European parliamentary elections: a guide to the UK parties
Nigel Farage set for second consecutive victory on 23 May
Nigel Farage looks set for his second consecutive European elections victory ahead of the vote in the UK on Thursday.
Polls continue to favour the former UKIP leader’s new party, The Brexit Party, which holds a clear lead across the country as a whole.
Most of the polling companies have Labour in second place, followed by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. But YouGov “put Labour on a much lower share than the others - 15% in their two most recent polls - and have the Lib Dems ahead of them in second place”, reports the BBC.
The UK’s participation in the European elections “has taken on an aura of farce”, says The Guardian, as would-be MEPs campaign for seats even though the UK voted almost three years ago to leave the EU.
But the outcome of the vote, on 23 May, is particularly significant to the Government as “many people will see the election as a proxy Brexit referendum”, say Sara Hobolt and Anand Menon in The Times. How the votes stack up between Leave and Remain-supporting parties “will be the object of much attention”, they add.
In fact, Thursday’s contest looks likely to be as close as the 2016 referendum, according to one survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations and YouGov, reports The Guardian.
Taken together, all major anti-Brexit parties, including Change UK, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, are given 37.5% of voting intentions in the poll. The Brexit Party and its forebear, UKIP, are on 36.1%.
The same poll also found those in the UK nurture some of the highest levels of political disaffection in Europe, with 60% of those polled saying the system in the UK and the EU is broken. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 90% of those who intend to vote for the Brexit Party this week are most likely to support the “broken politics” view, says the survey.
On the whole, the elections look likely to be a big win for the smaller parties, with iNews reporting that fewer than one quarter of voters plan to support either Conservative or Labour.
Here are the UK parties in what is being billed as the most important Continent-wide election in decades:
The Brexit Party
The Brexit Party’s official launch was heralded by Business Insider as a “masterclass in simple political messaging”. Currently leading in the polls, the party is being marshalled by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who says his main aim is to make sure “that the United Kingdom shall cease to be a member of the European Union”.
But in an article on BrexitCentral, another of Farage’s Tory defectors, Annunziata Rees-Mogg - sister of Jacob Rees-Mogg - insists the party’s cause goes beyond Brexit. “This fight is as much about democracy as it is leaving the EU,” she writes. “We need to change politics for the better before it is too late. Our fight is just as important as the suffragettes.”
The potential candidates for the party include Ann Widdecombe. The former Tory MP told the Daily Express: “The public needs to send a very clear message and that is we expect the vote to be respected so just get on with the job of getting us out of the EU.”
Widdecombe “completes a pretty high-profile line-up of candidates in the Southwest that should make the hustings down there quite a thing to behold”, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.
Her opponents “will include Remainiac peer Andrew Adonis (Labour), columnist and famous sibling Rachel Johnson (Change UK), YouTube star and anti-feminist Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad (UKIP), and eco-warrior Molly Scott Cato (Green Party)”, Blanchard adds.
The pro-Remain outfit only registered as a political party in April but “it could yet do well, delivering a new group of British MEPs likely to align with centrist forces like Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche party in the European Parliament”, says Politico. Change UK’s interim leader, Heidi Allen, said at the launch: “These elections are a chance to send the clearest possible message - we demand a People’s Vote and the right to campaign to remain in the European Union.”
However, the party launch event “was marred when one of its candidates, Ali Sadjady, was forced to stand down within hours over comments about Romanians”, reports The Times.
Change UK’s potential candidates include former broadcasters Rachel Johnson and Gavin Esler. The former - sister of ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson - previously joined the Liberal Democrats before the 2017 general election in protest at the Conservative Party’s support for Brexit.
Former BBC Newsnight presenter Esler is presenting Change UK as a “Remain alliance” formed to “stop Brexit, fix Britain and move on to reform the EU”. Esler says he is sick of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg “selling the same old snake oil”, adding: “They stole our patriotism and I want it back.”
However, unlike the Brexit Party, Change UK could be held back be a lack of name recognition when voters head to the polls.
The party won the most seats in the UK in the 2014 European elections but has seen many of its MEPs defect over to Farage’s new outfit during the life of the parliament. This time, the party has chosen a number of controversial Youtubers to stand, including Markus Meechan aka Count Dankula, and Benjamin.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten has also faced criticism for courting former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson. Politico’s poll of polls has support for the party now down to just 5%.
Labour came second in the 2014 vote but face a tricky battle to maintain support from both the Remain and Leave wings of the party. Analysis by the People’s Vote campaign shows that 16 of the 20 leading Labour potential MEPs back a second referendum.
Despite widespread support among MPs and members, there has been a bitter debate at the top of the party over whether to formally back a second Brexit vote as part of its manifesto for the European Parliament elections. A crunch meeting of the ruling NEC last week saw the leadership’s preferred position of “keeping all options on the table” prevail.
However, a poorer than expected showing in last week’s local elections has led many to suggest the party’s policy of “constructive ambiguity” over Brexit risks putting off both Leavers and Remainers.
With the majority of the public blaming the government for the current chaos surrounding Brexit, the Tories are expected to be one of the night’s big losers. A recent questionnaire of party members for the ConservativeHome website found that 62% were planning to vote for the Brexit Party, with just 23% backing the Tories.
The current leader of the Conservative group in the European Parliament, Ashley Fox, has confirmed that he will be taking part, and joked about the likely reception he faces when campaigning.
With enthusiasm at record lows, and the party polling at just 13%, the Conservatives have struggled to find suitable candidates to stand and mobilise grass-roots activists, who are essential in getting out the vote.
Former Chief Whip Mark Harper has told parliamentary magazine The House that he can “understand why people won’t vote Tory on 23 May”.
The Conservatives message is that they “don’t want these elections to take place either, and the only way to prevent them happening again is to vote Tory”, says the i news site’s Stephen Bush.But “you can see the problem: they’re pledging to do something that they have already failed to do, despite being the literal governing party”, Bush adds.
The big winners from last week’s local elections, the Lib Dems see May’s European vote as an opportunity to make the case for continued EU membership – and have pitched themselves as the party best placed to push for a second referendum.
However, they could be hit be a failure to agreed a pro-Remain alliance after “talk of different anti-Brexit, pro-referendum parties co-operating, either by putting forward a single list of candidates or not standing in certain regions, has come to nothing”, says the BBC.
One of the most intriguing battles will be between a newly resurgent Lib Dems and their nascent challengers for the centre-ground, Change UK.
The Green Party says it plans “to use these democratic and proportional elections to mobilise one of the strongest pro-EU movements anywhere on the Continent and champion a fairer, greener, more democratic EU”.
The party will also hope to capitalise on the added focus on climate change in the UK, and Politico’s poll of polls puts the Greens level on points with the Lib Dems and Change UK on 8%.
The UK’s main regional parties, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein, have also signalled their intention to stand. The SNP says the elections are an opportunity to present “Scotland’s opposition to Brexit in clear and unambiguous terms”.