EU Election Slaughter - A sign of things to come?
With the Spin Rooms now empty, our Spin-Free analyst, Naomi Ferguson takes a deep dive into what we can learn, if anything, from the recent EU Parliamentary Elections.
As polls closed on evening of Thursday 23rd May the forecast for the ‘big two’ was bleak. Many in the political sphere felt a dark cloud looming over head. As if the week wasn’t dramatic enough with the resignation of Britain’s second female Prime Minister, Theresa May, the two main parties then walked into a slaughter at the polling stations that could be a sign of the storm to come.
With the very real threat of a General Election ahead, the European elections demonstrated the very real presence of political apathy within the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The Brexit Party powered ahead gaining 29 MEPs with 5,248,533 votes, whilst Labour and Conservative both lost representatives in European Parliament. Further demonstrating a shift away from the two mainstream political parties and a growing disinterest in politics. The parties can’t hide from the hit they both suffered when the results came in overnight on Sunday; most notably the Conservative party recorded their worst ever result in a national election since the party’s formation in 1834. So where do we go from here? Is it a sign of things to come? Or a warning shot across the bow of the ‘big two’ that a storm awaits ahead?
However it can be easy to read too much into the EU elections, with a voter turnout of only 36.9% across the 373 counts held in the UK, the EU elections were much more poorly attended than the EU Referendum held in 2016 which had attracted a large turnout of 72.2%. It is hard therefore to draw the conclusion that large numbers of the public have changed their minds on Brexit. Similarly, European elections are about Europe and little else, traditionally Europe has not been the deciding factor at a General Election ballot box, but could Brexit change that? Nevertheless both camps are pushing to argue the results are a success for them. The case for Leave is clear, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party winning a major victory just 45 days after its formation. On the other hand, the Remain side argue that a narrow pro-remain lead is created when factoring in Labour and Conservative votes. Leaving the winner unclear and the message cloudy.
But can we use the European elections as a reliable yardstick for voter intentions in a General? In 2014 we saw the boom of UKIP, however in the 2015 General Election UKIP failed to secure a single seat and David Cameron managed to achieve Conservative victory in the form of a majority of 12. So could it not be the case that last weeks election was a protest vote to send a message to our Westminster politicians? The message? The British public want a resolution to Brexit.
Another character defining the rise of UKIP and the rise of the Brexit party is Nigel Farage and the cult of personality that exists around him. The use of mass media, spectacle, patriotism and demonstrations to create an idealised, inspiring, almost heroic image of the man that leads the party are indeed defining characteristics of a cult of personality. The spotlight effect allows Farage to set the agenda and influence those at the top. Without himself being elected, we have seen him set the agenda and lead the British people through chaos of his making, chaos in the shape of an EU Referendum imposed by a minority of the political sphere, chaos in the shape of an early General Election and now chaos at a time when the United Kingdom needs unity, chaos when we are trying to leave the European Union and instead voting in European Elections. Is his formation of a new party not further validation of his aspiration to attain a cult of personality?
The second European elections in the UK became inevitable the defining issue became clear: Brexit. The British people took to the polling stations to have their voices heard on the most polarising issues in recent politics and the results came in kicking and screaming. So now we begin to navigate the route through the muddied waters and attempt to weather the storm.
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