Are the major parties in trouble?
With the aftermath of the local elections being followed swiftly by the upcoming European Parliament elections, not to mention the continuous talk of referendums and general elections this year, the major parties look to be struggling to consolidate their strength, in particular the Conservatives. Let’s look at their numbers and their prospects in elections of the past and the future. Could they be in trouble?
It was a rough night for the major parties of Westminster last week as the results of the local elections showed losses for both the Conservative and Labour parties. The Conservatives in particular had a dreadful time, having lost over 1,300 councillors. Labour suffered fewer losses but nevertheless their expectations of making gains were soon dashed. Meanwhile, smaller parties enjoyed success across the board, with the Green Party expanding its number of councillors by 194. Independent councillors also increased in number by over 600. But it was the Liberal Democrats that had the biggest success, gaining over 700 seats.
The European Parliament elections are quickly approaching, with the vote scheduled for the 23rdof May later this month. Whilst we do not have the results to go on, we have pollsto judge the mood of the country at the moment – and it has mixed feelings about the mainstream parties in general, not just the major parties. At the moment, Labour is in a close fight for the lead with the newly-established Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, with both parties hovering between 25% and 30%.The Conservatives have little to be positive about as their vote has collapsed in recent months in favour of the Brexit Party, with their polling being as low as the mid-teens. For Labour then, they are enjoying good support, likely because of their more ambivalent position on Brexit compared to the Conservatives and smaller parties. The trouble appears to come mainly from the Brexit Party, as pro-EU parties are having a more sobering experience in European polls, with the Liberal Democrats leading the pack with just over 10%.
Overall, it seems that the Conservatives will be the ones looking away out of embarrassment as their support will possibly collapse to low numbers not seen before. Labour appear to be in a stronger position than them, but the Brexit Party might just upset both by taking the majority of seats, or at least the vote share, in the upcoming election. A sobering result for both parties when reflecting on their respective positions on Brexit.
It might seem rather biased to be speaking so negatively about the Conservatives, but there genuinely is not much to speak positively about. And the same applies to the latest polls for them in a general election. Since early April, Labour have enjoyed strong leads, as much as ten points, in the polls. Whilst every poll has differing methods, samples, and even political biases, at the moment they are speaking the same message in general – the Conservatives are losing, badly. And Labour are winning. But the majority result of the election is not the only thing to focus on. Indeed, with Change UK and the Brexit Party likely to field candidates, there could be an upset in some regard in an election, whether it be later this year, next year, or the scheduled election in 2022. Theresa May is being hounded regularly to give a specific date of her resignation by her colleagues, while Jeremy Corbyn continues to steer the Labour Party into ambivalent waters as it debates its definitive position on Brexit whilst also trying to get its other policies out to the nation. This allows the smaller parties to take a more important role. The SNP may also be able to capitalise on divisions within the major parties and take back Scotland in its entirety, thus strengthening their hand in their ultimate wishes to have a second referendum on Scottish independence. The electoral system of First Past the Post may just be able to save the major parties from a serious challenge for No. 10, but it does not mean they shouldn’t listen to the voices from other parties, especially emerging parties like Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Results like these raise questions over where exactly the political mood is drifting as talk of referendums and general elections grows ever-louder. And with the European Parliament elections fast approaching, the Conservative and Labour parties could be set for a rude awakening with regards to their popularity. But are the major parties really in trouble? Or are these superficial results? And will the major parties be forced to change the policies and the messages given the threats posed by pro and anti-EU parties in recent months?
In my view, the Conservatives are definitely in trouble. Their internal divisions, combined with the mess of Brexit negotiations have caused a significant loss of faith amongst much of the electorate. And much of that support will likely disappear in the European elections as it did with the local elections. That could very well force an immediate change of leadership, with Theresa May already looking to get out of the door under pressure from her colleagues.
Labour are not really in trouble, but their position on Brexit has been a mixture of a gift and a curse. The ambivalence allows them to entice those who want a second referendum but also want the original result to be honoured. But those who want clearer distinctions between leaving and staying grow frustrated with the mixed messages coming from the Labour leadership. They are walking a fine line, but it may just be enough to succeed in upcoming elections, despite losses in the local elections.
The threat of the Brexit Party is real and must not be underestimated. Nigel Farage is a skilled operator who is able to assemble a lot of support on Brexit, just as he did in 2016. He will likely enjoy big success in the European election at the expense of the Conservatives in particular. Whether or not he will enjoy any further success is debatable, but he remains a big problem and big trouble for all other parties.
The pro-EU parties remain divided and lack co-operation, but the frustration over Brexit has led to significant support for them. If they are able to coordinate together, perhaps even merge, then they should be regarded with just as much threat to the major parties as the Brexit Party. Overall, it is no doubt a turbulent time for the major parties, and it does not appear to be letting up anytime soon.