A lot of spin has gone on to try to present the European elections as some sort of triumph for one side or the other. The truth of the matter is that the result continues to show a country split down the middle. The referendum vote share has barely moved.
Can we first of all agree some facts.
- The Brexit Party were the clear winners last night. They won 29 seats, the highes ever achieved by a single party in a European election. Their 32% vote share was slightly lower than the polls had predicted, but it's still a remarkable achievement for a political party which barely existed two months ago.
- The Brexit Party won the overwhelming majority of council areas as this map clearly shows.
- The Liberal Democrats were the other big winners of the night, emerging with a 20% vote share, something which was unthinkable only a few short months ago. Vince Cable can go out on a high and leave his successor with something to build on.
- Also big winners were the Greens who achieved a 12.5% vote share and knocked the Conservatives into fifth place. They more than doubled their ME count from 3 to 7.
- The big losers were the two big parties. The Conservatives were reduced to a rump of 4 MEPs, having had 19 before. Labour went down from 20 to 10. The Tory vote share dropped to an embarrassing 9%, while Labour were down to 14.5%.
I'd hope that none of that is particularly contentious. So let's move in to what is.
This is a graphic being used by the BBC and the Press Association, and reflects the 'line to take' dreampt up by the People's Vote campaign. Their line is that this vote was an emphatic rejection of a so-called 'no deal Brexit'.
Spot the error. They seem to think that the Conservative Party is not a pro Brexit Party. In the words of Lord Gnome, shurley shome mishtake. They seem to think that Labour is somehow an anti Brexit party, when its official policy is to deliver it, despite what many of their MPs and members think. Even if you add just the Tory 9.1% onto the pro Brexit total, it outdoes the anti-Brexit parties.
Then you have to bear in mind that not every LibDem, Green or SNP voter is a Remainer. In 2016 25% of LibDem voters supported Leave. 35% of SNP supporters did the same. Around 33% of Labour supporters did too, for that matter. I think its fair to say that more or less all Change UK voters want to remain in the EU, but it's just not possible to say all the voters supporting the Remain parties in this graphic support Remain. Having said that, I think the 2016 per centages of leave supporting LibDems and SNP voters has certainly declined, because a lot of them would have supported the Brexit Party - Ed Davey's constituency chairman being one of them.
Even before a single result had been announced People's Vote campaigers were telling anyone who would listen that this vote was a rejection of a no deal Brexit. In truth it was neither an endorsement or a rejection. What it was was a re-emphasis of the fact that the country remains totally split down the middle on the issue whether we should leave or remain. Given it's still around 50-50 I have no idea why people think a second referendum would achieve anything. All it would achieve is to demonstrate for a third time that this split still persists. It would be even more divisive than the first referendum was.
I now think that a general election within a year is highly likely. Here's one scenario.
- Boris Johnson becomes Tory leader.
- He fails to persuade the EU to renegotiate
- He declares Britain will leave the EU on time on October 31 as that's the legal position
- Up to 15 Tory MPs go public to say they will support a vote of no confidence in the government
- Corbyn calls the vote of confidence when Parliament returns after the Tory conference
- An election is held at the beginning of November
What happens then? Who would win this election. I have no clue, nor does anyone else.
The Brexit Party would undoubtedly put up more than 600 candidates, although they may not put up candidates in seats held by committed Brexit supporters from the ERG, plus Kate Hoey and a few other Labour MPs. In some seats they may prevent the Tory from winning. In others Labour. How many seats would the Brexit Party actually win? Well, some, no doubt, but given they are fishing in only 50% of the electorate it's difficult to think they would win more than a few dozen, but frankly, who knows?
UPDATE: Lord Ashcroft has got some fascinating figures from his Euro poll, which back up a lot of what I have said above. Here's the relevant bit...
More than half (53%) of 2017 Conservative voters who took part in the European elections voted for the Brexit Party. Only just over one in five (21%) stayed with the Tories. Around one in eight (12%) switched to the Liberal Democrats. Labour voters from 2017 were more likely to stay with their party, but only a minority (38%) did so. More than one in five (22%) went to the Lib Dems, 17% switched to the Greens, and 13% went to the Brexit Party.
For all the success of the Lib Dems in these elections, only 69% of their 2017 voters stuck with them: 13% switched to the Green Party and 7% backed the Brexit Party. Nearly seven in ten 2017 UKIP voters (68%) switched to the Brexit Party, with just under a quarter (24%) staying put.
To look at the question from the other end of the telescope, two thirds (67%) of the Brexit Party’s vote came from 2017 Tories, 14% from 2017 Labour voters and one in ten from former UKIP voters. The biggest single chunk of Lib Dem support in the European elections came from 2017 Labour voters (37%), with 31% coming from previous Lib Dems and 24% coming from 2017 Conservatives.
Overall, nearly two thirds (64%) of 2016 Leave voters backed the Brexit Party, with 9% voting Tory and 8% Labour. The Remain vote was split more evenly, with 36% going to the Lib Dems and 19% each going to Labour and the Greens. The Conservatives also received 9% of the Remain vote.