Thursday

19th Oct 2017

Focus

Britain's most pro-EU party heading for disaster in May

  • Clegg. The largest electoral grouping in this election consists of those who do not vote at all (Photo: Liberal Democrats)

Ahead of May's European Parliament election, with issues such as the economy and immigration to the fore, none of Britain's three main parties are stealing a march on their rivals.

The co-governing, right-of-centre Conservative Party, also known as the Tories, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, is struggling.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Nigel Farage - in full flow in the European Parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

What remains of its traditional support base, including some MPs, often seems opposed to the modernising, socially liberal direction of its leadership.

Cameron's Tory supporters talk of "detoxifying the Tory brand.” His Tory opponents talk of abandoning the party's tradition and identity. Either way, pro-gay marriage, wary of being too hard on immigration, and broadly in favour of the EU, the party of Cameron is a far cry from that of his predecessors.

Still, the Tories are polling better than perhaps many observers expected.

They seem to have weathered the economic storm, and while a YouGov poll earlier this year put them in third place on 23 percent behind both Labour (32 percent) and the Ukip (26 percent), a recent ICM poll ICM poll put them second on 25 percent.

UK voters will elect 73 MEPs to the 751-strong EU assembly on 22 May.

The Tories' relatively low poll ratings are hardly a cause for celebration, but they are higher than those of previous governments during mid-term elections which have then gone on to secure another term.

And what of the left-of-centre Labour Party? Despite being ahead in the polls, it does not exactly convince as a political force. Its awkward, straight-out-of-school leader Ed Miliband, regularly comes behind Cameron and the current star of the show, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, in the popularity stakes.

Up until a relatively successful party-conference performance last September, there were grumblings among senior Labourites that Miliband and his leadership team were failing to set the political agenda.

This criticism, albeit one subdued by Labour's upturn in the polls, remains accurate.

The current Labour Party may be led by someone with 'Red Ed' as a moniker, and a famous socialist for a father, but on the big issues – immigration (it needs capping), on the economy (the deficit needs cutting), on welfare (it needs reform) – Labour, rather than finding its own voice, is largely singing from the same hymn sheet as the Conservative Party.

While Miliband and Cameron have their own problems, they are nothing compared to those of the Liberal Democrats and its colossally unpopular leader, Nick Clegg.

And little wonder.

With the announcement of every policy from what is effectively a Tory-led government, the Lib Dems are accused of betrayal by their erstwhile, largely anti-Tory supporters, as shown by their now infamous volte face on increasing university tuition fees.

If the recent poll ratings of less than nine per cent prove accurate, the most pro-EU of all the major parties could well end up without a single MEP.

But viewing the UK's party-political landscape solely in terms of the traditional duopoly (plus the Lib Dems) misses the big political story, and what is likely to be the major theme of the EU elections: the rise of Ukip.

Just 100 days to stop UKIP

Established in 1993, this nominally right-wing party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", as Cameron described it in 2006, has now become the party the others seem to fear the most.

This has long been the case for the Conservative Party, the body on which Ukip has long been feasting, sucking up those disaffected by Cameron's modernising leadership.

But now the Labour Party has, in the words of one senior minister, organised an "attack team" focused entirely on combating Ukip, and the Lib Dems, in the words of Clegg, announced that "we have just 100 days to stop Ukip becoming a major force".

In some ways, the political mainstream is right to be concerned: Ukip is relatively popular.

On average, current polls suggest it could gain around 25 percent of this year's vote, eight percent more than it received in the 2009 EU elections.

That means Ukip will eclipse the big story of the last EU elections: the over-hyped, far-right British National Party (BNP).

Indeed, the BNP, having polled six percent back in 2009 – a result which prompted much ostentatious hand-wringing among the main parties about right-wing extremism – has now virtually disappeared, with its leader Nick Griffin's declaration of bankruptcy last December the final confirmation, if any were needed, that it is no longer a going concern.

The absence of the far-right from the EU elections is one of the notable features of the UK political scene compared to other EU nations.

But it is perhaps a mistake to see Ukip in terms of the right, let alone the far right. Because what its emergence represents has very little to do with any of its specific, right-wing policies (this is just as well, given its leader Nigel Farage recently declared its existing manifestoes obsolete)

As the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley noted, focus groups suggest that many Ukip voters are unaware of the party's policies beyond its flagship opposition to the EU and its hard-ish line on immigration.

And even then, according to an Ipsos Mori survey of Ukip's support, the majority rate the economy, unemployment, and immigration as more important issues than Ukip's core offering: UK independence from the EU.

Protest votes

Ukip's current populist success owes far more to the weakness of the party-political mainstream, than it does to the strength of its own political ideas.

That is, the votes for Ukip are protest votes, but they're a protest against the political class as a whole, a protest against its deracinated, careerist cast, and a protest against what appears as an elite consensus, from the reluctance to discuss the 'big issues' such as immigration, to its cosmopolitanism and politically correct liberalism.

And in Farage, a man rarely without a pint in his hand and a non-PC bon mot at the ready, Ukip is led by the very antithesis of the suited, booted, and carefully spun professional politician.

Ukip's rise, then, rests on what it is not. It rests on the estrangement of vast swathes of the UK electorate from the traditional parties, an estrangement that afflicts not just old Tories, but, as one academic notes, also the core of Ukip's support, "[the] low-income ... and working-class.”

It would perhaps be a mistake to overestimate Ukip's own strength then. Far stronger, it seems, is that widespread sense of estrangement underpinning Ukip's rise.

After all, the largest electoral grouping (currently over 60 percent) in this election, or indeed any other recent UK election, consists of those who do not vote at all.

Analysis

The fall of Britain's far-right party

Five years after winning two seats in the European elections, the British National Party has become not so much a political force as a political irrelevance.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. EU summit moved to previous building after fumes scare
  2. Catalonia will 'not back down'
  3. New toxic incident in EU building ahead of summit
  4. Murdered Malta journalist's family invited to Parliament
  5. EU food safety chief denies keeping studies 'secret'
  6. EU states pledge 24,000 resettlement places so far
  7. US ready for arms sale to update Greece's F-16 fleet
  8. Austria's Green leaders step down following election failure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU okays Privacy Shield's first year
  2. EU seeks to decrypt messages in new anti-terror plan
  3. EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote
  4. Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis
  5. How EU can ensure Daphne Caruana Galizia's legacy survives
  6. Juncker dinner to warm up relations with eastern EU
  7. Court hearing in MEPs 'private' expenses battle
  8. The unbearable lightness of leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews