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The European Elections – a Silly Season Story, Part 2

The European Elections – a Silly Season Story, Part 2

🕔08.Aug 2013

It’s rarely precisely defined, but we can all recognise it when it arrives – that Augusty time, characterized by exaggerated news stories about frivolous matters for want of real news. Yes, the silly season – and while European Parliament elections aren’t exactly frivolous matters, at nearly a year’s distance they’re hardly hot news, and, even when they do happen, they’ll deploy an electoral system as sensible and comprehensible to most of us as cricket’s Duckworth-Lewis method.

So congratulations to Benjamin Mulvihill for opening the Chamberlain Files’ silly season with his examination of the West Midlands ‘runners and riders’ in next June’s elections for the Strasbourg Parliament.

In truth, though, Benjamin’s piece was disappointingly short on serious silliness, being instead a rather informed summary of the electoral process, the candidate lists selected by the leading political parties, including UKIP, and a reasoned evaluation of those candidates’ chances. 

I don’t know if Benjamin’s a betting man, but, if so, he seems at this early stage to be hedging them. He suggests early on, apparently referring to the West Midlands, that “if UKIP performs anywhere near as well as it expects”, our representation in the Strasbourg Parliament could be “dramatically different” – different, that is, from the present distribution of the six West Midlands seats: 2 Conservative, 2 UKIP, 1 Labour and 1Liberal Democrat.

Yet from his individual party analyses we gather that he’s only actually expecting a comparatively minor net change, with Labour taking a seat from the Conservatives, but the picture otherwise remaining the same.

It was then I remembered it was the silly season, and that the “dramatically different” projection was probably included to qualify it as an ‘exaggerated news story’. For, as I will suggest in the remainder of this blog, I think it is an exaggeration. Moreover, I will attempt to support that view by reference to opinion poll data, and that – suggesting opinion polls can have anything at all relevant to say about an election more than a year away – must constitute silliness to the point of idiocy.

Let’s start with what I think is the most recently published national poll asking electors about their voting intentions in next June’s European elections – conducted by ComRes for The Times in late May. It was shortly after UKIP’s considerable success in both local elections and parliamentary by-elections, so it was not a complete surprise that, on their metaphorical home ground of Europe, UKIP topped this poll with 27%, followed by Labour on 23%, the Conservatives on 21%, Lib Dems on 18%, and others 11% (Table 6).

Nor was it greatly surprising that the question on General Election voting intentions, when again excluding Don’t Knows, produced a rather different order: Labour 37%, Conservatives 26%, UKIP 20%, Lib Dems 9% (Table 4). It would appear that, in the present political climate, Labour would be the big relative losers in a European election, the Conservatives rather less so, while the Lib Dems as well as UKIP would be the relative gainers, exceeding their standings in the national polls.

That climate, though, has changed a little since late May. The Conservatives have had quite an upbeat two months and the UKIP bubble has done whatever bubbles do short of bursting. As a result, the current UKPR Polling Average of all national polls over the past three weeks has Labour on 38%, the Conservatives up to 31%, UKIP down to 12%, and the Lib Dems on 11%.

In the absence of an up-to-date, large-sample poll on European election voting intentions, we need to give two ‘tweaks’ to the May figures – adjusting first for this recent political climate change, and second for the likelihood of UKIP, as in 2009, performing more strongly in the West Midlands than across the country as a whole, and the Lib Dems in particular performing less well.

Bothering to do all this so ridiculously far away from the actual elections is obviously where the extreme silliness comes in, but it does seem to me that, were there Euro elections in the West Midlands this week, these final tweaks would put the three principal contending parties pretty well neck-and-neck, with the Lib Dems several points adrift. Let’s say, for the sake of illustration: Labour 25%, UKIP 24%, Conservatives 23%, Lib Dems 18%, others 10%.

Were that actually to be the case, or there were to be anything even loosely resembling that vote distribution, two seats would go to each of the two leading parties and one each to the other two – as in 2009, the only election held since the West Midlands seat allocation was cut from 7 to 6.

Even if UKIP were to poll 35%, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems suffering severely for their Coalition record and dropping to 18% and 12% respectively, UKIP would still get only two seats and the Coalition partners one each.

For UKIP to “grab three of the seats on offer in the West Midlands”, as Benjamin speculates, they, or indeed any other party, would probably have BOTH to win getting on for 40% of the vote, AND to have a lead of at least 12 or 13% over any other party.
Certainly at present that doesn’t seem very likely, which is, of course, what makes it such a fine silly season story.

Sub-Ed: Chris is correct in his analysis of the silly season: in order to keep the Files’ content rolling over the summer, we published the first half-baked story and then a piece mildly critical of my first post. This openness could get out of hand. I’ve laid a bet with my online bookie at 2/1 that Chris will be back with another post very soon. 

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