Euro elections ’09: the LDV verdict

by Stephen Tall on June 8, 2009

Hmm, so what to make of all that, then? Here’s the headline results (comparison with 2004 results in brackets):

Conservatives: 27.7 % (+1.0%), 25 MEPs (+1)
UK Independence Party: 16.5% (+0.3%), 13 MEPs (+1)
Labour: 15.7% (-6.9%), 13 MEPs (-5)
Liberal Democrats: 13.7% (-1.2%), 11 MEPs (+1)
Greens: 8.6% (+2.4%), 2 MEPs (0)
British National Party 6.2% (+1.3%), 2 MEPs (+2)
SNP: 2.1% (+0.7%), 2 MEPs (n/c)
Plaid Cymru: 0.8% (-0.1%), 1 MEP (n/c)
Others: 8.2%

In a sense, the Euro results show the reverse for the Lib Dems of what happened in the English local elections held on the same day: while in the locals, the party polled a terrific share of the vote (28%) but lost seats (-1 currently, according to the BBC); in the Euros the party polled a pretty poor share of the vote (14%) but has made a notional gain of 1 seat.

In truth, this was a pretty dismal showing for each of the three main parties, most obviously for Labour.

The Tories have edged up by just 1.2% compared with their performance under Michael Howard in 2004. The notable successes that they have had, such as topping the poll in Wales, are not the result of voters switching from Labour to Tory, but simply a consequence of treading water while the Labour party drowns. The Tories should be especially disappointed given the Euros took place on the same day as the English local elections in many safe Tory shire districts – they could not have wished for better electoral circumstances, yet the result sees them more or less unchanged. For all their attempts to sound bullish in public this morning, Tory campaign HQ will be looking at these results with furrowed brow.

The Lib Dem result is, without doubt, a disappointment. Only a few weeks ago, Nick Clegg was talking up our chances of finishing second, pushing Labour into third. The reality is Labour has pipped us into fourth place, exactly where we were last time. More depressingly, our vote share is down from 15% to just under 14%. The one seat the party gained in the East Midlands was the result of the post-Kilroy Silk collapse of Ukip in that region. Despite the collapse of the Labour vote, the Lib Dems failed to advance, with the spoils being split between Ukip, the Greens, BNP and sundry others.

Why should this be? Well, the national Euro debate was scarcely about Europe (though the Lib Dems did focus on the issues in our campaign literature and election broadcasts). Perhaps if that national debate had focused on the substance of UK membership (rather than MP expenses), the Lib Dems would have been better able to press our claim to pick up the liberal, progressive parts of the Labour vote which seem to have been hoovered up by the Greens. Perhaps if the Lib Dems had opted to press for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty last year, we would have been able to focus public attention on the ways in which we positively support British membership of a reformed European Union. Or perhaps we should accept these elections were simply not about us – they were about the British people giving mainstream politicians of all parties a kicking.

In any case, it will be interesting to see the more detailed results breakdown to see if the Lib Dems topped the poll in target seats – as we did, for example, in Newcastle and Watford.

For Labour the results are dire, truly dire. If anyone had suggested in 2004, that five years later their support would fall by 7%, few would have believed it. Yet Labour seems content to sleep-walk towards next year’s electoral disaster with Gordon Brown as leader. Some might regard this as commendable loyalty; most will see it for the deferential fatalism it in fact is.

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LD leaflets around here were about Europe. Maybe we have to accept that a lot of people like using Euro elections to give politicians a good kicking.

And I repeat my comment from the last thread: if we had transferable votes, the BNP would not have been elected in either NW or Y&H. Labour areas are voting BNP, Labour picked the voting system, and it seems to me that the Labour should hang its head in shame.

by tim leunig on June 8, 2009 at 10:17 am. Reply #

Actually, given that 1 week out there were polls showing the Green Party ahead of the LDs, the result is potentially a reasonably good one. The “Green surge” failed to materialise, which is good for LDs as it would mostly have come at their cost.

But for the LD collapse to the Tories in Cornwall they would have won a 2nd seat in the south-West.

by MBoy on June 8, 2009 at 10:20 am. Reply #

“Why should this be? Well, the Euro campaign was scarcely about Europe.”

1) We were all told it was going to be
2) The leaflets I saw were pretty much all about “european” issues (or at least issues with a European angle)

by Hywel on June 8, 2009 at 10:28 am. Reply #

Pretty much agreed on everything. This was a dissappointing set of results especially given in the locals we maintained our vote share and in this one we are fractionally down…which makes me think it might have something to do with an issue I have raised on my blog… ie, the Lisbon Treaty

by Darrell on June 8, 2009 at 10:32 am. Reply #

To be clear, I wasn’t talking about the Lib Dem campaign – which did focus a lot on Europe – but on the national campaign via the media etc.

by Stephen Tall on June 8, 2009 at 10:33 am. Reply #

Aside from the question of the Lisbon Treaty (we should have offered a referendum), we ought to have focused above all on reform of the EU, increasing its efficiency and cutting its costs , with one or maybe two key sound-bites from our manifesto. E.g. “Freeze the EU budget”. Given the limited attention span of the electorate for EU issues, there is no space to communicate subtleties. The impression that came across, however erroneous, was that we were fine with the EU to go ahead as it is, with no major changes, which is a million miles from what the electorate wants to hear at present.

by Robert C on June 8, 2009 at 10:54 am. Reply #

“Perhaps if that national debate had focused on the substance of UK membership (rather than MP expenses),”

I’m not suggesting everything in Burnley was perfect and the model for people to follow. But we did run hard on the expenses issue from when the story broke and saw our vote rise and the BNPs fall. I don’t think the two are unrelated.

(I believe we also topped the poll in Kingston where we similarly ran on the issue of expenses according to a letter from Ed posted on here)

by Hywel on June 8, 2009 at 10:57 am. Reply #

The campaign is now admirably pro-European, but not enough populist messages about REFORM.

Also, we could have used topical D-Day to better point out the alternative to what Churchill called ‘jaw-jaw’. The next Euros will be very close to the 70th anniversary, btw. And the 100th anniversary of WW1.

by Terry Gilbert on June 8, 2009 at 10:58 am. Reply #

I would describe our vote as ‘slightly disappointing’ but not ‘dismal’.

We were clearly seen as a ‘main party’ by those wanting to protest but not as the best vehicle to give the Government a kicking either.

What the result does demonstrate is that the debate about ‘how european’ our campaign should be is pointless.

We will have to fight the ‘air war’ in whatever circumstances we are presented with next time. To alrage extent it will be out of our hands.

What we can affect is the ground campaign, and we need to plan the most effective campaign we can so that we are best able to capitalise on whatever the national backdrop is at the time.

We need to look at the council by council results, and compare back to the previous two elections, and identify where and why we get the highest votes.

From the results I have already seen we are likely to see a correlation between those local parties that ran the strongest integrated campaigns on the ground and our highest shares in the European election.

We also need to look at the impact of the pattern of local elections and how this impacted on our results.

And then we need to look ahead to 2014 and work up a plan bsed on how we target our resources most effectively based on this analysis.

I remember Chris Davies arguing at one point that whilst we may have run an excellent ground campaign in some areas it wasn’t enough to make a difference.

Well I’m absolutely convinced that the ground campaign in the South East made the difference to getting Catherine Bearder elected this time.

by Liberal Neil on June 8, 2009 at 10:59 am. Reply #

@Liberal Neil: Yes, the get out the vote operation becomes more important in elections with low turnout. I noticed when I was canvassing in Cambridge that we were only asking about local election voting intention. Why not ask about both at the same time?

We need to use face-to-face campaigning to counteract the media bias against the EU, and to stress the great benefits it has delivered in increasing individual freedom and prosperity.

But as others have commented we also need to be more up front in our criticism of its failings. Why do Lib Dem MEPs vote in favour of passing the accounts when the auditors refuse to sign them off? Why don’t we publicise our good work in reforming the EU more?

Britain is becoming lazily Eurosceptic, so we must fight for our case actively.

by Niklas Smith on June 8, 2009 at 11:15 am. Reply #

The result in the north-east was pretty encouraging, seeing our excellent libdem mep fiona hall being returned, and us scoring nearly 30% across Newcastle, which is surely a good portent for the g/e! I do wonder the extent to which our relative lack of resources and bodies on the ground in some areas (e.g in Wales), in relation even to UKIP, undermines our prospects in region-wide PR elections.

by jim on June 8, 2009 at 11:21 am. Reply #

It’s a pretty rubbish morning to be a Yorkshireman. And for what it’s worth, I’ll add my name to calls to ditch D’Hondt for STV.

by Joe Taylor Condliffe on June 8, 2009 at 11:21 am. Reply #

Someone in last night’s thread commented that we don’t do well in nationwide PR elections. If we want to learn about successful campaigning for these, perhaps we should look to our successful European counterparts? The Free Democratic Party in Germany had an excellent election, for example (they have now overtaken the Lib Dems to become the largest single party contingent in ALDE). The Liberal People’s Party in Sweden also had a successful election, winning a third seat and increasing their vote share to 13.6% (only 0.1% shy of our share currently!).

by Niklas Smith on June 8, 2009 at 11:22 am. Reply #

This isn’t a criticism of you Stephen – because everyone does it. But wouldn’t it be great if everyone starting accurately using “percentage” and “percentage points”?

The BBC say we won 11 seats (and also Nick Clegg said that this morning, correcting John Humphrys who said we won 10 seats).

Given that we had a net gain of one against a background of the UK seat allocation going down, this is a remarkable event – as you so astutely point out a reversal of what happened in the counties.

by Paul Walter on June 8, 2009 at 11:40 am. Reply #

Here we are:

We won a seat apiece in:

E Midlands
East of England
North East
North West
Yorkshire and Humber
West Midlands
South West

and 2 in South East

So that’s 11 – not 10 as you have on your table Stephen!

by Paul Walter on June 8, 2009 at 11:47 am. Reply #

@Paul Walter: Given that we had a net gain of one against a background of the UK seat allocation going down, this is a remarkable event – as you so astutely point out a reversal of what happened in the counties.

Our net gain of one is notional, based on the 2004 results in the current (reduced) constituencies. Compared with our seats in the previous allocation we have lost one (from twelve to eleven). But even if notional it’s still nice!

by Niklas Smith on June 8, 2009 at 11:56 am. Reply #

@Joe Taylor Condliffe: Me too! None of the constituencies are too large for it to work.

by Niklas Smith on June 8, 2009 at 11:57 am. Reply #

It’s official: we’ve kept our seat in Scotland. SNP 2, Labour 2, Conservative 1, Lib Dem 1.

by Niklas Smith on June 8, 2009 at 11:58 am. Reply #

The only parties to increase their vote were the Greens (up 200k, +20%) and the BNP (up 100k, +13%) while all four ‘primary’ parties lost votes to disgust and apathy.

The decrease in LibDem votes (down almost half a million) is humiliating but nothing compared to Labour losing over 40% (over 1.5 million!) of theirs.
(The Conservatives received almost 400k fewer votes and even the UKIP vote fell by 200k.)

For me, this a sign of the electorate’s disenchantment with the parliamentary FPTP party system and it’s perceived endemic corruption.
Isn’t it time for PR to become the primary objective?

by ceedee on June 8, 2009 at 11:59 am. Reply #

I’m afraid I’m always just glad to get the Euros out of the way again!

Partly because we always do badly, and partly because my Eurosceptic Liberal views don’t sit well in the party mainstream.

I’m afraid that on my patch evidence of either an air war or a ground war was difficult to find!

by crewegwyn on June 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm. Reply #

Niklas Smith – thank you

by Paul Walter on June 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm. Reply #

The real story of this election is surely the election of the two notorious Nazis, Griffin and Brons.

What will this do the the reputation of this country, I ask you?

The lion’s share of the blame must surely go to the Labour Party, which has done so little to counteract the growing BNP threat. Liberal Democrats, by contrast, have nothing to be ashamed of. It was Liberal Democrats who stopped the Nazis in their tracks in Lewisham, and it is Liberal Democrats who have pushed them out of Burnley. Labour has simply ignored the problem, and Griffin and Brons are the result.

by Sesenco on June 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm. Reply #

Come on guys – in 2004 we had 15% of the vote – a year later at the GE 22% – our best ever as Lib Dems & gained seats. Being down around 1% – but making progress in former Labour areas & the GE still a year away – its still all to play for.I’m sure we will hold off most of the Tories advance in our seats.
A week is along time in Politics – a year an enternity.
Stay Focused – target & we will do well.

by Greenfield on June 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm. Reply #

At a time when the tectonic plates underpinning the political and economic world that has existed since at least WW2 (and by some measures much longer) we should be winning big time, surfing the wave of the future. Instead we have as Stephen puts it a “pretty dismal” showing. Clearly we have lost the wave and need to do some rapid paddling to catch it.

The problem was encapsulated for me by two clips on the BBC results programme last night. One was a brief interview with Graham Watson, leader of the ALDE group in Brussels. He welcomed the modest increase in the number of liberal MEPs. So what?

The second clip was the brief speech by Daniel Hannan who topped the poll for the Coservatives in the SE. The media has lapped up his adaptation of Dr Seuss into a call for Brown to go. More significant however, was how he explicitly linked rejecting Lisbon to a process of political reform, empowerment and democratisation extending right down to the local grass roots. The point he was making is that there is a continuum from Europe at one end of the spectrum through Westminster to the parish council at the other end. All are deficient democratically-speaking, all need reform.

Now that’s an interesting thought. It’s also very far from the Clegistas position. They are fixated with selling a lipsticked pig.

by Liberal Eye on June 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm. Reply #

It seems the big message of the EU elections, here and elsewhere, is the failure of the left. The biggest failure in market capitalism since the 1930s and the left vote falls?

The moderate left have lost because people forgot it once had criticisms of all this. The BNP has won because it managed to milk sentiments which once would have led to left votes, indeed it can claim to now to be Britain’s most successful socialist party (albeit a national socialist one …). The Greens pick up the middle class pseudo-intellectual left vote.

The far left are such ridiculous people to have failed to get any “see we told you so?” reaction here. One might have understood their priorities in the past few years (i.e. find out what the USA is doing, take the opposite position) had they still been paid by Moscow gold.

And us? We have been piffling around with trifles rather than building a real narrative on what’s gone wrong, why the rich got rich and the poor got poor and it’s jut become a lot worse with no signs of it getting better. We got the vote we deserved here. So did Labour. UKIP and the Conservatives got far more than they deserved. The BNP may be horrible, but they have found a gap and exploited it.

by Matthew Huntbach on June 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm. Reply #

Please note, I’ve updated the election figures to take into account the Scottish results announced this morning. All figures as per the BBC website.

by Stephen Tall on June 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm. Reply #

We hid from expenses in too many areas. I went for it as the main issue in two wards and got a swing of over 6% across the constituency.

by Dominic Hannigan on June 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

I agree that the electoral system needs to be changed. Under D’Hondt there were thousands of wasted votes in each region.

STV would obviously be the best alternative. Howver In Denmark they also use D’Hondt, but the parties are able to enter into electoral pacts so that when it comes to the last seat, the party with most support in each pact gets all the votes in that pact. I doubt that the BNP would have won any seats under that system.

A Danish Social Democrat said that it’s better that a vote for them results in a seat for the Social Liberals than any votes being wasted. If only UK politicians were so enlightened.

by Another Mark on June 8, 2009 at 3:18 pm. Reply #

Yes, STV would be better than the closed list, but not by much. I’m not convinced that the difference between my 8th and 9th preference should make a difference to who gets elected. Better for accountability would be a proper open-list system, where we can vote for a party and/or an individual. Best way of stopping the BNP (apart from slightly smaller constituencies – even in Yorks they got less than 10% of the vote) is to dissuade people from voting for them. Democracy means allowing the people to make disastrously wrong choices, and hoping they/we learn from them.(General experience seems to be that once Bloody Nasty Party candidates are elected as Councillors they don’t get reelected; that will probably be true of their MEPs as well.)

by Malcolm Todd on June 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm. Reply #

Support for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty is a difficult issue. Perhaps we should have supported it with the proviso that it should be interpreted as an IN or OUT vote.

The problem is for the Tories that they will be obliged to offer a referendum on any subsequent treaty and the nature of these treaties is that there is always some compromise that is hard to accept.

The horrible truth is that there is a large anti-EU majority at the moment. Apart from the Liberals only the Greens are clearly supporters of the EU. Labour has done nothing to promote the image of the EU; it has been content to blame the EU for anything unpopular,but claim more popular actions for itself. The argument against withdrawal from the EU has simply not been sufficiently addressed.

The result has been a drift towards a widespread view that the EU does not matter, all it does is waste money and that the UK would be better off outside the EU. The other parties clearly try to use the issue to marginalise the Liberals, but their disengagement with the EU results in the marginalisation of the UK.

by Martin on June 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm. Reply #

Are the Greens clearly supporters of the EU? A recent leaflet I saw had as its first point ‘Keep the pound’ and its second an anti-globalisation statement. OK, so neither of those is necessarily incompatible with being pro-Europe, but the implied sub-text definitely is. In fact, of the six points on the leaflet the BNP could have agreed with 5, and the 6th was ‘There is no planet B’.

by tony hill on June 8, 2009 at 6:30 pm. Reply #

Yes, Tony you are right, ‘keep the pound’ hardly squares with their ‘green’ agenda. Are they, for example, in favour of people crossing the Eire/UK border to get cheaper petrol?

I would imagine that they are in favour of globalising ‘green’ issues; nevertheless as an EU political group, they probably have the strongest pan European identity.

by Martin on June 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm. Reply #

The Greens’ policy statements on the EU are rather confusing are not clearly laid out, but basically they appear to favour a federalist approach.

They’re opposed to the Lisbon Treaty on the grounds that the structures it puts in place are not democratic enough.

However as it’s the only thing on offer at the moment, I think the Treaty is a small step in the right direction and better than the existing situation.

by Another Mark on June 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm. Reply #

I absolutely agree with Matthew Huntbach about the BNP – I heard Nick Clegg dithering around the issue on the Today programme this morning with dismay. His rhetoric on this is no different from the other parties. Someone HAS to face up to the fact that the ‘main’ parties have consistently failed what the media like to label as the ‘white working class’, and that we as a society have to face up to that. In my neighbourhood, a white pensioner is denied a place at a local day centre because it is reserved for Afro-Caribbeean elders – is it any wonder that she feels she is neglected by ‘society’ and ‘the system’? To say this is not racist, elitist or exclusive, it is to recognise that the grievances of some of those who have turned away from the mainstream parties might just be a reaction to the fact that they have been pushed aside for far too long. Who does worst in our state schools – white working class boys. The reduction in social housing is bound to his those communities who have traditionally relied on it as their source of reliable, decent housing. Is it any wonder that people in our communities feel alienated, rejected and frightened about their futures? The BNP are absolutely not their answer – and I was involved in a court case in 2005 when they sued us for libel for leaflets I produced outlining their hideous policies (and they lost!), but we have to get real about people’s grievances and face them head on. There are brave examples of this in isolated places around the country, but, as a party, we pussy-foot around this just as much as Labour and the Tories. I hope we have now learnt our lesson that we can no longer afford to do this.

by Cathy on June 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm. Reply #


Unusually, I thought what Nick Clegg said was spot on.

Maybe you could be a bit more specific about what you mean by “facing people’s grievances”?

When all is said and done the BNP polled less votes than in 2004, and even in percentage terms advanced by only one point.

I am all for addressing people’s legitimate concerns. But I should hate it if the party started to complain about day centres for Afro-Caribbean elders – for example – just to garner a few votes.

by Herbert Brown on June 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm. Reply #

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