Anindya Bhattacharyya follows up his predictions for the Euro elections with analysis of the results. He argues that the problem isn’t necessarily UKIP, but the space that UKIP occupies, and that space needs to be shut down.
The Western Isles refuses to count ballots on a Sunday, and Tower Hamlets ended up taking an extra day because turnout was so high. But the results of the European elections are finally in:24 seats for UKIP (up 11), 19 for the Tories (down 6), 1 for the Lib Dems (down 10), 20 for Labour (up 7), 2 for the SNP (no change), 1 for Plaid Cymru (no change) and 3 for the Greens (up 1).
You can see how that compares to our predictions (based on YouGov polling data). Pretty good huh? Except that if you drill down to the individual constituencies you’ll see that I’ve called a lot of them wrong (“the Greens don’t stand a chance” in the South West, apparently). But the errors cancel themselves out at a national level.
Notice that the predictions (and most of the polls) underestimated the right and overestimated the left. My guess is that turnout was asymmetric: right wing voters had something to vote for, left wing voters in contrast only had something to vote against. The latter is a weaker motivation to drag your behind to the ballot box.
But the overall picture is one consolidation on left and right. The Lib Dems have crashed and burned even more spectacularly than predicted, down 7 points and losing almost half their votes. But the fringe parties have been squeezed too: some 8% of the electorate opted for an also-ran in 2009, as compared to 4% this time round. The total right wing vote – Tory plus UKIP plus BNP – rose 2 points to 53%. The total for the other main parties also rose 2 points to 43%.
So: the centre cannot hold, but neither can the fringes. Right wingers have flocked to UKIP, left wingers away from the Lib Dems and towards Labour. But there is a skew to the right – UKIP generally picks up more points than Labour – and in some places (SE England, East of England) this effect is marked.
Party by party
The BNP got predictably wiped out. Good riddance, let’s pat ourselves on the back and move on. There’s work to be done and I’m not remotely sold on the idea that our successful anti-Nazi tactics can just be rejigged, rebadged and redeployed against UKIP. But more on this anon.
UKIP had a field day. There’s a debate going on about their performance in the locals – did they “surge” this year or last year? But the fact remains they are on the map and pulling 1.3 votes for every Tory vote. The Tories suffered losses but held up pretty well compared to the Lib Dems. They are still on 24%, just 1 point behind Labour. I imagine their chief worry come the general election is UKIP candidates putting a spanner in the works in marginal constituencies. But Labour will have that worry too in places like Thurrock.
The Lib Dems got smashed even more heavily than expected: they are down to a lone MEP in SE England. Labour did okay but regionally its performance varied: it picked up 15 points in London, 13 in the North West, but only 6 in Essex and East Anglia.
The Scottish and Welsh nationalists remained level at two and one MEPs respectively, something I suspect the SNP is disappointed at and Plaid Cymru relieved about. The Greens got slightly squeezed by the flight to Labour. But they held their two seats in London and the South East while picking one up in the South West. The Greens held their vote share from last time in Scotland and the South West, dropping slightly elsewhere (particularly in SE England where Caroline Lucas has stepped down in favour of the less well known Keith Taylor).
I was going to vote Green in London but decided at the last minute that their seat was probably safe, so I ended up voting for the National Health Action party instead (thanks to Ian Birchall for alerting me to their existence). They stood in London on an anti-NHS privatisation platform, with a list headed by Dr Louise Irvine of the Lewisham hospital campaign. They pulled in 1% of the vote, despite nobody having heard of them. That tells us something about the potential for mobilising widespread anger over the NHS. Oh, and they have a good line on immigration too.
Region by region
Let’s start by looking at the North West, West Midlands, Yorks & Humber and North East – a vast region across the middle of Britain covering Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and surrounding conurbations.
They display very similar patterns and are the clearest representatives of what I’ll call the “austerity effect”. In all four constituencies UKIP and Labour pick up points more or less equally: 12 and 13 in the North West, 10 and 10 in the West Midlands, 14 and 11 in Yorks & Humber, 14 and 11 in the North East.
My guess is that across this mega-region we’re seeing a clear fight breaking out between a Labour-inclined working class on the one hand and UKIP-inclined petit-bourgeois reactionaries on the other. The race is level and the class is moving. Of course that emerging political consciousness has to be shaped into something that wins, and this is by no means a given. But we can be confident that we are cutting with the grain.
Turn south to another contiguous mega-region – covering SW England, SE England, East of England and the East Midlands – and we see a different picture. UKIP and Labour are both pulling ahead, but UKIP is picking up more points than Labour: 10 to 7 in the South West, 13 to 6 in the South East, 14 to 6 in the East and 17 to 8 in the East Midlands.
In all these areas there’s a skew to the right on top of the austerity effect. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that the working class is distributed in lots of midsized towns rather a few big cities, ie spread more evenly out across a sea of Tory blue.
I spoke to Kent socialist Bunny La Roche about the situation in Thanet where UKIP are polling in the 40s and 50s. She describes a working class that hasn’t recovered from the closure of the mines and job losses on the ports. People argue about politics in their workplaces, but the weakness of working class organisation makes it hard to tap into that or shape it. Farage is likely to stand in the area at the general election. In many ways east Kent will be the “hard case”, the severest test for whether we can formulate an attack on UKIP thats pull workers away from the bigots and inoculate them against racist arguments around immigration.
You see a similar statistical pattern – austerity effect with a skew to the right – in Wales. But devolution and Plaid Cymru are extra factors in play. Many people were shocked at UKIP taking a seat in Scotland despite their relative weakness there. They shouldn’t have been – the polls showed UKIP making a late surge in Scotland, perhaps as a Unionist backlash against the social democratic consensus of Labour and the SNP. Although Farage is now threatening to “intervene” in the independence debate – which may be a gift to the Yes camp.
Finally there’s London. Something very strange has happened here. It’s the only place in the country with a pronounced skew to the left: Labour picked up 15 points as opposed to 6 for UKIP. Once true blue outer boroughs like Redbridge, Harrow and Merton have turned red as London’s multiethnic working class is forced out by spiralling housing costs.
Colin Wilson has produced an interesting graph comparing the UKIP vote in different London boroughs to the size of the ethnic minority population. There’s a mild correlation between whiteness and UKIPness, but not one to read too much causality into. Unsurprisingly UKIP did best in south eastern boroughs like Bexley where the fascists have been active for decades.
But the oddest thing about London is the sheer size of the Labour vote – 36% – which seems to have come out of nowhere. They scored a mere 21% in 2009 and 25% in 2004. You have to go back to 1999, when the New Labour honeymoon was still going strong, to see a comparable Labour vote of 35%. And moreover, the pundits missed this: they had Labour on around 28% in London. I can’t remember the pollsters getting it this wrong since 1992’s infamous miscall.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say this is a class vote. I think it happened in the late stages of the campaign as UKIP mania reached fever pitch. Somehow this triggered a deep defensive instinct in the working class which responded by piling in behind Labour. I’m reminded of the day in 2010 when the BNP got swept out of Barking & Dagenham. The Nazis were level with Labour throughout the day. Then people came home from work, and the BNP got crushed. I reckon something like that is going on here.
Now you might well think this is Marxist daydreams on my part. But I’d like to see a better explanation of these results. And contrary to the “London is a different country” hypothesis, I wonder if what’s actually happening is more a concentrated, speeded up version of something also playing out in Manchester, Birmingham and so on. And if this is a class vote for reformist social democracy, it’s different from from ones in the past. My guess is that people are voting Labour very much “without illusions” this time round, and with a grim, martial mindset.
Shutting down the space
So what do we do about UKIP? This is going to be a big issue on the left post the elections and I don’t want to preÃ«mpt discussions between comrades and activists on the ground. As we’ve seen the picture is mixed, complex and regionally varied. These experiences will have to be shared, processed and understood before we can say much more than the obvious, ie that we will have to fight them, and we will have to use race and class arguments to do that.
But I think the analysis above shows that the “mood for a fight” exists. A significant section of the working class has registered that UKIP is a serious threat – so serious they’re even prepared to vote Labour to stop them. The devil is in the detail, however. The left’s anti-UKIP propaganda so far has been a pretty blunt instrument to be frank. You can bash UKIP around on the head with that stuff. But to slit its throat we’ll need a sharp ideological stiletto, and that has still to be fashioned.
But you know what? UKIP isn’t the problem. Farage could fall under a bus tomorrow and another noxious right wing formation would pop up instead. The problem is the space that UKIP occupies – and this is a space that has been carved out by the mainstream political parties and their 15 year long campaign of neoliberal economic policies combined with cynical scapegoating and militarised paranoia over immigrants and refugees.
Initially the BNP, a traditional fascist party, pitched up in that space. But we know how to deal with traditional fascist parties. Griffin got as far as getting two MEPs elected before being shot down by a firestorm of antifascist protest from the left, liberal outrage from the mainstream, all topped off with his own grotesque incompetence.
Farage, a far more intelligent operator, has now stepped in. And his outfit, UKIP, is not a fascist organisation. It is peculiar, postmodern, ideologically fluid, gaseous almost – and much more capable of expanding to fill that space. So yes we have to fight UKIP. But more importantly we have to shut that space down.
European election results spreadsheet (link coming soon)
Thanks to Bunny La Roche, Colin Wilson, Andrew North and Mike Arrowsmith for help in putting this analysis together.