Political parties can learn a very good lesson from Nigel Farage in time for the European elections

A show of strength is called for

James Moore
Saturday 13 April 2019 10:57
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Nigel Farage stresses Aaron Banks will not be involved in Brexit Party funding

In Theresa May’s world, there is no appetite for a Final Say referendum in this country, or for democracy of any kind really.

The “British people” just want her to get the Brexit job done so she can sail off into the sunset and claim her place in history. A few bricks through recalcitrant MPs’ windows and we’ll be there.

Her gaslighting is deeply offensive, but it’s also depressingly commonplace. There are plenty of others who indulge in it.

The UK’s potential participation in the European elections on 23 May has been much discussed, but so far it has largely been in terms of the impact Nigel Farage’s nasty new Brexit Party might have on the Tory vote.

A strong showing on Farage’s part may serve to intensify the focus of the two main parties on courting or appeasing a relatively small number of mostly elderly Brexit-backing voters, despite the polling evidence that shows we have become a Remainer Now nation.

If a European parliament vote takes place in this country, it is vitally important that backers of a Final Say not only turn out, but also that they back parties that are fully supportive of one, regardless of whom they would choose in a general election.

A show of strength is called for.

But which party to back? Hardline Brexiteers have two options: Farage’s lot or an even more unpleasant (if that’s possible) Ukip.

The choice for those backing a referendum is harder. With Labour’s leadership still equivocating, they have in England the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and possibly Change UK/The Independent Group, assuming its attempt to register as a new party with the Electoral Commission is successful.

In Scotland, the situation is further complicated by the stance of voters on a different referendum: a second go at whether Scotland should exit the UK, which will play a role in whether or not they support the SNP, another Final Say-backing party. In Wales, Plaid Cymru is in the mix.

This diversity of parties presents a problem. The UK elects its MEPs via a system of proportional representation which ought (in theory) to eliminate the need for tactical voting.

Except that it’s not that simple.

It’s still easy to “waste” a vote in Britain’s big multi-member European constituencies in which parties submit lists of candidates for us to vote for, and seats are allocated based on how many they receive in each region.

Take Scotland. Believe it or not, it returned a Ukip MEP in 2014 after the party secured 10.46 per cent of the vote in its single constituency (he now backs the Brexit Party). But the Greens (8 per cent) and the Liberal Democrats (7 per cent) were left out in the cold.

Nationally, the Lib Dems received just under 1.1 million votes, but secured just the one MEP (in the southeast). The Greens, with 1.26 million, managed three. The Tories polled three times that, but took more than six times (19) the number of seats. The SNP, which stood only in Scotland, got two seats for its 390,000 votes.

I’m not a psephologist, but with Change UK in the mix, referendum-backing parties could do quite well in terms of votes but still look like losers when it comes to the number of seats, in contrast to Farage’s Brexit Party. He could easily lose the election but win the narrative. That could serve to further heighten the two main parties’ focus on appeasing its voters.

Tactical voting would seem to be called for.

But how to go about doing that? In England, it’s possible to foresee something of a revival for the Lib Dems. While their current poll ratings aren’t great, they’re a lot better than the dismal 7 per cent they achieved at the last European elections. In 2009 they took 13.7 per cent of the vote nationally, which was good for 11 seats. With 100,000-plus members, and an election-fighting infrastructure in place, they could do quite well.

In polls, their support has ranged between 8 and 12 per cent. The Greens, meanwhile, register at between 3 and 5 per cent. But these polls are focused on Westminster voting intentions. People have proven much more inclined to vote for smaller parties in European elections.

The difficulty with tactical voting in support of a Final Say is that it asks the voter to get a read on what might be the best option in their multi-member constituency. That’s a lot more complicated than it is with a Westminster election.

For example, should I, in the London constituency, back the Lib Dems or would it be more sensible to lend my vote to the Greens, who have one of the capital’s eight seats and might enjoy an incumbency advantage?

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One way forward for those politicians genuinely concerned about the future of this country, and its citizens, might perhaps be for them to consider forming a Final Say list: a temporary electoral pact between referendum-backing parties, which would have the benefit of a clear and simple message. That’s something that Farage offers, and it helps him no end.

It’s probably a pipe dream, I know. The difficulties such an idea would present are considerable.

But the new MEPs may only have their seats for a few weeks in the absence of a miracle.

A rare positive of the current depressing situation has been the way sensible MPs have been able to forge alliances across the House of Commons in the national interest.

It would be nice to think this could be extended to cover what could be one of the wildest, weirdest, but also most important elections in years. Assuming, that is, that it takes place.

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