Don’t analyse Euro-election too much – “didn’t vote” were the real winners!
- Credit: Archant
There are occasions when I struggle to think of what to write in my column. This is NOT one of those weeks!
The British political landscape is dominated by two elections, European and the Tory leadership. The outcome of these seems certain to leave a country more split, more at conflict with itself than ever before.
The first of these elections was the European poll which political gurus have already spent days analysing after the results were declared on Sunday night/Monday morning.
For me the most important statistic was the turnout, which was not significantly different to that in 2014. Across the UK 36.9% of voters turned out. In the East of England (Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire) 36.5% voted.
That means almost two thirds of voters are not interested enough in Europe as an issue to turn out any vote - but listening to most politicians you'd think it was the ONLY issue worth talking about! Is it really surprising many voters feel disenchanted?
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There's been a lot of number-crunching, adding up the votes across the region and the country to see if Remain or Leave candidates got the most votes.
This is totally meaningless because of the turnout. You can't judge what would happen in another referendum on the basis of 36.5% of the electorate who have selected themselves to take part in the poll.
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What the European election did show is that those that are interested in the subject are as split as ever - and the vast majority are probably even more entrenched in their view than they were on 2016.
I know most Tory Remainer MPs are now prepared to accept a position they believe will damage the country in the name of "democracy" (ie they're terrified of their Brexiteer party members).
And I also know that when you're looking to do a vox pop you can always find someone who's changed sides, either because of the democracy argument or because in 2016 they didn't understand the problems caused by a leave vote.
But however many (or few) switchers there are, all this vote proved was that among those with a keen interest in Europe the country remains split down the middle.
And the split isn't friendly. During the declaration, members of the Brexit Party heckled new LibDem MEP Lucy Nethsingha when she spoke - I'm not quite sure who they were trying to impress, but I'm sure it made them feel better!
Since then Twitter has been awash with those from one side or another trying to prove that they "won" and that Britain should leave without a deal as soon as possible or have a second referendum and revoke Article 50.
One thing I really don't buy is that The Brexit Party is a new party, formed six weeks ago and has shattered the political order.
It isn't. The Brexit Party 2019 is the re-branded UKIP of 2014, shorn of its extremist and racist elements who have stuck with their original home.
It has the same leader as UKIP 2014 and the same aims. To compare its impact this time around with 2014 you have to add the rump of UKIP's vote to it and nationally the two parties got 34.9% of the vote - up 10.7% on UKIPs share last time. Impressive - but not as impressive as the LibDems increase of 13.4% (albeit from a much smaller base).
One aspect of the result in both the region and the country as a whole that is significant was the increase in support for the Greens - their pro-Europe stand may have helped attract some voters, but the fact that their campaign did talk about things other than European bureaucracy was, I'm sure, refreshing for many voters.
Of course the European election results are bound to have a major impact on the Tory leadership election. The perceived wisdom is that this mean the new leader will have to be a no-deal Brexiteer because that is the way the membership, and particularly the activists, have moved over recent years.
There is no doubt that The Brexit Party attracted some disenchanted Conservatives - but even if all its increased support over 2014 came from angry Tories, that would not explain the fall in the Tory vote. Could it be that some "One Nation" Tories followed Lord Heseltine's lead and voted LibDem in the European Election?
I've spoken to several leading Tories about their forthcoming leadership election, and one said he was hoping to vote for a "Leaver who is a 'One Nation(ie moderate)' Tory."
Anyone who has watched the Tory Party over the last 40 years knows that One Nation Tories have always been very Pro-EU from Jim Prior and Willie Whitelaw to Ken Clarke and Ben Gummer. I can't help feeling that looking for a "One Nation Leaver" is like looking for a vegan tiger!