EU Elections: Reflecting the new reality

By Paula Keaveney,

So now we know.  A good Euro election night for some, bad for others, disaster for the rest.

I’ve been following the various campaigns and here are my thoughts, looking back and looking forward.

Labour didn’t really know what the line was.

The initial manifesto and leaflet had to rather dance round the different positions on Brexit.  That meant it was hard for the party to make a clear statement. Later the party decided, in parts of the country anyway, that it could position itself as being against something – that something being racism and the far right.

This led to a shift to advertising and material calling for support in Labour in order to oppose racism – in other words to keep out candidates such as Tommy Robinson, standing in the North West.

In a first past the post election, campaigning to stop someone winning is often a good tactic. It is less good under the d’Hondt system, although this new line had the virtue of being something all the activists could agree on.

At least the Labour party did something.

The lack of effort from the Conservatives was palpable.

A launch which wasn’t really a launch. A leaflet which didn’t go everywhere. And no manifesto. This was an election the party didn’t want to fight but there is always a reason for campaign activity, even if to train activists and build an area for the future.

Sajjad Karim, top of the list in the North West but losing badly, told journalists that candidates were pretty much left on their own with no back up.

Change UK never really got started.

It was the new party’s bad luck that this election came along before a chance to do all the organisational and building work a new party needs.

The lack of professional structure led to events which a more organised party would have prevented. I was amazed, for example, at the Rachel Johnson interview in the Times effectively trashing aspects of the party.

Which press officer thought that was a good idea?

Ukip was completely overshadowed by the new kid in town – The Brexit Party.

European elections have to date been main events for Ukip. There is a leadership contest due next month and it will be interesting to see what transpires.

The Lib Dems and the Greens had a clear message. So too did Plaid Cymru and the SNP. And of course so too did The Brexit Party. And this has paid off – paid off in spades for TBP, the Lib Dems and the SNP.

So what does all this mean? And what should we be looking for in the next few weeks?

Firstly, the by election in Peterborough early next month will be a test of whether The Brexit Party can extend its reach into a first- past- the- post tight contest.

Peterborough has been one of those seats which has changed hands several times. It is currently a Labour defence.

Secondly, the Labour party will need to have a long and hard think about Scotland. The vote north of the border was derisory, and without winning Scottish seats, Labour cannot hope to enter Downing Street. Party managers may be considering  whether to make Scottish Labour  more Scottish and less attached to the UK party.

They will certainly need to work out how to become more appealing to those currently voting SNP.

Thirdly, the Lib Dems and Greens will need to work out how to capitalise on the good results and burst of publicity. In peace time these parties find it hard to get taken seriously in the media. I suspect there will be a lot of serious talking with senior broadcast managers about the need to reflect a new reality.

Finally, Ukip is facing an existential crisis. It needs to decide what it is for. The position on the electoral map that it used to hold has been taken over. There may well be another position, although it is hard, at the moment, to see where that is.

Of course the Conservatives have much to think about too. Luckily for those of us fascinated by politics, they’ll be doing that in public through the leadership contest of the next few weeks.

Paula Keaveney is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Relations at Edge Hill University.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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