The 2014 British Elections

27 May

The Results

In the UK, we have now seen the results of the recent Euro and Council elections, and they do not make for pretty reading if you, like me, lie to the left of the major political parties (or Atilla the Hun for that matter). UKIP were the undoubted winners in the European elections, followed distantly by Labour and the Greens. The picture from the Council elections is more nuanced, and probably a more accurate reflection of where the parties stand ahead of the General Election next year.

Labour can claim modest success nationwide from the Council elections, winning the popular vote, gaining several councils and over three hundred councillors and also receiving resounding support and seeing rejection of UKIP in many of the country’s major urban areas, especially London. In addition to this, polling by Lord Ashcroft’s organisation shows Labour ahead in 83 key marginal constituencies, enough to provide a clear majority were a general election to happen today. On the other hand, a slim lead over an unpopular incumbent party is hardly a resounding endorsement.

However, a year is a long time in politics, and the fragile shoots of economic recovery, whilst perhaps not felt by both parties’ favoured “hard-working people,” are likely to work in favour of the Conservatives over the coming year. In addition to this, the party of government generally begins to increase its rating in the lead-up to a general election, suggesting that the result next year is still in considerable doubt, a theory also reinforced by Labour’s slim lead of one to two points in both elections, considerably worse than the Conservatives managed preceding the last election in which they failed to gain a majority (and thus a real mandate for their ideological attack on the state, but that’s a matter for another day, about two years ago).

A New Force in British Politics?

All of which, finally, brings me to UKIP (the Liberal Democrat results don’t require much analysis). As mentioned previously, UKIP were modest winners (arguably less successful than Labour) in the Council Elections and clear winners in the Euros. In the council elections, UKIP saw substantial gains, but a decrease in projected national vote share, from 23% to 17%, compared with the local elections in 2013. In contrast, gaining the greatest vote share in the European Elections is kind of a big deal.

The reason for its significance is that no party other than the big two has gained the majority of the popular vote in a national election since before the war, and the Conservatives have never finished third in a national election. However, I stop short of calling it an earthquake, as it has been hailed by Farage and the media. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, these were local and European elections, where people commonly vote differently to how they do at general elections, making extrapolating results notoriously unreliable. Secondly, the turnout of around 34% is about half of the turnout one would expect at a general election, and I make the (wholly unscientific) assumption that the smaller parties make relative gains due to this.

In the past, UKIP have always had strong showings in the European elections, but this support has always evaporated coming in to general elections, with their greatest level of support being 3.1% at the last election. However, polling of UKIP voters in the Euro elections suggests 58% of them will also vote UKIP come May 2015. This would put their minimum UKIP share of the vote at 8%, assuming that turnout doubled at the general election.

A strong showing would make UKIP a serious proposition at the General Election, with a serious chance of winning a seat, especially if they can build upon strong support in the East of the country and put Farage himself up for election in a winnable seat to which they devote a significant proportion of their resources.

Conclusions

I originally intended for this post to be a closer look at UKIP and my criticism of what the party stand for, but I got caught up in looking more closely at the results themselves. That post should follow shortly, now that I have got my take on the results out of the way. Hopefully, this change of focus has resulted balanced examination of the results, although I am probably less qualified to deliver this than most political commentators. However, I like to feel that I am slightly less sensationalist than them, as I have no real incentive to sell advertising or papers.

Perhaps the real story of these elections is one of voter apathy towards both European and local elections, a trend which has been present for many years. No party can claim to have a resounding endorsement from the electorate when over 60% of the electorate declined to vote.

The May 25th YouGov poll puts UKIP voting intentions at 13%, which, according to the model used by Electoral Calculus, still leaves them unlikely to gain any seats. It is, however, apparent that UKIP have emerged as a fifth (don’t forget that the Greens have an MP) force in national politics which makes drawing predictions for the general election from the recent votes particularly hazardous. This is a new situation in UK politics without reliable past data on which to base accurate statistical models of the upcoming elections. Perhaps this step into the unknown is the real earthquake of these recent results.

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