In Brief

Labour on course to sweep European elections

First poll puts Labour way ahead with Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party main beneficiary of anger at Tories handling of Brexit

Labour is on course to sweep the European Parliamentary elections next month, as voters turn away from the Conservatives in droves following their chaotic handling of Brexit.

The UK is now expected to take part in European Parliament (EP) elections at the end of May, as a condition of being grant an extension to Article 50 by other EU leaders.

The Guardian says “the official starting gun has been fired on a set of UK European elections that are distinct in two particular ways: first, they might never happen; and second, if they do, the smaller parties are looking forward to them more than the main ones”.

Both main parties had been expecting a kicking in the polls, but a new survey shows at least Labour's fears could be misplaced.

A survey from Hanbury Strategy, the first to poll British voter intention ahead of EP elections, shows Labour on 37% with the Conservatives way behind on 23%.

“The polls suggest that the public are determined to punish the Conservatives for the government's failure to take the UK out of the EU as promised,” says Politics Home.

It appears Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party will be the main beneficiary of public anger, polling third at 10.3%. The rest of the vote is split between pro and anti-Brexit parties with the Liberal Democrats at 8.1%, followed by Ukip (7.5%), new centrist party Change UK (4.1%), SNP (4.1%), and Greens (4.0%).

“Nakedly pro-EU parties have yet to pick up support” says HuffPost, although the new centrist Change UK will hope to attract more voters as the campaign progresses and its name recognition grows.

With just 35.2% of respondents saying they were 10/10 likely to vote, turnout will be key, however.

The Open Europe think tank which commissioned the poll says “Remain voters seem to be more motivated than Leavers”. 37.8% of Leave voters said they were 10/10 likely to vote, compared to 46.9% of Remain voters.

While the governing party is often punished at European-level elections, the poll will make for worrying reading at Tory party HQ. Local associations have already warned the party was facing electoral “wipeout” at next month’s local elections amid widespread anger at Theresa May’s handling of Brexit.

Amid fears the Tories could struggle to mobilise enough grassroots supporters and field candidates for local and European elections, some have suggested boycotting the vote in protest.

Others have urged a more active approach. “If we really must take part in farcical European elections, two months after we were meant to leave the EU, the least we can do is use the opportunity to punish the fools who disdained the people’s instruction and got us into this drawn-out mess” writes Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph, urging traditional Tory voters to spoil their ballots.

By contrast, the poll will give a boost to Labour and its carefully constructed strategy of appealing to predominantly metropolitan Remain voters and more traditional working class Labour Leavers.

The New Statesman says “if repeated at an actual election, it would be the best performance by any political party since Tony Blair adopted a proportional system for European elections in 1999”.

The result could also have wider implications for the rest of Europe.

According to Jon Stone in The Independent “a strong result for Labour in the European Parliament elections could be enough to hand the European Commission presidency back to the continent’s centre-left”.

Under the so-called “Spitzenkandidat” system, the lead candidate for the group that comes top between the centre-right European People’s Party, which has dominated the parliament since 1999, and the centre-left socialist group, is appointed Commission president.

With the latest polling showing a Labour landslide, “Britain’s 73 MEPs could be enough to tip the balance of power in Brussels and clinch victory for the socialists – shifting the priorities of the whole EU leftwards”, says Stone.

“But the situation is hugely unpredictable,” says The Guardian. “European elections have long been a chance for UK voters to back smaller parties, not least as the PR system means they are rewarded”.

It could also be a chance to register a protest at the two main parties.

“Right across the EU, European elections are seen by voters as an opportunity to register a protest. Assuming Brexit is further delayed and the UK is forced to hold elections for new MEPs, those elections will give the public a chance to send a message on Brexit,” Open Europe Director, Henry Newman said.

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