Richard Corbett's blog

Reflections on the European Election Results

Looking behind the Farage-focussed headlines to see what the UK voters were trying to tell Labour, and the country.

The European election results were not good for Labour, halving our number of seats from 20 to 10 and losing valued colleagues.

Labour haemorrhaged votes mostly to the Greens and the Lib Dems because of perceptions that our commitment to a public vote on any Brexit outcome was half-hearted and because our talks with the government (still ongoing for most of this campaign) were portrayed as bailing out the Tories on Brexit.

Had Labour wholeheartedly campaigned on the basis of our commitment (which is tucked away in our manifesto) to a public vote, we could have had a resounding victory – as we did the last time we faced a divided Tory government in a European election (1994, when we won 62 out of 87 seats).

Much of the commentary has been about Farage’s new party winning the most seats. But a look beyond the headlines shows that Farage fell well short of his target of taking the 2014 UKIP vote + half the 2014 Tory vote + a few from Labour, which would have taken him to nearly 45%. He failed to do that. The Brexit party came up short.

Indeed, the total number of seats for the Brexit parties (BXT+CON+UKIP) is actually ten seats LOWER than they won in 2014. They’re going backwards. Similarly the aggregate share of the votes for these parties is well down on 2014.

And the total vote for parties supporting a public vote on the actual Brexit deal (Lab+LD+Green+SNP+Plaid) is greater than those opposing it (BXT+CON+UKIP).

This confirms that the public mood has shifted against Brexit. It would be folly to proceed with Brexit because it is “the will of the people” when there is every indication that it no longer is.

To oppose a public vote on the actual Brexit deal is tantamount to saying to the public: “You had your say 3 years ago, now you must shut up and accept whatever the government comes up with.”

All these factors reinforce the argument for Labour to be more vocal and robust in its commitment to a public vote. That is not just the right thing to do for the country, it is also right for the party.