The European elections were bound to ruffle some feathers and this year, and indeed we have not been disappointed. The results have confirmed our predictions of a UKIP victory; a political earthquake that Nigel Farage has been dreaming up for some time. But what does this mean for the parties ahead of the general election next year?
Let’s start with fifth place. In 2009 the Liberal Democrats finished one place higher in fourth. Building on some relative successes in the election they managed to cumulate an effective general election campaign and install themselves as a strong third force in British politics. 23%- the figure acquired in 2010- must seem a distant dream for Clegg and co. this year however. Their European vote share halved last night, from 13.4% to 6.7%, leaving the party with only one MEP left standing. With a similar situation likely to occur at next year’s general election, the party will do well not to regress into meltdown. The future appears bleak for the Yellow side of Westminster.
The Greens gained an additional MEP in the UK, leaving it with a total of three, and around 7.8% of the vote. Though it could have won in other areas, at least a gain is a gain. This will help confidence ahead of the next election as the party continues to emerge as a viable political force with a refreshing ideological image. Can this sustain? They do have one seat in the Commons but, like UKIP, it may not be so easy to convert support into seats. Either way, fourth is a position the Greens will take.
An interesting fact from the election is that it is the first time ever that the Tories have come third in a national election. Considering they came top in 2009, one would expect this to be a grave disappointment for the Conservatives, but context is the key in assessing their campaign. 2009 was the lowest ebb for Labour, and the Tories won many seats with relative ease. Now, this time around, UKIP has sizeably grown as a political force and, as expected, Labour has naturally bounced back through its time in opposition. As such, polling at 24% and acquiring only one fewer MEP as Labour will be seen as a good performance, even though there is hard work still to be done in order to win back voters from UKIP. Not a bad position to be in with the economy recovering and an election just around the corner.
I would imagine there was a mixture of jubilation and disappointment in the Labour camp last night and this morning. Jubilation at coming second this year, with a net gain of 7 seats, however, some anger at not being able to top the poll and failing to genuinely challenge UKIP. Indeed, there may be some worry for Labour as UKIP starts to edge its way up North. A few gains in areas such as Sunderland are not a major cause for worry, however, if this trend persists, UKIP could be challenging very closely Labour safe and marginal seats. One notable result was in Miliband’s own stomping ground of Doncaster, where Labour was knocked to second place behind UKIP. Labour must not take UKIP too lightly, and assume its rise is only the concern of the Conservatives. Such an attitude may just come back to bite them.
And finally, the top dog; the new Real Madrid of British politics; the cream that rose to the top – UKIP. UKIP gained 11 additional seats in the European Parliament and like other right-wing parties across Europe, sent shivers down the spines of national leaders. UKIP has started to steal votes off all parties and if it can convert votes to seats in the UK Parliament, the party may take a sizeable chunk of seats in 2015. UKIP represent far more than an anti-EU vote – they represent the mood of the public which has been neglected for so long under the main party system. In all regards, the way UKIP conducts its politics makes the party stand out above the sound bite politics of recent times. The big fear, however, is sustainability. UKIP’s position in the top four of British politics is now more or less given, however, is UKIP – ‘the people’s movement against the establishment’- going to begin becoming part of the establishment? And, if they secure EU withdrawal, is it goodnight for the party? The fact that these questions remain unanswered suggests that UKIP still has some way to go before it can be guaranteed as a fixed fitting in British politics. But, in the short term, an impressive result has left Farage laughing all the way to the pub.
In a rather positive after note, it seems as though the BNP is rapidly on its way to collapsing as a British electoral force. The party’s leader Nick Griffin lost his seat in the European Parliament, and UKIP seemed to be the main beneficiaries of the party’s vote collapse.
All in all, a momentous victory for UKIP. Although standing on a hastily constructed platform, UKIP is riding the crest of a significant political wave at the moment, and gaining momentum they hope will be converted into parliamentary seats next year. As for the political ‘establishment’, they will be anxious to quell any threat from Farage before it damages their chances of a majority. Although I expect Ed Miliband will be the one facing the most anxious phone calls as his party reflects on its performance over the coming days.
By Sam Kenward