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.