Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The 2014 European Elections in Britain: The Counter-Revolt of the Masses?1

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The 2014 European Elections in Britain: The Counter-Revolt of the Masses?1

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

The British have always tended to be more conservative on European integration than most, if not all of their fellows on the Continent. An opinion poll conducted by the Electoral Reform Society just a month before the 2014 European elections revealed the yawning disconnect between the British public and the EU: three in five respondents (59%) believe that the European Parliament does not represent the views of voters; 74% that their voice does not count in the EU; and 80% that their vote makes more of a difference in a UK general election than in the election for the European Parliament (EP)2. These public opinion trends must be of concern to British political elites. In the words of Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron: "Membership of the European Union depends on the consent of the sovereign British people - and in recent years that has worn wafer-thin"3. The 2014 European elections, then, took place against a backdrop of a heightened degree of scepticism about the EU.

Euroscepticism amongst the general public has been accompanied by the increasingly good electoral performance of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the EU elections. UKIP's entire raison d'être is to secure Britain's withdrawal from the EU. The party began to be noticed in 1999 when they won three seats in the European Parliament on 7% of the vote. This was a significant rise over the 1.2% of the vote they had won five years earlier in the 1994 elections. Five years later, in the 2009 elections, UKIP won 2.4 million votes, or 16.5% of the total - second only to the Conservative Party (27.7%) and ahead of both the Labour Party (15.7%) and the strongly pro-European Liberal Democrat Party (13.7%) - which translated into 12 seats in the EP. In 2013, a full year before the 2014 European elections, the polls were already predicting very good results for UKIP. The political establishment across the ideological spectrum effectively declared war on Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, in the run-up to the elections, accusing him of racism and fraudulent misuse of his expense account as a member of the EP4. The accuracy of these allegations is a moot point; UKIP continued to top the polls throughout the election campaign. At the end of April 2014, only a month before the elections, YouGov polls showed UKIP in the lead with 31%, followed by Labour with 28%, and the Conservatives with 19%5. UKIP did in fact win, making history for it being the first time since 1906 that a political party other than Labour or the Conservatives won a national election6.

CAMPAIGN ISSUES & RESULTS

Elections to the EP are governed by the rules of proportional representation (PR) across Britain, except for Northern Ireland, which uses the Single Transferable Vote. By contrast, national elections for domestic offices follow the rules of first-past-the-post, which until lately produced a stable twoparty system. Forty parties fielded candidates competing for 73 seats in the 2014 EP elections, a melee that resembles the fragmented party system characteristic of Eastern Europe (see the Annex, Table 1). Out of those forty parties, however, only a handful were really competitive: UKIP led by Nigel Farage, the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister David Cameron, the Labour Party led by Ed Miliband, and the strongly Europhile Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg.

The United Kingdom Independence Party

The most significant news out of the 2014 European elections in Britain was the spectacular success of UKIP. It came out on top - ahead of all the mainstream political parties, - winning 27.49% of the votes, nearly an 11% increase over 2009, yielding eleven additional UKIP MPs in the European Parliament for a total of 24 (see the Annex, Table 1)7.

UKIP is a relatively new party, having emerged in 1993 from the AntiFederalist League set up in 1991 by Alan Sked, an Oxford-educated historian and Professor of International History at the London School of Economics8. …

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