Monday, May 26, 2014

12 Things you should know about the 2014 European elections


In this article I'm going to highlight 12 talking points from the 2014 European elections. They're not really just 12 things, but lots and lots of different things organised under 12 subheadings.


The UKIP earthquake actually happened on Sunday

In their desperation for UKIP to win and create a big news story, the mainstream press declared the UKIP local election results an "earthquake" and a "triumph" even though the UKIP share of the local election vote actually fell dramatically from last year. UKIP won far fewer new council seats than Labour (who apparently were the big losers despite winning more than half of the seats on offer); they failed to gain control of a single council; and they finished with far fewer council seats than even the politically toxic Lib-Dems.

The mainstream press actually shot themselves in the foot on the Thursday night, because the UKIP "earthquake" headlines would have been far more profound had they saved them for Sunday night and Monday Morning, after it had become clear that UKIP had won the most votes in the European ballot and created a genuine shock to the system, rather than just picking up a few council seats scattered all across the country.


The press should have saved their superlatives for Sunday night, because that is when UKIP made history by winning the European ballot. It is the first time in living memory that a UK level election has been won by anyone other than Labour and the Tories, and it is the first time in the history of the Conservative party that they have failed to finish in the top two.

UKIP received the most votes by a significant margin, they won the most seats overall, they increased their share of the vote in every single region and they even took an MEP in Scotland, which is quite incredible given that their former party leader in Scotland recently insulted the Scottish people by describing them as "subsidy junkies" (this is especially insulting because every Scot with a Brain in his head should know that the UK takes far more out of Scotland than it gives back in "subsidies").

The only ray of hope from this UKIP "earthquake" can be found in the large discrepancy between UKIP local election vote and their vote in the European ballot. This discrepancy suggests that hundreds of thousands of people voted against UKIP in the local elections, but held their noses and voted for them in the European election in order to send a message to the establishment that they want the UK to withdraw from the EU.
 

Fascism is stalking Europe again

I have criticised UKIP a lot, because I strongly dislike their Uber-Thatcherite economic stance, their immigration fearmongering tactics, their lack of transparency over their policies, and the fact that they are bankrolled by a pack of former Tory party donors, however I've stopped short of ever branding UKIP a "fascist" or "racist" party, because I don't believe that this kind of melodramatic language is useful. They obviously attract a hell of lot of bigoted people, but they do tend to regularly sling the bigots out of the party when they get caught saying homophobic, racist or sexist things (which is a ridiculously common occurrence).

I won't stop short of using this kind of blunt language to criticise the extreme right Front National party in France.

These people, led by the disgusting Le Pen family, are fascists, racists and bigots. In the week before the election (the founder of the party, MEP candidate, and father of the current leader) Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested using the horrific Ebolavirus as a solution to Europe's "immigration problem". This unbelievable statement actually gave his party a boost in the poll ratings!

It is absolutely extraordinary that this bunch of disgusting far-right extremists have won a landslide election victory in a country as big, multicultural and generally centre-left as France. I hope all the non-extremist French people who didn't bother to vote feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves for letting these freakish extremists win the election and make their country look like a laughing stock of backwards, hate-filled nutters.

It's an illustration of how dangerous these Front National extremists are that after it became clear that they had won the European election in which only about a third of French people had bothered to vote, they immediately used this success as their justification to call for the French parliament to be dissolved!

I strongly dislike UKIP, but at least our anti-EU protest party in Britain is just an Uber-Thatcherite Trojan horse, in France the chosen anti-EU protest party are a disgusting bunch of fascists.

The victory for Front National in France wasn't the only example of extreme right parties on the rise. In Austria the neo-Nazi Freedom Party came second, the Hungarian extreme-right nationalist party Jobbik came second, and Geert Wilders extreme-right PVV came second in the Netherlands too. It is also possible to argue that the ruling PP party in Spain has shifted so far to the right that they should now be classified alongside the extreme-right fringe*.



The people of Britain have spoken

Before the election I did my best to use facts and evidence to explain to the public that UKIP is a Thatcherism on Steroids party pretending to be patriots in order to hoover up the anti-EU protest votes, to question their lack of clearly stated policies on several vital issues and to highlight their appalling voting record in Europe - so it was hardly a surprise to find my Another Angry Voice Facebook page filled with gloating Ukipper comments when the result of the European poll was released on Sunday 25th May.

One of these UKIP gloaters was so ignorant of what the election meant that he told me that "the majority of Britain has spoken" as if the majority of the country had gone out and voted for UKIP.

Even if we just count the people who actually bothered to vote, UKIP got 26.6% of the vote, which is nowhere near "the majority". However it's also got to be remembered that only 34% of people actually bothered to turn up to vote at all. UKIP might well have won, but they did so with the votes of just 9% of the eligible electorate. Only a Ukipper could be ignorant enough of how politics actually works to declare a 9% electoral mandate to be a clear "majority".

66% of the electorate didn't even bother to vote in this election, meaning that if the British people have spoken, they didn't say "I love UKIP" they said "I really, really don't give a fuck about this".


Labour did OK but they've only got themselves to blame

This result was hardly a glowing endorsement of the Labour party, but they did manage to significantly increase their share of the vote and win themselves seven extra seats. They now have 20 seats in the European parliament, which is one more than the Tories. This is a good performance when viewed in terms of the traditional Labour-Tory rivalry, given that in 2009 the Tories won twice as many seats as labour (26 to 13).

Even thought this is the best Labour performance in an European ballot for decades, they still finished second, a significant margin behind UKIP, but in my view they've only got themselves to blame for this.

Had Labour given the public the referendum on the EU they so clearly want and deserve, instead of adopting the anti-democratic "we won't let you vote because you'll vote the wrong way" stance, the UKIP thorn could have been drawn years ago.

By refusing to give the people the referendum they want, and furthermore signing up to the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum, Labour essentially turned the European elections into an impromptu referendum on the EU and allowed a more-Tory-than-the-Tories party to piggy back to electoral success on the back it.

The Labour party should never have allowed their commitment to the EU to over-ride the right of the UK public to self-determination, and the price they're going to continue paying for it, is that they've created a Frankenstein's monster of a protest party.

If Labour would have dealt with the EU issue in a democratic way by giving the public a referendum at some point during their 13 years in power, UKIP would have lost their raison d'etre, and perhaps the UK might have experienced the birth and rise of a genuine protest party that is fundamentally opposed to neoliberalism (as in Greece, Italy & Spain) rather than promoting the growth of a terrifying "Thatcherism on Steroids" party which is even more enthusiastic about the destructive ideology of neoliberalism than even the Tory establishment are.
       

The Liberal Democrat meltdown

The Liberal Democrats went into this election with eleven MEPs, they have come out of it with just one. If we look at the crude numbers, the shocking scale of the Lib-Dem carnage becomes absolutely clear.

  • In the North West their vote fell from 236,000 to 105,000, they lost their MEP and finished 5th behind the Greens.
  • In London their vote fell from 240,00 to 148,000, they lost their MEP and finished fifth behind the Greens.
  • In the North East their vote fell from 104,000 to just 36,000 and they lost their MEP.
  • In the East Midlands their vote fell from 221,000 to 108,000, they lost their MEP and finished behind the Greens.
This carnage was repeated across the country. The Greens jumped above them into fourth place (with a higher % of the vote and three times as many MEPs) and the Scottish National Party (who only stand candidates in one of the twelve regions) beat them too by returning two MEPs.
 

Nick Clegg has been destroying the party from within for four long years, but it's not him that is suffering, he's got another year of claiming his six figure ministerial salary, swanning around in ministerial cars and enjoying his smug sense of self-importance. The people who are suffering the consequences are outside the Westminster bubble. 10 Lib-Dem MEPs have lost their jobs, over 300 Lib-Dem councilors lost their seats a few days previously and prior to that, countless Lib-Dem activists have encountered a torrent of hostility as they knocked on doors and tried to drum up support for their imploding political party.

Just as Labour should take a long hard look at themselves over the rise of UKIP, the Liberal Democrats need to look at the causes of this massacre. Had the Lib-Dems been shrewd negotiators they could have turned the 2010 hung parliament to their advantage, but they displayed an abject lack of strategic thinking and utter contempt for large chunks of their own core demographics, so they are getting what they deserve.

The fact that the vast majority of the casualties are falling outside of Westminster has insulated Nick Clegg and his allies from the true scale of destruction, so it's conceivable that he might actually even be allowed to carry on driving the party into the ground until the next General Election.
  

A Thatcherite whitewash in England

For the purposes of this section I'm going to forget for a moment that the Labour party long ago gave up being a social democratic party in favour of presenting a sickly concoction of neoliberalism-lite and pseudo-socialist window dressing. I'm also going to have to forget that the one remaining Lib-Dem MEP represents a party dominated by Orange Book neoliberals too.

The Two devoutly Thatcherite parties absolutely hammered the opposition in every English region apart from London and the North East. Even regions that were devastated by Thatcherism in the 1980s have now returned a majority of devoutly Thatcherite MEPs.

Immesurabe damage was done to the Yorkshire economy when the Thatcher regime decided to abandon British heavy industry and manufacturing in favour of promoting the fantasy of the "post-industrial economy" built around the City of London financial sector.

The mining, steel and heavy manufacturing sectors were all deliberately repressed and left to ruin, leaving areas of Yorkshire blighted by high unemployment, poverty and crime to this day. Despite this appalling legacy of abuse inflicted on Yorkshire and her people by Thatcherites with their heads full of toxic neoliberal dogma, the people of Yorkshire have returned 4 Thatcherite MEPs (1 Tory, 3 UKIP) and just two from all of the other parties combined (2 Labour).

The story is similar in the North West, where Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal experiment hammered the region's industries and infrastructure. Recently declassified documents show how back in the early 1980s Margaret Thatcher wanted to completely abandon the city of Liverpool to post-industrial decay (neoliberal theory says just leave it to market forces, rather than the government intervening to reduce the scale of social devastation), but now the region has returned five Thatcherite MEPs, and just three from the opposition (all of them representing "neoliberalism-lite" New-Labour).

In England the final score is an absolute rout in favour of Thatcherism. Of the 60 MEPs representing English regions, 39 belong to the two overtly Thatcherite parties, whilst only 21 come from the other three parties combined.

If we accept the fact that New Labour and the Liberal Democrats are also adherents of the neoliberal orthodoxy, the score in England is Thatcherism 58 - Alternative parties 3.
  

Scotland is a very different country

The two devoutly Thatcherite parties routed the opposition in England, but they were minor parties feeding off scraps in Scotland. The Scottish National Party romped to victory ahead of Labour, with the Tories finishing a distant third and UKIP finishing an even more distant fourth.

Despite falling just short of bagging a third MEP at the expense of UKIP, the SNP result is a very good one indeed. They are after all the ruling party in the Scottish Parliament, and they've passed this mid-term election test with flying colours, beating the Tory and UKIP vote combined.

UKIP took just 10.2% of the Scottish vote, and UKIP and the Tories combined only managed to get 27.7% of the vote between them. Meanwhile in England the two Tory parties took significantly more than 50% of the vote between them.

The hugely different voting patterns between Scotland and England are demonstrated by the fact that the Tories and UKIP bagged 65% of the seats available in England, but in Scotland they were quite lucky to even sneak away with 33% of the seats.

It seems that four years of the most right-wing government in living memory hasn't been enough to ward the English away from voting for Thatcherite parties, and if I was a resident of Scotland, I'd much rather brave the uncertainty of independence and self-determination, than risk facing a Tory-UKIP coalition ruling over Scotland from down in London.

This resounding victory for Thatcherism south of the border should be a dire warning of what could be to come if the Scottish electorate refuse to take their opportunity to end London rule in September 2014. If the Scottish people dislike being ruled over by a London based Tory & Lib-Dem coalition they didn't vote for, they're going to be sick as hell if they end up with a Tory-UKIP government in 2015.
   

The North East

The mainstream press will no doubt harp on about how UKIP were soundly beaten in London, but one other region of England comprehensively rejected UKIP too. The North East is by far the smallest electoral region in England, returning just three MEPs, and the people of the North East returned two Labour party MEPs and one for UKIP.

I'm particularly pleased about this result for two reasons. I grew up at the very top end of North Yorkshire, which is actually far closer to Middlersbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle than it is to the big Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield. This means I (mis)spent a lot of my youth in County Durham and the North-East, and I feel almost as much a North-Easterner as a Yorkshireman as a consequence. It gives me a sense of pride that this small region - the one that has been hit hardest of all by 35 years of neoliberal ideology - hasn't  succumbed to the "blame the immigrants", "blame the EU", "blame multiculturalism" narratives that convinced the rest of the country to elect Thatcherism on steroids.

The other reason I'm pleased for the North East is that the second name on the Labour party list was Judith Kirton-Darling, someone I knew quite well during my childhood and teenage years. She is someone I've always had a great deal of admiration for, she is a decent and honest individual, and just the right kind of person to do what politicians should and serve the people who elected them, rather than their own self-interest. I'm sure that Judith will do everything in her power to drag the Labour party back towards the left, and back onto the course of actively promoting social justice. On a night of bitter disappointment for the progressive left, seeing that Judith had won a seat was perhaps the only genuine moment of delight for me.
   

The Green flop

The Green party presented a decent manifesto full of interesting and progressive polices, and they were hoping to cash in on all of the protest voters fleeing from the Liberal Democrat train wreck, but they didn't do anywhere near as well as they should have done.

On the positive side they increased their number of MEPs from 2 to 3 and finished as the fourth party thanks to the astonishing collapse in Lib-Dem support, however their share of the vote flat-lined in most of the regions, and the Scottish Greens fell some way short of beating UKIP to the sixth seat in Scotland.

In my view the explanation for this flop was the fact that Caroline Lucas stepped down as party leader in order to concentrate on her job as MP for Brighton (in which she has done a fantastic job). Her replacement Natalie Bennett just doesn't have the charisma or infectious enthusiasm that Caroline Lucas has, and I think that's she is putting a lot of people off voting for the party.

It seems harsh to say that Natalie Bennett has been a failure after such a short time in the job, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Green party should have been picking up protest votes from the Lib-Dems in regions where the Lib-Dem vote imploded, but they flat-lined, even falling back a bit in several regions. They didn't finish ahead of the Lib-Dems by their own virtues, but rather by the fact that the Lib-Dems nosedived past them.

The Green party needs a strong charismatic leader to reach out to the public (and they also need to do something drastic with their social media strategy). Natalie Bennett should seriously consider stepping down for the good of the party after this disappointing flop.

   

At least some people in Europe are awake

Of the 73 UK seats in the European parliament, only seven will be occupied by politicians that belong to parties that can be seen as anything resembling an alternative to ideological neoliberalism (3 Green, 2 SNP, 1 Plaid Cymru and 1 Sinn Fein). It is quite remarkable that the protest party that has emerged in the UK is even more devoted to the Thatcherite ideology of neoliberalism than the three Westminster establishment parties that have been enforcing this destructive right-wing economic ideology for 35 long years.

Elsewhere on the continent the public aren't quite as politically illiterate as the English (who voted heavily in favour of UKIP when taken as a whole, when the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish didn't), many of whom are so gullible that they've let the right-wing press convince them that the EU is a communist organisation rather than the neoliberal shitshop it actually is**.

The most high profile alternative party is the anti-neoliberal coalition Syriza in Greece, who have gone from being a motley bunch of "lefties" that were the 5th party in Greece with just 1 MEP in 2009, rose to become the official opposition in the Greek parliament in 2012, and now they've romped home in first place in the European election to bag six MEPs.

The resistance to the neoliberal orthodoxy also showed in Spain, where the two traditional parties saw their share of the vote slump by 40% as a range of smaller parties took lots of votes and seats. The Spanish United Left finished third and took six seats, whilst another, brand new, left-wing party called Podemos (We Can) took 8% of the vote to finish in fourth and bag five seats, despite having been founded in March 2014. To go from nothing to the 4th biggest party in Spain in just over two months is an absolutely incredible achievement.

In Italy the ruling centre-left party scored a resounding victory with over 40% of the vote and bagged 31 seats. Beppe Grillo's 5 Star anti-establishment party romped into second place with 17 seats at their first effort in a European election. These successes left Silvio Berlusconi's party miles behind in third place and the extreme-right Legia Nord down in fourth place with just five seats.

The left and centre-left also performed strongly in Denmark where they took the majority of the seats, the anti-capitalist Die Linke party increased their share of the vote in Germany and the Cypriot Communist party took two of the island's six seats.

The UK public might well be a bunch of Turkeys voting for Christmas, but at least elsewhere on the continent a few people are waking up and voting for genuinely alternative parties. There is actually very little in common between 5 Star in Italy, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Cypriot Communists, but at least they're actually genuine alternatives to the right-wing economic ideology of neoliberalism that has ruled over Europe and most of the individual nation states for the last two decades, rather than a party that believes the only problem is that we haven't had enough neoliberal ideology yet, like UKIP.
  

A vote of no confidence in the government

The two parties that make up the coalition government went into the European election with 37 MEPs, which were won with 40.3% of the vote in 2009. Back in 2009 the Tories were by far the biggest party with as many MEPs as Labour and UKIP combined, and the Lib-Dems were the fourth party with 11 seats, just two behind Labour and UKIP with 13 each.

After the 2014 vote the two Coalition government parties have lost 17 seats between them, to bring their total down to just 20 of the 73 seats. Their combined share of the vote fell to 30.8%, meaning that the parties have dropped some 1.5 million voters between them.

Considering that 64% of people didn't even bother to vote, and less than a third of those who did bother, actually voted in favour of the two ruling parties, we're left with the astonishing statistic that these two parties only managed to win backing from 11% of the electorate between them.

If we see this election in terms of an approval test for the government, they failed spectacularly, because they didn't even manage to convince one in nine people to come out and vote for them.

There is no other way to view this but as a vote of no confidence in the government.
   

Bye bye Nick Griffin

After such depressing results for anyone who is opposed to the economic ideology of neoliberalsim that has ruled over us from Westminster and Brussels for decades, it is probably important that I try to end this political autopsy on a high note, which is the annihilation of the BNP.

The North West may have returned a majority of Thatcherite MEPs, however at least they rid themselves of the embarrassment of having BNP leader Nick Griffin as one of their European representatives after his share of the vote collapsed from 8% to below 2%.

My home region of Yorkshire also rid themselves of their BNP representative after an even more dramatic decline in their share of the vote from 9.8% down to just 1.6%.

We can all have our suspicions about where the majority of the BNP vote evaporated to, especially given disgraced former Tory MP turned UKIP bigwig Neil Hamilton's claims that UKIP attracts "decent" BNP voters, and Nick Griffins accusations that "they [UKIP] are using all of our rhetoric, they are using our slogans, they are recycling our posters and people like it".

Even though their vote seems to have been stolen by another right wing party, it's still good to see the BNP get pretty much wiped off the map as a political force.


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* = The ruling PP party in Spain have introduced draconian new laws to criminalise peaceful public protest, attacked womens' rights, and enforced "austerity" with absolute glee, whilst bailing out their corrupt banker mates ever more egregiously.

** = What kind of communist organisation would have an independent central bank led by a former Goldman Sachs employee that goes around forcing privatisation all over the place?

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