The music has stopped and we’ve all got off the Euro dance floor. The ’kippers are smokin’, the Tories are blue, Labour isn’t quite working and the future isn’t bright for Lib Dem orange. But what does it all mean?
It is, clearly, a good result for UKIP, at least as far as the European elections are concerned – although I bet Nigel Farage is looking enviously across the Channel to where the French Front National has stolen a lot of his thunder and left him with some awkward decisions to make. But, apart from UKIP, who are the winners and losers?
One of the most notable things about the results in the UK is that no party other than UKIP has really succeeded. But, on the other hand, only the BNP and the Lib Dems can be said to have failed.
The Greens have gained an MEP despite a small drop in their share of the total vote, while Plaid Cymru and the SNP have effectively trod water. Labour has posted solid gains, something which would have been a very good result were it not for two things: UKIP did even better and Labour didn’t beat the Conservatives by a big enough margin to be worth crowing over.
Everybody else lost ground. The BNP were wiped out, the Lib Dems came close to it and the Conservatives came third in what turned out to be a surprisingly tight race between the top three parties. But at this stage in the electoral cycle you would expect the incumbent party to suffer, particularly given that Labour was starting from a very low base and was always going to pick up more votes. A drop from 27.7% of the vote to 23.9% would not normally be seen as a disaster – under normal circumstances, a close second to an insurgent mid-term challenger would be a good defensive position. But UKIP’s win changes that.
But I’m just repeating here what you can already read in the media. Is there anything else we can draw from the results?
One of the things that hasn’t been commented on elsewhere, as far as I can see, is that the total share of the vote gained by the Conservatives and Labour combined actually went up. The Lib Dem meltdown almost certainly contributed a lot to that, as many of their former votes will have gone to Labour. But there’s more to it than that.
Percentage vote share is a zero-sum game. If there are only two parties, and one gets 60% of the vote, then the other must get 40%. If one party gains 5 percentage points, then the other must lose 5. It gets more complex, of course, with more parties, but the basic principle remains the same: gains and losses always balance out.
In this case, only two parties gained significantly: Labour and UKIP. So those gains must have come from other parties. But where?
It’s tempting to say that UKIP gained mostly from the Conservatives. But they clearly didn’t. UKIP were up by 11 percentage points, with the Conservatives down by just 3.7. Equally, Labour gained 9.7 percentage points, but that can’t all have come from the Lib Dems’ loss of 6.8. With the Greens and Celtic nationalist parties holding steady, those gains must have come at least partly from elsewhere.
I’m speculating here, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of the lost Lib Dem votes went to Labour, while the lost Conservative votes were split between UKIP and Labour (remember that not all Conservatives are committed to the centre-right; a fair number of them are floating voters who will vote Labour or Conservative as the mood takes them). That accounts, pretty much, for Labour’s gains, allowing for the inevitable fuzziness caused by some people switching one way at the same time as others switched in the opposite direction. But it doesn’t explain UKIP.
So where did UKIP’s votes come from? Remember, they made gains of 11 percentage points, and only a relatively small proportion of those will have come from the Conservatives. But who else lost votes?
The three biggest losers in this year’s European elections were, in order, the Lib Dems, the BNP and “other”. I’ve already made the assumption that most of the lost Lib Dem votes went to Labour, and the electoral maths supports that assumption. Which leaves the other two. In total, the BNP and the other fringe parties lost 9.6 percentage points of the vote share.
The mainstream parties probably got a bit of that. But the figures suggest that the vast majority of it went to UKIP. Which, together with a smallish number of defectors from the Conservatives to UKIP, gave them an 11 point gain and the top of the poll.
What that means is that UKIP are not making major inroads into the core support of the mainstream parties. Instead, they are hoovering up protest votes that previously went to other fringe parties. In particular, they have almost certainly benefitted from the collapse of the BNP vote.
That isn’t particularly good news for UKIP. It means that, far from being an unstoppable bandwagon, their support may well have peaked. In the council elections that was also apparent, with their projected national share of the vote being down from 2013. I’m willing to stick my neck out and predict that UKIP won’t win the Newark by-election, even though they did well in the nearest equivalent European count district. And I’m also willing to predict that they will find things a lot harder come next year’s general election. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
Anyway, that’s enough politics. For the benefit of anyone who started at the title and was disappointed by the rest, here’s some classic Euro dance. Enjoy.