European Elections: Thoughts and Lessons
With the European Parliament elections now over, it is time to reflect on the lessons it has taught us.
Though of course, it is important to stress that these elections are not sweeping indicators of how well parties will do domestically, it is nevertheless something to pay attention to, especially given the demise of the major parties’ support this time around. Many parties achieved significant success, while others achieved next to nothing. So, what do these elections mean for future elections and party performances?
Do not underestimate ‘Leave’ support
The Brexit Party have achieved something remarkable in this election. Having formed just six months ago, the party has quickly ascended into the role of the defender of Brexit. It has secured the support of over 100,000 members, and it has become the largest UK party in the European Parliament with 29 seats to its name, dislodging the major parties from the top-step. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has once again become a leading force in British politics by rallying supporters of Brexit and echoing calls for the process to be finished. Regardless of political views and biases, we should not underestimate the opposition. Nigel Farage is a calculated individual and he now has the Brexit Party in his grasp, and will no doubt be using it as a Trojan-horse to ferry himself into the chaos that now befalls our political climate.
Comparisons with UKIP can be made, but I think this party is more unique in that it was formed only a few months ago but has achieved nearly as much success as what UKIP managed in over a decade. I think the Brexit Party could achieve more than UKIP, the European Elections demonstrated that. It has also demonstrated that Brexit still has a large following; however, do not assume that just because Brexit negotiations have been derailed, the support for it is derailed too.
If a referendum is to be called again, Remain must get rid of the arrogant attitude it showed in 2016 and call for reforms to resolve some of the legitimate problems the EU has, such as the lack of transparency amongst the executive branches of the bloc like the Commission.
Labour is stuck between a rock and a hard place
Labour is a frustrating party sometimes. On some occasions, they look potent and sharp, ready to become the next government at any moment’s notice under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, a leader that promises a sweeping change to bring important sectors back into national ownership and to give the working class a refreshed and better position in modern British society.
Other times, however, the party seems to be at breaking point. Anti-Semitism continues to be a problem that must be tackled, controversy also emerged over the expulsion of Alastair Campbell, while the party’s official Brexit stance remains ambiguous. Popularity towards Labour’s Brexit position has been a problem, as shown in the European Elections where they came third behind the Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats; both parties represent strong and unified positions on the issue respectively. Jeremy Corbyn’s noticeable absence in making strong statements on Brexit has led several of his leading Cabinet members to speak out themselves, with the likes of Sir Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry, and even Tom Watson now calling for Labour to campaign for a second referendum and Remain.
But it is also important to note that Labour has divided support on Brexit; many of its traditional voters voted for Brexit in 2016 and many would do so again. So, it is difficult to judge at the moment where Labour really should go, and whose support it is most willing to lose. If the party campaigns to Remain, it will almost certainly drain the Liberal Democrats of support due to its stronger position in the electoral system and condemn Change UK to the history books but it would lose support to a threatening Brexit Party- a party whose support continues to grow anyway. If Labour’s position remains ambiguous, it could lose support on both sides.
The European Elections showed that Labour is not making many friends with its confusing position on Brexit; choices have to be made on where they stands soon in order to become the next government.
It makes or break for the Tories
As if their fortunes could not get any worse, the Conservative Party endured a terrible night during the European Elections, having finished fifth behind the Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and the Green Party.
After already suffering defeats in the local elections earlier this year, and now have to deal with infighting amongst leadership candidates in light of Theresa May’s imminent resignation, the party looks to be on the verge of collapse. Its future success will depend on who becomes its next leader. Boris Johnson is the clear favourite at the moment to succeed Theresa May and will attempt to attract supporters of the Brexit Party by promising Brexit will be completed in October, deal or no deal. But let’s not forget some of his controversies, many of which featured in his terrible tenure as the foreign secretary, most notably his remarks regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment in Iran that may have been worsened because of his actions. If Johnson were to become Prime Minister, he would lead the party and the country down a path of self-destruction.
Though Johnson’s tenure might just be what Labour needs to take advantage of a chaotic Tory Party, potentially led by a man whose middle name at this point should be ‘controversy’ or ‘blunder’, and ensure their rise to power. Other figures like Rory Stewart might stand a chance, but their stances on Brexit will decide the party’s future for the next ten years at least. The government appears to be in chaos, as does the party. They need someone to save them from results like the European Elections, but their saviour remains unknown at this time – it seems. They need to say something unique other than ‘we will deliver Brexit’ or ‘we are the only ones to stop Jeremy Corbyn’. The party needs serious change if it wants to survive.
Overall, the European Elections are something to think about but not to use exclusively as a means to judge future elections and party performances. The Leave vote continues to have strong support, while Labour’s ambivalent position on Brexit may just cost them a future position in government. The Tories’ internal divisions leave them in a total shambles, and their future success seems rather limited. However, the great thing about politics is that everything can quickly change. These elections reflect the turbulence of British politics, and as usual, Brexit is the catalyst for it.