Monday, June 14, 2004

End of night summary

Well I need to get up in far too few hours, so I'm heading to bed. A few words.

It seems that the polls were right and UKIP have managed to beat the LDs into 4th place. Of course this still depends on what happens in the North West and Scotland, but even if UKIP does poorly in them it seems likely they will either equal or exceed the Lib Dems in terms of seats. What does this mean? Traditionally in UK politics one thing mitigating against voting for minor parties is that it is seen as a wasted vote. In most seats, either at general or at local elections, it is two-way contest (usually Con-Lab, sometimes Con-LD or LD-Lab).

What has changed? Well, the first thing was the election of Martin Bell as an independent MP for Tatton in the 1997 general election on an anti-corruption ticket. Admittedly this was aided by Labour and the Lib Dems pulling out their candidates (the Tory incumbent, Neil Hamilton, had been beset by corruption charges).

Then in 1999 you had the European elections, which saw the Greens and UKIP pick out seats, and the first elections to the national assemblies in Scotland and Wales, which also use a hybrid system of PR and first past the post seats.

Then in 2001 another independent won in the general election, fighting for the preservation of a local hospital. And in 2003 minor parties made a small effect on the Welsh and Scottish elections.

I think the rise of UKIP must be seen in that light. Over the last 7 years the old truth of UK (and especially english) politics of two-way contests is being tested, and now with a PR system shown to be totally incorrect.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have been punished tonight. It will be interesting to see if the Scottish National Party vote goes the same way as Plaid Cymru when Scotland reports tomorrow.

Otherwise while in Europe the turnout is generally down here the turnout is up at 38.6% so far. This compares with 44.6% for the EU average. Interestingly some of the worse turn-out figures are coming from the newer members (with the notable exception of Malta, polling in the low 80s. Poland is the worst apparently with just 15%. All-postals have a slightly higher turnout, but the general trend is up. Why? I think because people thought that their vote would make a difference. Iraq as a motivator for protest can claim some credit for that, but I think UKIP and the upcoming Constitutional Treaty are the prime factors. UKIP after all has a nice, seductively simple message, something that all the other 3 parties lack on Europe. The LDs tried to substitute with an anti-war campaign, but with 9 of 11 regions where they are standing having returned (Northern Ireland has its own parties) they have only increasd their share modestly with 1.8% of the vote, effectively gaining a seat, it has clearly failed to win them big gains.

The effect of this on the Tory party will be fascinating to watch. I think Labour will be able to shrug this one off, partly because most other incumbents also did terribly (and for France and Germany two that were against the war, thus blunting the effectiveness of that hammer), and because the Tory result is even worse. They will likely focus on the local results, and it continues to mystify me why people are making such a think out of them. Labour ends up with winning more wards, and apparently they are about to lose a general election. Oh please.

I'll post more tomorrow and the day after once the final results are in and leaving me to gather my thoughts.

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