Monday, 26 May 2014

First thoughts on the European elections

So the United Kingdom Independence Party won the European elections (above). So far so predictable. Though there were senior Labour figures who thought that Labour might nick the contest at the start, there were few of them left by its end.

But what does it mean for the 2015 General Election? Well, start with this - Labour has done quite badly, though by no means as badly as doom-mongering backbenchers and excitable journalists would have you believe. It did make some progress, though it was inevitably held back firstly by the way the contest became a family row within the broader conservative (and Conservative) movement, and secondly by its leader's last-minute campaign gaffes. Ask yourself, though: how good would you look if you were photographed eating a bacon sandwich?

Anyway. Labour beat back a fiercer-than-expected Conservative challenge for second place, mainly with the help of a very strong vote in London. Wherever there were large, cohesive, older, male groups of white voters with a less-than-college education, Ukip triumphed and Labour retreated; anywhere highly-educated, diverse, multicultural and young, Ukip got nowhere, and Labour moved forward (hello, Oxford and Cambridge). London, being pretty much the definition of young, diverse and multicultural, and containing lots of highly-educated voters alongside many who are not, put a shiny gloss on Labour's results - just as it had in the local council elections.

But don't be fooled. The Conservatives may have come third in a national election for the first time in their history, but Labour ended up only between one and two points ahead of them. Based on historical experience in past electoral cycles, that will probably see David Cameron returned as Prime Minister next year, though (as we've been saying all along here at 'Public Policy and the Past') as the leader of a party still without a majority. Say for the sake of argument that Labour gets 32 or 33 per cent of the vote next May, while Mr Cameron leads the Conservatives to the 37 per cent that precedent based on last night suggests he might. Then the Conservatives will have almost exactly the number of seats they have now.

That's where we've been for a long time. It's where the detailed polling on Ukip supporters' likely allegiances in a General Election suggests we'll stand when the dust settles in about eleven months' time: if we just add the likely Ukip returnees to the Conservatives' and to Labour's scores, the former party would again be a little ahead, though both would be some way below the levels suggested by statistical modelling and the current opionion polls.

So the whole thing's been an exercise in confirming our previous impressions: Labour still a little ahead, the Conservatives gradually catching up and in the process of overhauling them, and a likely unhappy return to No. 10 for Mr Cameron, buttressed by fewer Liberal Democrat allies (which is another story altogether).

But it's nice to get it all confirmed in a great big opinion poll involving actual ballot papers in big black boxes. Isn't it?

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