As predicted by many commentators and political sources, both Labour and the Conservatives have been dealt hammer blows from the electorate over Brexit at the European elections. The Tories suffered the most with a crushing defeat, failing to even scrape 10% of the poll nationally (less than the Green Party).
The result shows that parties with a clear and unambiguous view on the United Kingdom leaving the EU get the most votes. And as British polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice says, the election result shows the country is more polarised than ever. This is not likely to change in the march towards the deadline of leaving the EU on 31 October.
The Brexit Party romped the elections with 29 MEPs (a 30.5% vote share) almost matching that of Labour (10), the Conservatives (four) and the Liberal Democrats (16) combined. For a political party established only months ago, this is an enormous breakthrough.
The Lib Dems received cause for celebration too by capturing 19.6% of the vote and topping the poll in the London region. Similar to the Brexit Party, their clear message on the issue has paid huge electoral dividends, going from one MEP to 16.
Labour’s post-election misery will continue to focus on its ambiguous position on Brexit considering its MPs and activists are largely in favour of a second ‘confirmatory’ vote on leaving the EU. Another referendum does not tally with Labour voters’ views in heartlands like Rotherham and Doncaster. Top Labour figures, such as Tom Watson, Diane Abbot and John McDonnell, are increasingly concerned by their leaders’ perceived dithering on the issue. They are naturally worried about the rise of the Brexit Party in Labour strongholds if a snap general election were to be called.
Tory MPs will also be very concerned about the possibility of a general election, with the Brexit Party hammering their support in every English region (except London) and Wales. This collective anxiety will provide a another element of drama in the leadership contest for the Conservative Party. Should the vote go to the Tory membership, whoever wishes to make the most compelling case to lead the party will need a strong message on the delivery of Brexit.
Other losers in the MEP elections are UKIP and ChangeUK. In the case of UKIP, the party which won in 2014 now looks barely like a twitching corpse having lost Nigel Farage as a charismatic leader, all of its MEPs and veering sharply to right-wing populism. Just about managing 3.2% of the national vote, plummeting from 26.6% at the last poll, is a total humiliation. ChangeUK is in the same camp, looking like they are not going to change anything anytime soon with a pretty woeful 3.3% vote share.
The debate over Scottish Independence is likely to be a legacy from the result too, in addition to the trauma for Labour and the Conservatives. Labour was wiped out in Scotland by the Scottish National Party. Again, the SNP has a clear and uncompromising view on Brexit and has benefited enormously. The consequences of Labour’s ambiguity hit hard north of the border as well as everywhere else.
A thunderbolt has hit the two major parties. They can put no positive spin on the result. There will be a lot of soul-searching about how to deal with the result and what their true instincts are on Brexit.
However, the lion’s share of angst will be with the Conservatives. They will need a definitive answer to how we leave the EU. Ten Tory MPs have thrown their hat into the ring, more will come. What is sure in these uncertain times is that whoever wins will have a tough job on their hands.
Picture Credit: Gloucestershire Live