Monday, May 26, 2014

Voter apathy helps UKIP success

With UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party] having secured the most number of the seats for Britain in the European election the other main parties are reeling and re-examining their strategy with only a year to go before the general election.

But while UKIP's leader revelled in his party's achievement, the result was not as much a success as many are claiming.

Voter apathy

Both in Britain and across Europe voter turnout was low. In some European countries the percentage was as low as 13%. Britain saw a slight increase on the 2009 European election, but turnout was considerably smaller than seen at general elections.

In fact with only 36% of the electorate turning out to polling stations across the country, UKIP's 29% share amounts to only 11% of the entire country's electorate. Indeed while Nigel Farage insists that the majority of Britain is fed up with Europe, immigration and the other three major parties, his party's real share of votes was hardly a mandate from the British people.

Scare tactics

There has been much criticism from both the three major parties, and those opposed to UKIP, that there has been far too much media coverage for a party that does not have one MP in the British parliament. There has also been some controversy over the negative stories surrounding some of UKIP's candidates was counterproductive.

The party has been labelled racist and Farage himself has been likened to Hitler. Meanwhile the popular press have fallen into UKIP's hands, printing sensationalist and overblown stories concerning immigration, non-English speaking migrants and benefit claims.

These issues are certainly something that should be tackled. Even with open borders there has to be a measure of how benefits are paid out, how foreign criminals are dealt with and how Britain is affected by EU laws.

Counter arguments

One party which lost out considerably was the Liberal Democrats. The party was in disarray after it only managed to hold on to only one of its 12 MEPs.

The party had maintained that the only way to tackle the issues Britain was facing, whilst being a part of the European Union, was to hold a strong voice in Europe and to fight Britain's corner. The most pro-European party of the main three lost out however, either through apathy of voters or a failure to convince the electorate of the importance of maintaining a strong presence in the European parliament.

Speaking the day after the results were announced, party leader Nick Clegg said the Liberal Democrats should not backtrack on what the party stands for. "We should not lose our nerve," Clegg told the BBC. "We need to explain our case more forcefully," he insisted.

In answer to a question as to whether he might step down as the leader he said the idea had not crossed his mind. In fact he was resolute, saying instead that the party needed to be "resilient and united." [BBC]

Other losers

The Labour party finished in second place, in terms of total votes, but its vote share was up by nearly 10% on 2009. The result was hailed by Ed Miliband as a success  and showed the party was "making progress".

However he conceded Labour has "further to go" in order to achieve a win at next year's general election. There was "deep discontent" in the UK and Labour must show it can "answer the call for change" Miliband said.

However as regards a referendum on Europe, Miliband said the party would not be changing its position. Labour has said it will only hold a public vote if there are any plans for further powers to be transferred from the UK to the EU and opposes the Conservatives' pledge to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 [BBC].

The Conservatives lost out mainly to UKIP with areas once Tory strongholds turning from blue to purple. UKIP gained 23 MEPs, with the Tories having 19, behind Labour which has 20. The Conservative share of the vote was 23.9%, behind Labour on 25.4% and UKIP on 27.5%.

Nonetheless, David Cameron insisted that his party could still win the next election .  

Forward to 2015

While UKIP are no doubt looking to repeat their success in next years general election they will have an uphill battle. After many years and a concentrated effort on only a few seats the Green Party have still only managed to secure one seat in parliament.

The first-past-the-post system will play more into the hands of Labour and the Conservatives than it will Farage's party.

Voter turnout is much higher in general elections than both European and council elections. Furthermore, as many political commentators have said, the electorate often use local and European elections to vent anger, returning to their fold for the national vote.


UKIP's success certainly shows disillusionment with Europe, but so too does the low turnout. And while the political barrel needed a shake, UKIP's taking of so many seats in the parliament will actually do nothing to the status quo. The European project will carry on regardless given most of the MEPs remain pro-European.

Indeed, UKIP's positions may damage Britain's standing in Europe especially if they don't fight for Britain's corner within Europe. The danger is that UKIP MEPs may merely squander their time in the European Parliament offering up anti-European speeches rather than taking part in proper debate and  ensuring policies are made that are in the best interests of Britain as well as Europe as a whole.

There is also an irony that UKIPs 23 MEPs will now join the gravy train they so much despise, lining their pockets with taxpayers money whilst criticising the driver, crew and the fact there is even a train upon which they are riding.

Meanwhile, those parties which once fought for Britain's position will be less effective, given they are now much fewer in number.

As regards voter apathy there is the suggestion that compulsory voting be implemented. Of course this would not necessarily improve things. Even in countries where such policies exist there are still those who abstain. By itself such laws are meaningless if people are ill informed.

There needs to be a greater understanding about Europe and its workings, how it benefits its member states and how things might be improved. The debate needs to be more reasoned rather than the sensationalist tabloid headlines seen in recent months.

The same is true of council elections. There needs to be more transparency, even perhaps to the degree of all council meetings being televised perhaps through the Internet. Only when people are properly informed can they make informed decisions.

Winston Churchill once said, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time.." In order to preserve that democracy the people need to participate. By not becoming educated in the issues there is the danger of the electorate become disillusioned and apathetic.

Churchill is also supposed to have said that "The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter." After the recent local and European elections such thoughts might be conjured up in the minds of many.

Results: UK / EU wide 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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