The Great Debate UK

Why the results of the European elections matter


justin_fisher- Justin Fisher is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Magna Carta Institute at Brunel University. The opinions expressed are his own. -

It’s fair to say that the results of the European elections in Britain were something of a shock. Of course, it was evident that Labour was going to do badly and the BNP’s success in winning its first European seats did not come entirely out of the blue. But the collapse of Labour’s vote exceeded what most had predicted, and the realisation that the BNP now has 2 of the UK’s 72 MEPs is more dramatic than the possibility that it might occur.

Now the dust has settled, however, it’s worth reflecting a little on what the results may tell us about the future for British politics. The first point is that performances in European elections have rarely been a solid predictor of subsequent general election performance – especially since the introduction of a proportional representation voting system in 1999 (the 1994 elections are perhaps the sole exception).

Take 1989, for example, when the new Liberal Democrat party came a distant fourth behind the Greens. In the subsequent general election, the Liberal Democrats performed reasonably well, whilst the Greens fell back. And, in 1999 and 2004, the Conservatives beat Labour into second place. Yet Labour won both subsequent elections comfortably.