John Curtice: A disaster for Labour, but hardly a Tory triumph

Related Topics

Expectations are crucial in politics. By last night, Labour had persuaded the media to expect "heavy losses" in the European elections, and that the party could come fourth – even though not a single opinion poll had ever put the party lower than third. The aim was clear: ensure that anything other than a calamitous performance could be represented as evidence that things were not so bad.

However, calamity was not avoided. Labour was struggling to avoid the ignominy of coming third for the first time in a nationwide vote since 1922. Its share of the vote was easily it lowest-ever score in a nationwide vote since it first started fighting elections as an independent party in 1918. It only managed to top the poll in the deepest of deepest heartland, the North East of England.

True, most parties of government around Europe lost ground. But the drop in Labour's share of the vote as compared with the last general election looks set to be the one of the biggest suffered by any EU governing party. Labour cannot dismiss its reverse as a normal mid-term protest from which it can recover.

Yet for all Labour's difficulties it was far from a night of triumph for David Cameron. The Tory vote was no higher than in 2004, and well down on the 36 per cent William Hague managed in 1999. Hardly a performance to show that the Conservatives are on course for power.

Despite the strongly Eurosceptic tone adopted by David Cameron, voting for the anti-EU Ukip simply proved too tempting a prospect for many voters who might otherwise have voted Tory. Even though this time Ukip did not enjoy the publicity generated by Robert Kilroy-Silk, overall the party still managed to make advances on its 2004 vote.

But UKIP were not the only party to advance. The BNP secured the modest increase in its support it needed in the North of England – the heart of its main strength in recent years – to secure representation in Strasbourg for the first time. This was the one development that none of the other parties wanted. Equally the Greens made a modest advance, but not enough to yield much in the way of extra seats.

Collective support for non-Westminster parties increased beyond the already remarkable one-third recorded in 2004 to no less than two-fifths. The grip of the Westminster parties on the British public has evidently been loosened further by the expenses scandal.

On the other hand, there was little sign of the mass abstention many had anticipated. While turnout fell heavily in places where all-postal ballots were held in 2004 but not this year, elsewhere support fell on average by only a point or so. The parties may not like the voters' verdict, but at least they got one.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot