Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How much do the euro elections matter?

For the best analysis of last week's turbulent politics, I refer you to Hopi Sen's excellent article How Not to Plot. He says it all.

But there is a question that hasn't been addressed. How important are the euro-elections anyway? It's fashionable to claim that because the Tories got 27.7% and UKIP got 16.5% and "of course" UKIP people will vote Tory in a general election, the Tories are on course for a general election share of 44.2%.

But this overlooks turnout, which was an abysmal 34%. What happens when turnout rises to general election levels? The best way to gauge this is to see what happened between the euro elections of 2004 and the general election of 2005.

Looking back to the 2004 european elections, the Tory and UKIP results were not that different to now. Here's how the results panned out.

Party Votes %
Conservative 4,397,090 26.7
Labour 3,718,683 22.6
UKIP 2,650,768 16.1
LibDem 2,452,327 14.9
Green 1,033,093 6.3
BNP 808,200 4.9
Respect 252,252 1.5
SNP 231,505 1.4
Plaid Cymru 159,888 1.0

The Tories plus UKIP are 42.8%. And in number of votes Tories plus UKIP total 7,047,858.

Now look what happens in the 2005 general election:

Party Votes %
Labour 9,562,122 35.3
Conservative 8,772,598 32.3
LibDem 5,981,874 22.1
UKIP 603,298 2.2
SNP 412,267 1.5
Green 257,758 1.0
BNP 192,746 0.7
Plaid cymru 174,838 0.6
Respect 68,094 0.3%

The Conservatives plus UKIP are now 9,375896 (2,328,038 up from their 2004 euro election showing). But Labour puts on a whopping 5,843,439 votes in the 2005 general election compared to the 2004 euro elections.

The message from the above that the Tory+UKIP vote is a reliable indicator of what they will get in the general election - their supporters turn out to the ballot box come rain or shine for all manner of elections. They will put on a bit in the general election, but only marginally. But look at the Labour voters - they just don't bother to vote in non-general elections at the best of times. And in 2004, some were probably abstaining because of Iraq. But they came out in the general election.

Now to the 2009 euro elections. the results were as follows:

Party Votes %
Conservative 4,198,394 27.7%
UKIP 2,498,226 16.5%
Labour 2,381,760 15.7%
LibDem 2,080,613 13.7%
Green 1,223,303 8.6%
BNP 943,598 6.2%
SNP 321,007 2.1%
Plaid Cymru 126,702 0.8%

In terms of numbers of votes, everyone is a bit down from the 2004 euro elections, apart from the Greens and the BNP. But Labour's vote is sharply down. It hasn't "gone" to anyone. They've just stayed at home.

The challenge for the general election is in getting them to come out and vote. All the plots etc have probably put them off big time. But now that the plots are over, if the party can focus on the idea that the next election is a make or break election, which is going to be close, with clear differences between Labour and the Tories, then, well, it's not over.

It's all about getting out the vote. The most disturbing article to be written in recent days was the one penned by John Prescott where he alleged that certain members of the government were not even trying to win. He's right to be concerned. If that attitude is replicated in the general election, we will lose badly. If the govt pulls up it's socks and starts to fight, that needn't be the case.