Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Were the Euro-elections in the UK a second referendum?

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, formed from scratch six weeks ago, did very well in the European Parliamentary elections. They won by far the most votes of any party in the UK, 31.6% of the total, well ahead of the second-placed Lib Dems’ 20.3% and the Conservatives' 9%. Brexit is the largest party in the toy parliament, but they did less well than the 37% that one opinion poll had suggested.

In a sense their showing told us nothing we didn't know.

35% of voters voted for parties comfortable with leaving the EU with no deal (the Brexit Party and UKIP). 35% backed the parties (Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK) that supported a second referendum.

A dead heat then?

Not necessarily. The Guardian points out that if you add the votes for the DUP to the Leave total and the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalist votes to Remain, 5.9 million voted unambiguously for pro-Brexit parties and 6.8 million voted for Remain parties.

But you can't really usefully add up votes like that. The nationalist votes have their own dynamics.

People vote SNP, for example, because they want an independent Scotland.

About a third of Scottish nationalist voters voted to leave the EU in 2016, according to the SNP's former leader Gordon Wilson. The SNP, the Welsh Nationalists and Sinn Fein used to be opposed to membership of the EEC (like Labour) and plenty of their voters still are. They are nationalists, after all.

The increase in votes for the Alliance in Northern Ireland is doubtless thanks to the Alliance being pro-EU, but plenty of DUP voters want to stay in the EU, including Ulster hill farmers who benefit from EU membership (and, incidentally, would benefit from the backstop).

The Conservative party's policy was unambiguously to leave the EU, so their 1.4 million votes might be added to the Leave total, even though plenty of loyal Conservative supporters who voted for the party had voted in 2016 to remain.

Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks suggested 80% of Tory voters were pro-leave but what is more important in my view is that 100% of them voted for a party pledged to take the UK out of the EU.

She thinks 60% of Labour voters were Remain, but Labour's policy on the EU was studiously ambiguous, though they were swinging round to wanting a second referendum before the vote. The Labour vote tells you nothing really about Brexit.

The main conclusion to draw from the election is that the country is still fairly evenly divided and that in an election where the only issue was Brexit many of their voters preferred to make their feelings about Brexit clear by voting for parties whose feelings were clear. 

What few mention is that three million foreigners were eligible to vote in these elections. Their votes were presumably mostly (but not always) for Remain parties and make the result less like a second referendum.

But what matters now about the results is not how they look sub specie aeternitatis but what politicians and the media convince us they mean. 

The opinion polls persuaded the Tories to change leaders before the votes were cast. Now the candidates are using the results for their advantage. The Remainers in the Labour party will use the election results to make a second referendum party policy.

The authority of the 2016 referendum result is diminished day by day but these elections confirm that
, after all we have learnt since 2016 about how difficult Brexit will be, almost half the country is still in favour of leaving. This is not what I should have expected. 


  1. Sorry Stephen Yaxley-Lennon Tommy Robinson Wayne King performed so poorly.

    1. That was very significant. He arguably did not get a very fair treatment from the owners of social media that banned him but they are private companies and rightly free to do as they please.

    2. He arguably did not get a very fair treatment from the owners of social media that banned him but they are private companies and rightly free to do as they please.

      That's an incredibly powerful argument for not allowing social media to be in private hands. In fact it's a powerful argument for not permitting traditional mass media to be in private hands either.

  2. May 28, 2019
    The Remain election interpretation must not go unchallenged
    By Sean Walsh

    The same people who told us that we didn’t know what we voted for in 2016 have appropriated the voting intentions of millions of people according to their preferred (and forced) mechanism of interpretation.

    It was predictable to the point of obviousness that this was going to be the attack line. The plan was, once again, to confiscate the result. It needs to be nipped in the bud before -like “hard Brexit”, “crash out” and “cliff edge” -it acquires by repetition an undeserved status of orthodoxy.

    ...Continuity Remain is not entitled to simply amalgamate the votes of sympathetic parties and announce a dubious composite that is mathematically greater than the votes of the party that clearly won this thing. That is the electoral equivalent of garbage in, garbage out. A grubby and unworthy form of political number crunching that overlooks the fact that the results of the calculation will always be determined by what you want the numbers to mean.

    It goes without saying that the BBC -having now completed its evolution from faux analyst of the political landscape into unleaded activist for the Remain cause- went along with the fake and inappropriate maths. It spent most of the night shilling for those who are effectively filibustering the result of the 2016 referendum. There is a dark alchemy in play in all this: a plebiscite that we were told would be binding has now been transformed into an inconvenient backdrop for continuing discussion of whether we should leave or remain at all. The democratically distant but intrusively ever-present technocracy that is mistakenly referred to as “Europe” looms as large in our lives as it did on June 23rd, 2016.

    So, what happens now? It would be foolish to predict and even though I am a fool I won’t be tempted. The Tory Party has been plunged into deep crisis and therefore into great opportunity. They have room to pivot. The intransigence that heads up the party has finally been dissolved. Labour are not so lucky in that regard. There are reasons to believe that prudential self-interest and rationality might coincide in this leadership contest, and that a candidate can come through who recognises that accepting the possibility of leaving on WTO terms is not the same as willing that outcome (that fallacy is one of Hammond’s. Space precludes that I list his others). That it might instead be the case that conceding a willingness to simply leave the EU without an arrangement is the best way of ensuring that possibility does not happen.


  3. It has become obvious that votes to other parties have substantial effect, and that there is only one -xit party.

    1. First poll to this effect:

  4. Whether it's fair or reasonable to interpret the result in various ways by adding up votes of assorted parties is irrelevant. What matters is that the result was sufficiently inconclusive and ambiguous to make such interpretations inevitable.

    A second referendum also seems inevitable.

    If Tommy Robinson did badly that's at least some good news.