From the far left to the far right, in Britain, France, Denmark, Austria and Greece, euroscepticism is not merely “on the rise”; it has triumphed. In Britain, Nigel Farage MEP hailed a political earthquake, the greatest result seen in over one hundred years, while in France Marine le Pen’s Front National won a historic victory, polling 25% of votes cast.
As eurosceptics across the continent celebrate, their merriments signal the start of a severe political headache for the EU juggernaut and its supporters, the hangover of which will be felt by the two biggest British political parties from now through to next year’s General Election.
The Conservatives, formerly the largest British contingent, were shafted, down from 25 to 18 MEPs, placing them narrowly in third place for the first time, at a national election, in British history.
Labour, by contrast, took the protest vote, increasing their contingent by seven to 18 MEPs. Despite narrowly beating the Conservatives this was not the result Miliband should have hoped for nor was it anywhere near as high as HM’s Opposition should expect in times of austerity.
The high point of the night was the almost entire obliteration of the Liberal Democrats, the EU’s biggest advocates. The Lib Dems lost 10 of their 11 MEPs via the D’Hondt proportional electoral system; despite last night’s wipe out, next year they stand to retain many of their seats via First Past the Post. Ironic, really, given the taxpayer forked out £75million for the Lib Dem vanity project, 2011’s AV Referendum.
The Euro results will dictate the terms of the 2015 General Election campaigns. Lines have been drawn and Europeans, especially Brits, want a choice. Labour’s failure to offer a referendum on our future in Europe both prevented them from faring better last night and could prove a phenomenal error of judgment, amongst a cacophony of errors in policy, for Miliband come 2015.
Already, Conservative ministers are reacting to the UKIP surge by considering further crackdowns on migrants’ access to benefits and new measures to kick out unemployed EU nationals after just six months. But – forgetting the fact that these measures are likely to be illegal under EU law – most within the Conservative Party deeply underestimate the dogmatic loyalty of UKIP members to their party.
When I joined back in 2012, I wrongly expected there to be an unspoken agreement that we were all Tories really, Tories in exile. Notwithstanding UKIP’s recent shift to target former Labour supporters, after their phenomenal performance last night UKIP are here to stay and scraps from the Tory table are unlikely to prove enough to tempt their supporters home next year.
Moving forward, the challenge for British eurosceptics will be to find a way to unite their support for the same end – a referendum on our future in Europe – while ensuring that come hell or highwater Ed Miliband does not stride into Downing Street, treading our chances of freedom underfoot.
The need for the right to unite was perfectly exemplified last night by the dirty tactics of former UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass who, angry and bitter at deselection, set up “An Independence from Europe“, a party designed to confuse would- be UKIP voters. It worked, with the UKIP vote suffering at AIFE’s hands across the country; in the South West, Nattrass’ party took 23,000 votes, seeing UKIP’s Gawain Towler miss out by a mere 7,000 votes to the Greens. Thanks for that, Mike.