We now have most of the results from Thursday’s vote, so it’s time for a swift look at the implications for each of the main parties:
- No-one ought to pretend it was a triumphant night. We lost seven seats, some good MEPs and came third in a national election for the first time in our party’s history.
- That said, it was a better night than many expected. Labour failed to make real headway in what ought to be favourable circumstances for them, and the Conservative vote only slipped by 3.8 per cent despite being squeezed by UKIP and Labour.
- Already some are pointing to the European result in Newark and Sherwood Borough as a sign that UKIP are ahead in the Newark by-election. In reality it’s a little more complex than that – the seat also includes wards from neighbouring councils. We looked at some of the figures last night.
- Aside from Newark, the results will be pored over to see what they may mean for marginal parliamentary constituencies. Some MPs – particularly those in seaside seats with a large working class population – may well be feeling twitchy this morning.
- The reaction to the result was always going to be more important than the result itself. A UKIP victory was already priced in for many people, so it’s very unlikely we’ll see any 1990s-style infighting. There will, though, be a debate on three particular topics: should the Coalition continue? Should our EU policy change, either in terms of the renegotiation or the timing of the referendum? Should we make a deal with UKIP, or allow individual MPs to do so? The opening rounds of those debates are already underway – including Edward Leigh’s contribution on this site today.
- It was Nigel Farage’s night, as we all expected. UKIP now holds seats in every single region bar Northern Ireland, securing their first ever in Scotland and the North East. The financial and morale boost for the insurgent party is sizeable.
- The results are another blow against the argument which was once the bane of their lives: “I’d vote for you but you can’t win.”
- As we’ve reported previously, Farage is following the Paddy Ashdown handbook, and will therefore be closely studying the detailed results for each area to now identify his target seats for 2015 – and the speculation as to where he will stand will inevitably intensify.
- There are a few caveats to consider when looking at the “earthquake”, though. For a small party to win a national election is historic, but their vote share of 27.5 per cent was not as big as some predicted. Further, the turnout in these European elections was about the same as in 2009, rather deflating the idea that they have brought vast numbers of new voters into circulation. Lord Ashcroft has already found that a large number are former Tory voters – the hunt is now on for the arguments that might win them and others over in 2015.
- The UKIP position on deals with Tory or Labour candidates is rather muddled at the moment. Farage says he is relaxed about the idea, while David Cameron says “we don’t do deals”. There was a deal available in 2010, by which MPs who signed up to the Better Off Out campaign were unopposed by UKIP. At the moment, that deal is unavailable – absurdly, UKIP have already selected a candidate to stand against Philip Davies in Shipley, for example. Might that change?
- There were three general assumptions going into this ballot: UKIP would do well, the Lib Dems would lose badly, and Labour would be jostling for first place. Miliband flunked it – for most of the night his party lay in third place behind the Conservatives, and only a good performance in London pushed them into second. Even in the final tally, the 1.46 per cent gap between Labour and the Tories was smaller than the 2.1 per cent gap between UKIP and Labour.
- The criticisms of Miliband’s leadership, and Douglas Alexander’s election strategy, that we saw on Friday and Saturday can only intensify now. This ought to be the most favourable ‘mid-term’ for an Opposition party, particularly if you listen to all their rhetoric about cost of living and the bedroom tax, but they aren’t delivering.
- Nigel Farage is repeating his traditional refrain that Labour will “inevitably” offer an in-out referendum before 2015 – he has to, to defend against the charge of letting Miliband into Downing Street. It might make some strategic sense for the Opposition to do so – but since when has Ed’s tenure been marked by strategic sense?
The Liberal Democrats:
- What Liberal Democrats, you might well ask? At one point in the night it looked like they’d be completely wiped out, but they ended up holding on to one of their ten seats. At least it should be a quick process to pick their group leader.
- Combine this and the local election result and it’s fair to say that in large parts of the country talk of four party politics is overblown – in a lot of seats, the Lib Dems can no longer credibly be described as a main party.
- Strategically, Danny Alexander may have been touring the studios last night to say they were proud of positioning themselves as the only pro-EU party, “the party of in”, but for many the reply from David Dimbleby sums up the problem: “Doesn’t this result show you were wrong?”
- Their optimists, however, will point to signs their vote has held up disproportionately well in places where they have a sitting MP, like Eastleigh. Those of a less sunny disposition are already running a campaign to sack Nick Clegg as their leader.