Monday, June 14, 2004
The Way Forward

It is now clear that the European elections cannot be examined without reference to the local and metropolitan elections that were conducted at the same time. The Labour Party provided some imaginative wheezes, hoping that the increased turnout, would soften the blow of the protest vote that they expected. Instead, they will be looking very closely at the effects of linking two or more elections. This linkage was one of the main reasons why the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) polled more votes. Since voters had already expended one vote on national issues, a significant proportion were able to assess the European elections on a European basis.

The long-lasting irony of this result is that the European elections in Britain were probably decided by voters who cast their votes on what they thought of the European Union rather than as a protest against their own national parties. Hence, the upsurge in UKIP's support. However, the election was also structured by a more traditional protest vote which helped UKIP and led to an increase in support for the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst UKIP has the initials, it remains a party of England, rather than of the Celtic fringe. Nationalist parties slumped in Scotland and Wales but UKIP does not appear to have made inroads into the quiet Tory resurgence that is reviving the party in these countries. More telling of UKIP's radicalism is the presence of a party organisation in Northern Ireland, although they still polled less than the Progressive Unionist Party at 2.9%. (Note that the BBC does not publicise the name of their candidate). At least, they are not observing the redundant conventions of the major parties that deny Northern Irish voters the opportunity to vote Labour or Tory, although you could call that a blessing.

Therefore, UKIP, the party of disaffection and rejection, follows in geography and vote, the Tory core, notwithstanding its ability to hoover up Eurosceptic votes from other parties. This model is Howard's greatest challenge in the run-up to the next election. The UKIP vote is a warning that the Tory grassroots remain far more Eurosceptic than the Parliamentary Party. Yet, Howard and his strategy of triangulation, is the only game in town. A rejectionist manifesto would demonstrate that the Tory leadership is weak, that the party remains vulnerable to a faction, and that its divisions had not been healed. Floating voters shy away from a divided party, and a lurch in a Eurosceptic direction, would jeopardise the Tory revival.

UKIP also faces a number of unpalatable outcomes. The party leadership know that they will not achieve a similar breakthrough in votes at the general election. However, if they run against the Conservatives, they may provide the same role as the Referendum Party did in 1997, guaranteeing another Labour majority.

Both parties should assess the outcome of these elections very carefully. In 1997, tactical voting, aided by an informal understanding between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, magnified the "anyone but the Tories" reaction. The local elections appear to indicate that a similar phenomenon is taking shape, but that the boot is kicking Labour. If history is a guide, both parties should take to heart the lessons of the last two general elections and strive to come to an informal understanding on tactical voting that will achieve the primary precondition for any Eurosceptic political action: removing the Blair administration at the next general election.

(22.40, 14th June 2004)

Update: IOU

Mea Culpa. Saw UKUP as UKIP. Cock-up on the old glasses front.


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