Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage says that the European elections “will see a huge shake-up in the three pro-EU parties, with a change in policy and personnel”, thanks to the size of UKIP’s vote. On the 22nd May 2014, coinciding with some English local elections, voters will choose their MEPs.
The constituency of South West England and Gibraltar is comprised of the ceremonial counties of Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, along with the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The constituency was created by the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, initially electing seven MEPs under the d’Hondt system of PR, before the seventh seat was abolished for the 2009 elections. Presently, the six MEPs are Giles Chichester, Julie Girling and Ashley Fox (Conservative); William, Earl of Dartmouth and Trevor Colman (UKIP) and Graham Watson (Liberal Democrat).
Politically, 2009 was rare. The expenses scandal rightfully hit all the major parties. Anti-political sentiment pulsated. The governing Labour party were seemingly exhausted and tremendously unpopular, achieving only 7.7% in South West England: crushed into fifth place. However, it is highly implausible that Labour will be chained beneath 10% of the 2014 vote, especially given their national polling. Survation’s November poll found Labour received about 26% support from Southern voters, underperforming their nationwide score of 32%. Whilst the British National Party, the Pensioners Party, the English Democrats, the Christian Party and Mebyon Kernow all attained at least 1% of the vote, such a repeat performance from these parties is improbable.
Even UKIP failed to make gains in 2009, where their vote share dropped by 0.5%. UKIP have received widespread media attention, particularly after their spectacular performance in the 2013 local election. They even led a ComRes poll for the European elections, taken in May 2013. Support for the Liberal Democrats has plummeted. The Conservatives received a colossal 41.7% share of the 1999 vote, and hovered over 30% just ten years later. European elections have always been vastly different from Westminster elections. Even at the zenith of Labour’s popularity under Tony Blair, Labour only achieved second place. The Conservatives were flickering, like a flame in a gust, from their General Election defeat, but still triumphed in the European elections.
When making predictions for this election, it is vital to understand the d’Hondt method of Proportional Representation. When the votes are counted, a table is produced with each party’s number of votes divided by all the whole numbers from one up to the number of seats. The largest numbers in this table then correspond to a candidate being elected.
For example, in 2009 for South West England, the seats were allocated in the following order: Conservative 1 (486,742); UKIP 1 (341,845); Liberal Democrat 1 (266,253); Conservative 2 (243,371); UKIP 2 (170,923); and Conservative 3 (162,247).
Survation’s poll would suggest that the Conservatives and UKIP will vie at the top, with Labour solidly finishing third. The Liberal Democrats’ collapse of support should mean that the six MEPs are evenly shared between the Conservatives, UKIP and Labour.