So, Nigel Farage is looking even smugger than usual this morning, though I not sure how that’s entirely possible. UKIP won the European elections, but the results are a mixed bag both here and across Europe.
On the Continent, where countries have gone through the Eurozone austerity aftermath, sceptics have made headway. This is hugely noticeable in France and Greece, for example. Italy is slightly more puzzling, but the new EU countries, such as Croatia, seem to have a more positive outlook.
In the UK, the picture is cloudy too. First of all, remember that barely one third of the electorate bothered to vote. Turnout is an issue. It’s not a surprise UKIP did well. Against a background of austerity, a single issue party campaigning in elections about that single issue, with the help of a media buying into the narrative in a big way, would have been hard-pressed to do badly. So it proved. But this may be a high-water mark for Farage and chums. A general election campaign will focus policy on other areas, where they are undeniably weaker. And the attacks will be more focused.
For both Labour and the Conservatives the results hold both promise and peril. For the Tories, things were not as bad as feared. Yes, they fell away a little from their position in 2009, but that was just before the last General Election, with a Brown government about as popular as a BBC2 Jimmy Savile season. In their heartlands the vote just about held up, but they are still largely being pushed back into the Home Counties and South East and being placed under huge pressure by UKIP. For Labour things are equally cloudy. Their vote is up on 2009, for sure, but that wasn’t too difficult. Some are worried that they have not done well enough. Perhaps not, but there are encouraging signs that they have been able to poll well where they need to, even in spite of Ed Milliband’s perceived “weirdness” problem. UKIP have eaten into their vote, but nowhere near as much as some expected. The Greens too did solidly, mostly holding ground and vote and claiming fourth place with three seats.
The big losers, though, were the BNP and the LibDems. The BNP bubble of 2009 is now comprehensively burst. But for the LibDems the sky is falling in. All but one of their MEPs are gone; their vote is collapsing, even in their own strongholds like the South West. They are toast.
Much has been made of the LDs suffering because of the pro-Europe position of the party, but the elephant in the room is their leader. Clegg is now about as toxic as polonium for his party: any attempt to engage in debate about Europe immediately ruined by his presence. And this is a shame, because there is a discussion to be had about the future shape of the EU. Even as someone avowedly pro-European I can see this. The tone of this seemingly endless election campaign has been quite ugly, focusing on “immigrants” in a fairly unsavoury way. But it would be a mistake to disregard this simply as some form of casual racism. Amongst the middle classes, there is little concern about European immigration. This is not a surprise, as these are the people slags threatened by inward movements, and more likely to be fit by working elsewhere in the EU. For those in lower-waged, lower-skilled jobs the fear is more palpable (even if the reality doesn’t support it); that fear is not being addressed by the mainstream parties. Farage and UKIP have mined this seam very, very effectively and are likely to have some influence on events in the next year, even if they may not end up being the kingmakers they hope to be.
The long 2015 General Election campaign begins here. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride.