Conservative, crisis, debt, Ed Miliband, elections, euro-sceptic, Europe, eurozone, Graham Stringer, Labour, Left, Liberal Democrat, MEP, National Front, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Poland, politics, polls, resignation, Strasbourg, UK, UKIP
If the English local elections last week were a worry to mainstream political parties in the UK, the results of the European elections held the same day across Britain have led to blind panic. Very blind in fact as I shall contend here.
There are those baiting for blood. Some Lib Dem council candidates and a handful of their Westminster MPs are now calling on leader and deputy premier Nick Clegg to resign – which could stress prospects of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition lasting its five-year course. Moreover, a leaked survey at the weekend even suggested Clegg might lose his Sheffield constituency at the 2015 General Election. The Lib Dems were routed in both the local and European polls last Thursday.
Meanwhile, Labour, although doing well in London local elections, has also had time for soul-searching. Ardent leadership critic Graham Stringer MP, has gone on record to accuse party leader Ed Miliband of orchestrating “an unforgivably unprofessional campaign”. He repeated his claims, first made on May 23, in television interviews on Tuesday, saying that Labour needed to look again at its campaign strategy.
But what about UK Independence Party? Following two weeks of unrelenting and unforgiving negative media before the May 22 polls, where it was accused of racism and party corruption, not helped by inflammatory remarks from some of its election candidates, the euro-sceptic party has gone on to do well in local elections despite winning no councils, and was the runaway winner of the Euro poll.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has managed to wear his Cheshire cat grin all weekend in the knowledge that he has amassed a party faithful made up of all social classes and from across all races to deflect negative claims about his party while getting his message over to a disgruntled populace growing increasingly intolerant to immigration.
For sure, the straight-talking UKIP leader has much to learn about restraining his candidates rather than being unapologetic in praising his free-thinking, plain-talking party. There is a reason why the mainstream have not adopted that approach even if for now it reaps electoral awards for UKIP.
Certainly, that ensured that both UK coalition partners lost heavily in the Euro poll and only the official Opposition Labour won a net 7 seats alongside the landslide for UKIP.
But the election results at the weekend say more about Europe than any “by design” successes Mr Farage may like to take credit for. The lurch to Euro-sceptism has been felt right across the 28 nations taking part in the Euro elections as Europe had its first comprehensive opportunity to reply to the huge debt crisis which engulfed the euro zone after 2009.
While for the UK, it was a shock result which saw UKIP seize 11 MEP seats to take its tally to 24 – more than either Labour (20) or Conservatives (19) and the pro-European party Liberal Democrats lose 10 to one solitary seat – right across Europe there was a protest at the enormous bailout of a handful of “peripheral” eurozone countries which failed to protect those handing out the cash from falling into economic recession themselves.
The pulse of resentment to the eurozone project was even felt in one of the heartlands of the EU – France – where the National Front was the poll topper.
Countries with large votes in Europe, such as fifth-placed Poland – have also demonstrated a strong euro-sceptic stance in the latest Euro election. They are also members of the UK-inspired euro-sceptic European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group.
So who were the winners at the weekend? Largely parties who are euro-sceptic. The Left camp is broadly against closer EU integration and gained 10 seats to 45. The ECR lost 11 seats to 45, but mostly at the expense of gains by the Europe of Freedom & Democracy (EFD) group which gained 11 to 40 and includes parties like UKIP. “Other” are a kind of “reject” group whose members are not welcomed in the other Strasbourg camps, but they include the likes of the victorious French National Front. Other gained more than anyone – 84 seats to 113.
The BBC website offered a useful graphic to seeing how the camp distribution stands after the May Euro election. Click here.
If you loosely lump those for and against EU integration into two broad camps, you will find that the pro-European Socialists, Greens, Liberals and the Conservative-leaning EPP still hold 508 seats. Pitted against them are ECR, EFD and Others who at best can rely on 243 seats.
At its simplest, politics is a numbers game. Majorities dominate public policy. Minorities are lucky to be heard. So, while the euro-sceptics have increased their footprint and media publicity, they can at best only slow down debates. They cannot hold back Europe – at this stage at least.