Monday, June 08, 2009

European elections: Labour suffers long, dark night of humiliation

It was, of course, an utter disaster, but it's not as if it was a disaster which none of us could see coming.

Gordon Brown faces a make or break ­challenge to his leadership today after Labour trailed humiliatingly behind Ukip in the European elections and was expected to garner about 16% or 17% of the vote, its lowest share since the first world war and below the party's worst expectations.

During a dramatic night of unremitting gloom for Downing Street, the Tories appeared to have pulled more than 10 points ahead of Labour, with Ukip in ­second. The BNP also secured its first ­significant wins in British politics when its leader Nick Griffin became an MEP in the north-west, and Andrew Brons – a former leader of the National Front - won in Yorkshire and Humber. The major parties blamed each other for the drift to the far-right reflected in results across the country.
In the wake of an expenses scandal which has shocked the nation it's no surprise that Labour, the ruling party, have done terribly in a European election which provided the perfect opportunity for a protest vote.

And, although Cameron can hold his head high, the percentage of the vote taken by the Conservatives would normally be regarded as shockingly low.
A BBC projection early today forecast that the Tories would win 27 per cent of votes, Ukip 17 per cent, Labour 16 per cent, the Liberal Democrats 14 per cent, the Greens 9 per cent and the BNP 6 per cent.
So, the public are furious with politicians in general which has led to an unusually low turnout and a series of protest votes which one would never expect to see replicated in a general election.

That's not how the Tories will portray this, but I'm pleased to see that this is the line being taken by Number 10:
Number 10 argued the vote reflected an anti-mainstream politics revolt, rather than a vote against Labour, pointing to the surge for Ukip, as opposed to any big rise for the Conservatives. Labour officials also said that a European election had limited relevance to a general election held by the first past the post system in which minor parties would fade.
So, I don't regard this as a great victory for the Tories as much as a shameful night for British politics in which far right groups were able to get a toe into European politics.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said that it was "deeply uncomfortable" to see the BNP polling in such large numbers.

He said that they had been the beneficiaries of an "anti-politics mood" which had hit all the main parties in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal.

"It is a sad moment in British politics," he said.

"The BNP is like the ultimate protest vote. It is how to deliver the establishment a two-fingered salute. I think largely it is a comment on Westminster politics."

Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles said the BNP had been able to make its breakthrough because of Labour weakness.

"What has essentially happened is that there has been a retreat particularly by Labour but we haven't been able to fill that particular vacuum," he said.

"What seems to have happened is that Labour voters have been squeezed beyond what we thought was possible - and the BNP has been the beneficiary of that.

"I'm not pleased about that."

And I'm sure the Labour rebels will now be licking their lips thinking that now is the time to pounce, although one would have to imagine that their disgraceful behaviour over the past week only helped Labour's meltdown, which was, of course, exactly what they intended.

For them now to claim that Labour needs a new leader because of results which their behaviour helped create will be the ultimate irony. But I'd put nothing past them.

But one thing should make them reconsider their position. And that is the results themselves. There is no way that the Labour party could change it's leader for a second time and not expect to go almost immediately to the polls to give the public their say.

And, after last night's results, only the most insane Labour MP would willingly put their seat on the line under those circumstances.

The Blairite rebels might be furious, the question now is whether or not sanity has utterly left them.

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