentary election result, in which we in Britain had voted on Thursday but whose results we could not be told until all polls had closed at 10pm British time (11pm Central European Time) last night. They were being treated by quite a large segment of voters as an indicative referendum for Brexit itself; one of the main parties, which won the single biggest share of the votes, was the Brexit party led by Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, and several of its candidates are former Tories (such as Ann Widdecombe) and others not previously associated with UKIP. The UKIP vote itself collapsed, mostly transferring to the Brexit Party, which won the single biggest share of the votes in most districts in England outside London and south-central England; Labour and the Liberal Democrats dominated in London, the Lib Dems had a strong showing in Remain areas of the provincial south which included a number of former safe Tory seats, while the Tories were not the single biggest party in a single district. Nigel Farage threatened a repeat of these results at a future general election if the Tories fail to deliver Brexit, though this threat is dubious for reasons I will get on to.

First, the law that dictates that we cannot be told the results until all polls closed, as opposed to all in the UK, should change. In the hours before polls closed in some parts of Europe I was seeing results from France and Germany on social media yet the British polls, which had closed days ago, were still secret. In this country we are used to being told the results of elections the night after they happen. We also should really get rid of our insistence on holding elections on a Thursday, which is a work day; most countries in the EU held the election on a Sunday. This might anger some hardline Protestants in Scotland and Northern Ireland but a better idea would be to make any election day a public holiday, and preferably a Friday, which is nobody’s religious rest day (including for Muslims who can and often do work on a Friday), so that it would result in a long weekend. The present system has an inbuilt bias in favour of people who are not in work, in particular retirees who are more likely to vote conservatively.

Second, electoral districts for European elections and referendums are local authority districts (London or metropolitan boroughs, unitary authorities or county districts), not parliamentary constituencies. This means that you cannot use the result for almost any area to exactly predict a parliamentary result as not only do boundaries vary but populations vary widely between districts while constituencies have roughly equal populations.

A picture of a white single-deck bus with the words "Change UK: The Independent Group. For a People's Vote, For Remain, Vote Change UK" followed by an X in a black box. In the foreground is a red-brick pavement and a sign pointing to a car park and "all routes".
Change UK’s “battle bus”

Third, this was a woeful result for Change UK. They did not get a single MEP elected; they gained 3.4% of the vote nationwide, only slightly more than the rump of UKIP and slightly less than that of the SNP which only operates in Scotland. In Lambeth, in which lies the seat of one of its founders, Chuka Ummuna, they came fifth with just 8.1% of the vote; in South Cambridgeshire, which includes the constituency of their MP Heidi Allen, they came fifth with 7.1% of the vote. In many places they came 6th or 7th behind the rump UKIP. The newness of Change UK should not be an excuse given the success of the Brexit Party which is also very new and has no MPs. Their shambolic campaign may have had a lot of bearing on this, including a logo they could not register and a “battle bus” with a ‘livery’ looking like a few slogans typed into a word processor, but really the reason was that despite much media hype, they failed to inspire, coming over as a collection of ex-Labour backstabbers and some old Tories who had always supported the austerity that fed the Brexit vote. Despite having cited the anti-Semitism issue in the Labour party as a reason for leaving, they became embroiled in a race row in their first week of existence and again when nominating candidates for the European elections, so they failed to inspire on that issue and a few of them come across as unprincipled or as having a sense of entitlement to the leadership (or dominance) of the Labour Party. I predict that many of their MPs will join the Lib Dems although some might drift back to Labour, depending on who is strongest in their local area.

Fourth, the Brexit Party’s dominance across England and Wales, in both Labour and Tory areas, is a worrying prospect for any general election in the near future and the Tories’ poor showing (they came fifth, with 9.1% of the vote, down from 15% in 2014, with only four MEPs, down from 19 previously) would act as a deterrent to them holding another general election this year. If, and it is a very big if, they find people to stand as MPs in a parliamentary election, they could take a very large number of seats on the basis of a percentage of the vote in the low 30s (or even less than 30%, as in Leeds, Bradford and Wirral, or 21.2% as in Cardiff) while other candidates have 15-20% of the vote or even slightly less than them who all oppose leaving or support a second referendum. This must not be allowed to happen; if this state of affairs persists, at least the next parliamentary election must be held using a preferential voting system so that nobody can win a seat when they are rejected by two thirds, or more, of voters.

A map showing the percentage of the vote received by the Labour Party in each district. Shades of red represent 0-10%, 10-20%, 20-30% and 30%+.
A graph showing Labour’s share of the vote in each district. Source: BBC

This has prompted Jeremy Corbyn and his close ally and shadow chancellor John McDonnell to endorse holding another referendum; their failure to do this saw votes lost in huge numbers to the Greens and Lib Dems (although they came third and lost fewer votes than the Tories) because people who opposed leaving the EU did not want a repeat of the 2017 election in which their votes were later presented by the prime minister as an endorsement of “respecting the referendum result” (even if this was a lie; many Labour MPs are openly against leaving), but it may well have come too late as the Tories are unlikely to hold a general election just after losing most of their MEPs to the Brexit Party. Again, we see the cultishness of Corbyn’s supporters on social media singing about how his judgement has been proven right time and again, with the usual bad habits of mistaking a lesser loss (than the Tories’) for a victory, which this most certainly was not. The party is now facing a statutory investigation for anti-Semitism, most of which I remain highly sceptical about (Simon Maginn has a piece on Medium about the absurd nature of some of the claims and the atmosphere of persecution that has ensued), but a general election defeat followed by major losses in two mid-term elections against a failing Tory government really should persuade the leadership to change their direction or the membership to think again about Corbyn’s leadership. It is quite clear that they are not pleasing anyone with their current stance, either Leave voters in the provinces or Remain voters in the cities. They polled more than 50% in only one district (Newham in east London); the majority of their wins, like the Brexit Party’s, were on much less than 40% of the vote. They need to stop blaming voters and start looking at their own policies and leadership.

However, they also need to beware of “compromise Leavers” on the party’s Right. For example, Stephen Kinnock was seen on BBC TV on Sunday night and claimed that the result gave a mandate for a soft Brexit, of “moving house, but staying in the neighbourhood”. The ‘neighbourhood’ consists of EFTA, membership of which (if we were even allowed to join, which is doubtful as Norway regards Britain as a potential source of discord) would mean accepting the Four Freedoms, including freedom of movement by people, which has been deemed the cause of the Brexit vote. The alternatives are economic isolation, at least for the first several months after we leave.

I live in the London region and voted Green, and I’m satisfied that we got a Green MEP elected. They are pro-EU, generally progressive, anti-racist and, of course, in support of measures to protect the environment at a time when we are at a critical juncture as regards global warming. I cannot remember how I voted in previous European elections but I have voted Liberal Democrat in Parliamentary elections since moving to this area where Labour are a distant third; however, their enabling of Tory austerity has meant holding one’s nose, so to speak, when voting for them since 2015 and so it was good to have an alternative. I have no qualms in saying that my vote had to be for an anti-Brexit party and one with no truck with Islamophobia (which ruled out Change UK which had Nora Mulready on its list of candidates for London) and which was free of association with austerity. I would have voted Labour if its position on Brexit or at least a second referendum had been clear; it was not. Brexit is really the biggest issue facing us now; any Brexit that leaves us outside the Single Market will cost jobs, narrow everyone’s horizons, destroy the health service and potentially lead to civil unrest as the cost of imported fresh food (which is an awful lot of our food) skyrockets or the food itself fails to materialise, and all the genuine grievances which contributed to the vote to leave can be addressed without leaving; they are all matters of British, not EU, policy.

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