Monday, June 08, 2009

European Results - Lib Dems' reasons to be cheerful

If there's anything worse than going to bed knowing that a Fascist has been elected to a Parliament, it's waking up to see Nick Griffin’s odious little mug over the news,celebrating his win in the north west. I want to write a separate post about those rather sinister developments to explore some ideas about how we could deal with them and whether there is anything that the rest of the UK can learn from the Scottish experience.

My first reaction on seeing our vote was that, well, we'd done ok. Going into this campaign, even before the expensses stuff, I thought there was a real danger of going down to 9 MEPs - we probably wouldn't win the second seat in the north west after Saj Karim's defection, and he has in fact, unfortunately, been re-elected as a Tory and it was by no means certain that we would retain our seats in both Scotland and the East Midlands, given the reductions in the numbers of seats in those places. In fact, George Lyon is on course to win the fifth of the six seats in Scotland and I'm thrilled that Bill Newton Dunn has been elected in the East Midlands. That is the most spectacular results because effectively it is an LD gain - if the 2004 result had been repeated, he would not have got in.

So far, so good. However it is deeply frustrating that only 3.5% would have had us in second place behind the Tories. Over the whole country that's only around 75000 extra votes to have given us that prized position and perhaps elect Jonathan Fryer in London. He only missed out by 8000 votes and had put so much hard work in. That's probably my biggest Lib Dem disappointment of the night. Only 1.5%, or around 30,000 extra votes, would have had us ahead of Labour. In Wales we were not that far away from electing our first MEP there. We need to look at what extra we could have done in the last few days to both on the ground and within our campaign strategy to maybe have bridged those small gaps. It feels so much worse to lose by small margins than to be absolutely whomped so we need to see if there was any fine tuning that would have made a difference.

We can take some comfort in that for the first time in a long time, we have fought the European elections on a very positive, pro European message. We were unashamed to say that we were Stronger Together and Weaker Apart. And it's not as if that message was overshadowed by the expenses stuff because Nick Clegg plugged it at every opportunity he got and he looked entirely comfortable with it, too. We were really the only lone pro-European voice in a pretty sceptical climate so we did well not to be punished for that. I'm reminded of what the Observer was saying last week - that we often took minority stances that were later proved to be right. Perhaps we should have started earlier with those messages, highlighting the dangers of the isolationist stance of the Euro-sceptic parties.

We don't tend to do that well in Euro elections - it wasn't until 1994 that we had our first directly elected MEPs and you can't really extrapolate what's going to happen in any other election from them - and that applies to all parties. You only need to look at our emphatic second place in the County Council elections, where we got 28% compared to Labour's 23%, which equalled the share we got in 2005, held on the same day as our best general election result in decades.

If the British public are looking for an answer to current woes, both sets of elections, European and local, show that they are not confident of getting it from the Tories. Only 38% voted for them in the Counties - way short of what they would need to get an overall majority in a Westminster election and not much more than a quarter chose them for Europe. William Hague, whose leadership of the Tory Party provided them with some dark days, actually got 6% more of the vote in 1999 than nice shiny new reforming leader "Call me Dave" Cameron could muster now.

The Labour result was so excruciatingly bad across the whole country. 15% across the country is bad enough, but, bloody hell, less than 21% in Scotland, turns electoral disaster into an art form. They're a mess. Enough said.

And, ok, yes, the SNP did get the highest share of the vote in Scotland, credit where it's due, but I'm not sure why given that they were almost invisible. I live in what is effectively a Labour/SNP marginal and I didn't get one single thing from the Nats. Given how deeply unpopular Labour are, their failure to meet even their 2007 vote of 32.9% is somewhat surprising. Jeff has been predicting that we'd be sending 3 Nats to Brussels for months and that's simply not happening.

So, there are reasons to be cheerful, and proud, to be a Lib Dem. It might not be a spectacular result, but we did, in the circumstances, quite creditably.

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