As always, everyone is interpreting the European Election results in the way that suits their own pre-conceived ideas. So here goes with my interpretation of the consequences of the election on the UK political landscape.
Just to be clear on the results: if one excludes Labour and Conservative votes as uninterpretable on the Leave/Remain divide, then Remain parties collectively came out on top in this election (first two columns in our chart). The increase in vote share for explicit Leave parties (Brexit+UKIP) was only very marginal – and below expectations.
There are two distinct consequences of the result. The first is the impact they will have on how the positions of the different UK political parties will evolve. The second is what these elections mean (if anything) on the possible outcome of a future general election or a second referendum.
Impact on the Parties
Given the success of the Brexit Party, the likelihood is that the Tories might feel compelled to move to try to occupy some of that space. They may choose to elect a no-deal leader and pursue the mantra that, whatever happens, the UK will exit the EU by October 31st.
This would be a mere repeat of David Cameron’s tactic of offering an EU referendum in response to the rise of UKIP. This time it is likely to meet with moderate success at best.
Now that senior Tories have hinted that they would rather bring down their own government than allow a no-deal Brexit, such an approach will likely result in an early general election.
Offering up a second referendum may end up being the only chance the Tories have of avoiding an early election that could be disastrous for them.
As for Labour, the most likely outcome is prolonged infighting.
If Corbyn were to come out firmly in favour of a second referendum with Labour campaigning for Remain, expect more fireworks within the party – even though some 40% of those voters who abandoned the party went to Remain parties while only 13% voted for the Brexit Party.
For Labour, the straddling of two horses has turned out to be nothing short of a disaster from which it will be hard to recover (especially since it now seems to have lost Scotland – possibly forever). The two-horse stance cannot just be wiped from voters’ minds overnight. Particularly since it has come to be seen as cynical retail politics rather than any principled stand from a leader whose main appeal was as a man of principle.
Nevertheless, the odds of Labour now supporting a second referendum as a matter of policy will have shortened. They might well spin such a move as one that does not abandon their Leave voting constituents but gives them an opportunity to affirm their vote. Even so, Labour will still likely find it difficult to mount a united campaign that is firmly for either Leave of Remain.
The Liberal Democrats are clearly the big winners. Their stance was clear and uncompromising. They have been rewarded at the polls. What energizing offer, other than opposition to Brexit, they can put together in a general election remains to be seen. As will the impact, positive or negative, of a new leader chosen from a limited field.
Lib Dem enthusiasm will be tempered by only one thing: even in a Euro election with a clear message and the main parties in meltdown, they have not yet quite managed to get back to the vote share they commanded in 2010. Nevertheless, they will be pleased that so many voters found it in their hearts once again to start putting their crosses in Lib Dem boxes.
For Change UK, this was hopefully a sobering experience. I argued before that they should never have fought this election. The fatal combination of an amateurish approach and hubristic self-confidence did it for them. Can they ever recover?
Impact on future votes
I would argue that these election results tell us very little about the outcome of either a second referendum or a general election.
First of all, the low turnout common in Euro elections means that we still have no idea how those who stayed at home will end up voting next time around – either in a second referendum or in a general election (third column on our chart).
Second, fear of a Corbyn government will inevitably drive many conservatives back to the fold in the event of a general election. A number of Labour voters might also return home.
The Brexit Party might suffer the same fate as UKIP in a general election – a significant number of votes but with only one or two seats in Westminster.
The chances of an early election and/or a second referendum will have increased.
Overall, it is hard to see any party winning an absolute majority in Westminster in a 2019 general election, were it to happen.
As for the result of a second referendum – were that to come to pass – it would be foolish for either the Remain or the Leave side to let these elections make them believe that they are bound to prevail.
Anna Girolami says
That’s a lovely graphic but it confuses me a little. Do you really mean 2017? I’m assuming it’s a typo and you actually mean 2019. Otherwise it makes no sense at all. Freudian slip?!
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
Apologies! ☹️ Chart corrected. 😊
David Evans says
You say “A Second Referendum may now be all but Inevitable.” However I think it quite likely that “A Second Referendum may now be all but Impossible.”
Particularly if too many Remainers become overconfident by believing it is all but inevitable.
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
I suspect that all sides of this debate have a tendency to overconfidence. Except maybe those in the eye of the storm who have found out that it’s almost impossible to deliver anything at all.
Peter Underwood says
Excellent article Joe and well argued, thank you. I do agree with your conclusions and my guess would be a GE for the next stage. I cannot see any way that the EU will renegotiate and it is almost certain that the Tories will vote for a Brexiteer new leader which brings us to an impasse at halloween.
I do not believe that parliament will allow a no-deal outcome and, combined with the need to ratify a new PM, a GE has to be the best result. Even if a 2nd referendum is held, if the result is Leave, it changes nothing. If Remain wins of course, we stay in the EU and all is forgiven for a while until the Brexit party stirs up protests or they fade away.
The ultimate problem is of course the outcome of a GE and that, as you infer, is likely to yield a hung parliament – coaltion of some sort and general disorder with further extentions of Art 50. This could go on for a long time, damaging the UK economy even further and compounding the issue, a likely global crisis to boot. What fun?
Stephen Gwynne says
As I understand it, no deal is the legal default and Parliament could only stop a no deal by repealing the EU Withdrawal Act. Of course Parliament does not have the power to do that. Similarly, a new Tory leadership can reclaim their Royal Perogative Treaty making powers and unbind parliamentary approval by redacting the said provision within the EU Withdrawal Act. This would be all above board constitutionally. Furthermore, as we speak, High Court judges are deliberating on a case brought against the Prime Minister which argues that the PM acted illegally when using a statutory instrument to change the exit date as contained within the EU Withdrawal Act. The case argues that because of the precedent set by Gina Miller case, the PM first needed Parliamentary approval before changing the exit date. If the case wins, we will have already left the EU on March 29th.
However, back on topic and to address the usual elephant in the room that remainers interpret out of their analysis of the EU elections, clearly the Brexit Party has shown it can easily mobilise a significant majority of voters in order to clearly win a general election. Therefore, a 2nd referendum is a largely a moot point with virtually no relevance since any anti-Brexit result will be swiftly reversed at the next general election.
Therefore, despite the vain deployment of populism (popular democracy) by hard remainers we do actually live within an elective representative majoritarian democratic system. Remainers made absolutely clear their disdain for popular democracy (populism) but now use that framework to not only misinterpret the results in their favour, but seek to challenge our elective representative majoritarian democratic systems with populism! Clearly remainer populism is good and leaver populism is bad as is the usual false dichotomy deployed in order to avoid sensible and rational debate which either leads to a democratic consensus to leave the EU or a democratic consensus to radically reform the EU.
For the Remain Movement to win at a general election within our current democratic system, they need to unite on a shared political platform which in practice will be a virtually impossible task. As such, the Brexit Party are not worried since one of the main parties will need to adopt a strong Brexit policy which will be the Tories. In opposition therefore, Labour will take on the mantle of Remain and as such the next general election will be fought over soft Brexiteers and soft remainers which will require a coherent post Brexit national policy of renewal and an EU reform plan. Without either, one side or the other will, with relatively ease, win.
Therefore whilst the EU elections have clearly revealed the numbers supporting the hard positions of Leave and Remain with hard Brexiteers showing that they are easily the majority grouping despite the slightly larger majority in the popular vote (even though I know hard Brexiteer Greens voted for the Greens knowing that MEPs have no direct control over the UK Parliament)
1. a referendum will not resolve the matter with the likely turn out to be alot lower due to disenfranchising soft Leavers and soft remainers especially with no EU reform plan.
2. a general election is the sensible thing to do but our party political system is no longer sensible, it is built on false dichotomies that have been groomed by the far left and hardline remainers with such messaging as cliff edge, racist xenophobic fascist bigots, unicorns etc etc when in reality, the communautaire acquis enables continuity after withdrawing from the EU Treaties which the EU may or may not mutually recognise. If the EU wishes to create a cliff edge for the UK then that is their undemocratic institutional choice but the question is whether European firms and businesses are also willing to put their livelihoods at risk by obeying the undemocratic EU and cease trading with the UK. It is clear that European businesses will not put their lives at risk because the undemocratic EU is desperate to cling on to power.
3. The real challenge for hard Leavers and hard remainers is the centre ground of soft Leavers and soft remainers, ie national renewal or remain and reform with a clear EU reform plan.
However because hard remainers know that an EU reform plan is merely an aspiration built on hope and will in reality require a very strong head of state, a strong national leader, then remainers will continue to deploy populism when it suits, they will continue constructing false dichotomies and falsehoods about the consequences of leaving the EU Treaties and will continue to lobby for a largely meaningless Peoples Vote. Meanwhile, hard Leavers have figured out how to leave the EU Treaties with a no deal and ensure continuity whilst at the same time, leave the ball well and truly in the undemocratic EU court. In other words, the whole edifice of the Remainer strategy is built on the premise of the strict obedience of the EU when in reality the EU has no power over anyone or anything.
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
Thanks Stephen. You make some good points and put forward some good speculations. We’ll all have to wait and see how it pans out.
The only point I would like to make is about some of your language.
You make statements like falsehoods about the consequences of leaving the EU; and people having worked out exactly how to leave without consequences. The reality is that all of that is mere speculation about which people are entitled to different opinions. One cannot utter ‘falsehoods’ about the future because, by definition, there are simply no facts about the future – and therefore no falsehoods are possible.
I understand that all sides are convinced about their own particular predictions. And we can each of us believe what we want. But that’s all it is – a matter of belief.
Similarly we can all have our own interpretation of what represents a democratic choice vs an undemocratic choice ( and we do).
I suggest that this sort of absolutist language is not only mistaken in a situation where all we have is uncertainty and differing opinions and interpretations. But it does not help people to understand others’ perspectives – which may be perfectly reasonable even if we choose to take a different point of view.
Stephen Gwynne says
Hi Joe. Thanks for your response.
I’m curious though, how does the British or the European demos change the EU Treaties or in particular the provisions and the policy content of the Treaties.
Similarly how does the demos change EU directives, regarding privatisation for example, or how does the demos change EU regulations.
Can the British demos choose to apply taxes on European imports or restrict free movement in order prevent the degradation of UK green infrastructure.
My impression is that the only way for the demos to execute democracy in any of these circumstances is to leave the EU.
Whilst I appreciate that there is a kind of internal democracy within the framework of EU supranationalism, with the selection of the President of the EU Commission being conducted by Heads of State and the election of MEPs, with Heads of State (EU Council) having the power to reform the EU Treaties by unanimous consensus and MEPs have similar powers as our House of Lords, the demos itself does not have the elective power to choose between say a highly competitive social market economy and a highly cooperative sufficiency economy.
This democratic power is transferred to the Head of State and the goodwill of the EU Commission but in all instances, national interests are subservient to supranational interests unless of course you are Germany or France.
Yes, within the EU, the UK has an influence but clearly over time, the democratic gap between what the UK Head of State thought was good for Britain in the context of supranational interests and what the UK demos thought was good for Britain in the context of national interests have widened.
In this respect, the first available democratic opportunity to choose between EU supranational democracy and UK national democracy resulted in a decision for the latter which many remainers, aided and abetted by the
EU Commission, have ‘democratically’ refused to accept.
In view of your understanding of democracy, if the EU referendum result was to remain but a Leave Parliament democratically decided to evoke article 50 anyway, would you still stand by your understanding of democracy and accept that democracy is a process of might over right rather than a process of implementing the democratic choices of the demos.
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
I guess you answered your own question in that there are mechanisms within the EU for the demos to exert its influence. They are highly imperfect ‘ as are most democratic mechanisms ‘ and they need to be improved.
As for the wishes of the particularly British demos, it´s the same as all of us choosing to belong to a club, political party or anything else. We may not particularly like individual rules and regulations of that club, but, on balance, we make the decision to be part of the group because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
In the Brexit debate, I´m not sure anyone would argue that the EU is perfect or that one always gets what one wants or that one doesn´t have to make compromises. The question is whether, on balance, the advantages outweigh the advantages. On that question, it´s perfectly reasonable that different people come to different conclusions. That doesn’t make one side or the other right or wrong. They just make different judgements as is perfectly reasonable. The ´demos´is not a single entity. It is made up of millions of people all of whom have different views.
The advantage of a representative democracy system is that it is NOT a majoritarian system that favours the tyranny of the majority. It is a system that tries to balance the needs and wants of the whole population ‘ in as far as such a thing is possible. Majoritarianism is the might over right system that you seem to condemn ‘ or not. I´m not sure.
The other feature of a democracy is the right for people to change their mind. Yes, we had a referendum. Article 50 was triggered. Now we know a lot more. If they wish people should be entitled to change their views (or not) and have that recognized. Just like Mr Farage seems to have changed his views from being in favour of an EEA-EFTA option at the time of the referendum to a no deal Brexit now.
It´s only dictators who take the view, the electorate has put me in power, they made their decision now I´m sitting here forever.
Stephen Gwynne says
Thanks Joe. It is good to see how you are moving into the radical centre within.
Clearly, your view that another referendum will help to realign democracy in the UK does not apply to the EU Treaties. People have clearly changed their minds regarding the Treaties but still they remain. Even if a 2nd referendum resulted in a slight majority for Remain, 48% still reject the EU Treaties, yet they will remain.
The dictatorship of the EU Treaties is the undemocratic source of the EU supranational framework. This dictatorship does not make EU democracy highly imperfect, it makes it barely existing.
If continuous rather than a static form of European democracy is to prevail then nations have a democratic right to disobey, reject or remove themselves from a set of Treaties that are not open to change by the demos.
Clearly the EU Treaties cannot be changed through representative democracy or majoritarianism because it is practically impossible for the Head of State to simultaneously accept and reject for example the 4 economic freedoms. Therefore the EU framework defaults to majoritarianism or some minority version of that.
Similarly the election of a government is through a process of majoritarianism as is the case with all democratic elections. Constituencies elect the majoritarian candidate, they do not elect proportions of different representatives.
Referenda are also based on the majoritarian system despite the fact that implementation is guided by a representative view of the result. The UK confirmed membership of the EC club through majoritarianism. Similarly the UK decided to leave the EU club through majoritarianism.
What is your alternative, minoritarianism. Never leaving because majoritarianism is ‘tyrannical’ which means joining the EC club was an act of tyranny.
Clearly representative democracy is underpinned by majoritarianism otherwise you cannot elect MPs, you can’t determine which MPs are to form a government and you could not hold referenda. Infact without majoritarianism, the only way for a representative democratic system to move forward from a range of choices is through consensus building or sociocracy.
In this respect, I hope you can now see the fundamental flaw in your logic.
This leads to my might over right assertion. I am asserting that might over right is conducted within your interpretation of democracy as “a system that tries to balance the needs and wants of the whole population in as far as such a thing is possible.” This view, which similarly rejects the majoritarian basis of a representative democratic system enables and allows MPs to pursue their own interests under the veil of national interests. This distortion of the Burkean view simply seeks to usurp the majority wishes and replace them with the wishes of the minority. The tyranny of the minority is undoubtedly more tyrannical than the tyranny of the majority.
In conclusion, if a majority has decided to leave the EU Treaties, which after all is what we were truly voting for, because a majority saw that EU membership was eroding national sustainability, national sufficiency and national resilience and as such chose UK national democracy over and above EU supranational democracy and there isn’t a radical shift of people that have obviously changed their minds with Leavers in particular petitioning for a 2nd referendum, then as long as it is only Remainers petitioning for a 2nd referendum then this is an example of the tyranny of the minority trying to deploy a majoritarian democratic process.
The only reason why Leavers don’t want a 2nd referendum is because it betrays the trust and the promises made in regard of the 1st one and secondly, it means that the process of actually leaving will take even more time. Meanwhile the erosion of national sustainability, national sufficiency and national resilience as a result of membership of the EU Treaties continues as is scientifically verified.