The English election results were disastrous for the Tories, loosing 1,334 seats. Expectation management was that they may loose 1000 seats, which was considered the worse case scenario. UKIP also had a terrible night, loosing 145 seats. The main beneficiaries were the Lib Dems gaining 703 seats, the Greens 194 seats and “other”, largely independents on 662 seats.
Labour lost 82 seats in a stage of the election cycle where they should be making massive gains.
Of course in Local Elections people vote on both local and national issues and any analysis is is difficult, as there are many factors. There are three major narratives, which as ever put a spin on the results depending on your position.
Just Get on With It
The slant spun by the “Leave” media is that the Tories were punished for not delivering on the Referendum Result. There is certainly some truth in this. The Government seems totally incapable of delivering any kind of Brexit. This seems a weak argument as votes largely transferred from the Tories and Labour to the Greens and Lib Dems. The other major gain has been “Others”. These are normally candidates running on local issues.
The loss of UKIP votes does not support this argument. UKIP lost 145 seats. If this thesis were correct UKIP a very much a “just get on with it” party should have gained seats.
The argument is weak, but of course one spun by the Brexit supporting media and largely by the BBC.
People are fed up with Westminster. Brexit is soaking up all the parliamentary bandwidth, paralysing any other form of decision making, whilst a myriad of problems, in health, housing, social care, education, infrastructure and many other areas are ignored. This was of course absolutely predictable, by anyone who understood the immense complexity of Brexit, and one of the better arguments used to support “Remain” before the referendum.
There seems to be good evidence that many voted on these lines. They just want the Brexit process to be resolved one way or another. The best outcome for these voters would be for parliament to revoke Article 50.
A Swing Towards Remain
It is unquestionably true that the pro-Brexit parties, the Tories, Labour and UKIP lost votes and the Remain parties gained votes on a scale not seen since John Major’s government. Many former Labour voters are disgusted that Labour is still sitting on the fence and not supporting a Peoples Vote. Twitter has been awash with people cutting up their membership cards and influential figures such as James O’Brien (LBC) and Mike Galsworthy (scientists for the EU) have advised remainers not to vote Labour.
There is good evidence that a substantial fraction of the electorate did just that. The desire is to force a Peoples Vote.
Of the three arguments the “just get on with it” one is very weak, but expect it to be spun relentlessly by the Tories, the right-wing press and the BBC. The other two have substantial merit and the results were probably a mixture of people voting for the latter two reasons.
It is difficult to draw any conclusions regarding the European Parliament elections as two new parties: the Brexit party and TIG-CUK will be running. The Tories however will be absolutely terrified as the Brexit party will likely attract many of their English Nationalist voters, while TIG-CUK may appeal to some of the more business minded “One Nation” Tories. Labour should also be worried as the vast majority of their member want a Peoples Vote and may well transfer support to the Lib Dems, Greens or TIG-CUK. In Scotland and Wales additionally to the SNP and Plaid Cymru respectively.
The result will increase the desperation of May’s Government to get an agreed deal through with Labour. This will be strategically catastrophic for Labour. If Brexit happens they need to be able to place the blame 100% on the Tories. Given that no parliament can bind a future parliament, any promises made by May could be easily torn up by the next leader, likely to be a hardline Brexiter such as Raab or Johnson.
The Northern Ireland parties are generally different to Britain, consisting of Unionist parties, Nationalist parties and Cross-Community parties. Because PR is used in NI elections, apart from the Westminster ones, there is a wider range of parties. UKIP is the only party that stands in both NI and Britain, though the Irish Green party is very closely aligned policy-wise with its British counterparts.
The Unionist parties are: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and UKIP. They are pro-brexit and anti-backstop.
People before Profit is a Nationalist pro-backstop party, but is anti-EU in the Lexit sense.
The main Nationalist parties, Sinn Féin (SF) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) are Remain and pro-backstop. Aontú is also a remain pro-backstop party (but with very traditional anti-abortion etc. Catholic values). People Before Profit (PBP) is a left wing anti-neoliberal party, with roots in the Socialist Workers Party and is an all island party, more internationalist than nationalist, but for the purposes of this analysis is considered a Nationalist party.
The cross community parties are Alliance, the Greens and Labour Alternative and are very pro-remain and pro-backstop. Alliance have policies very similar to the Lib Dems. Labour Alternative is a Socialist party.
The Unionist parties lost 32 seats: DUP 8, UUP 13, TUV 7, PUP 1 and UKIP 3. They had a bad night (and a very bad night for the UUP and TUV). There was little change in the Nationalist parties, loosing one seat overall with the SDLP loosing 7 seats but the PBP gaining 5 and Aintú 1. The big winner was the Alliance Party gaining 21 seats and the Greens doubling their seats from 4 to 8.
Again people vote on a range of issues, but the swing was largely from the Unionist parties to Alliance. Alliance is cross community and hence have the ability to mop up votes from both sides. The UUP, which tends to represent more middle class and centrist Unionists had the greatest losses. Similarly the SDLP, the more middle class centrist party on the Nationalist side, lost seats.
The backstop is very popular with the business and agribusiness communities in Northern Ireland, which by its nature has voters from both communities.
The obvious conclusion is that the shift to Alliance is largely from pro-backstop Unionist voters.
Even though the DUP lost seats, its vote was marginally up. This was due to the ability to get voters out in their heartland communities. The hardline anti-backstop stance plays well with many Loyalists as it is seen as a commitment to preserving the Union.
This is good news for Alliance and increases the possibility of them winning the third seat in the European Parliament elections, which currently is held by the UUP. The other contender for the third seat is the SDLP and they had a bad night. Momentum will be on Alliance’s side.
Overall as shown in Fig. 3 the results show that even though the Unionists are the largest block, they no longer form an absolute majority. This is based on seats won rather than the total vote. This has significance for a forthcoming “border poll.” The outcome could well depend on the Cross Community vote.