Five things learned from the European elections in the South West, by London Editor Graeme Demianyk
1. The UKIP march continues – but they will be disappointed not to increase the number of MEPs in the region.
UKIP topped the polls nationally and regionally. That’s seismic in so much it’s never happened to a party other than the Conservatives or Labour. Yet despite increasing their vote share by 10%, they only have two MEPs – the same as after 2009. Nonetheless in 24 out of 38 areas in the South West they were the biggest party.
2 The Green Party have their first ever MEP in the South West
The Greens have complained UKIP has been given a disproportionate share of the media coverage, but nonetheless have made a significant step forward in the region. Not even in the party’s 1989 pomp did they get a seat in the South West. Their lead candidate, Molly Scott Cato, has won respect from many of her rivals and the party has picked off voters tired with the status quo (and the Lib Dems) just like UKIP.
3 The Tories should be pleased
A quarter of the Conservative target seats in the general election next year are in the South West, all of which held by the Lib Dems. In the South West, the Tory vote fell just over 1% and the Lib Dems over 6%. Lib Dems will tell you they did better in areas where they have MPs, but no wonder some are calling for Clegg’s head. Though they could start a lot lower down: the Tories, Labour, UKIP and the Greens have a press officer devoted to the South West, but not the Lib Dems. Worth getting the basics right.
4 Losing Sir Graham Watson is a big blow for the Lib Dems
He’s served for 20 years and been President of the Liberal group in the European Parliament. Even his political rivals paid tribute to him after his defeat. The South West is where Paddy Ashdown built the party from nothing, so the loss of one of his first lieutenants bodes ill.
5 Labour victory masks problems in the South West
The Opposition had a strange night. It gained seven MEPs – including the one it lost in the South West five years’ earlier – and saw it’s vote share go up by almost 10%. And yet the knives are out for Ed Miliband, with many fearing it’s not good enough a year from an election. And it has issues in the South West: it finished third behind UKIP and the Tories in Plymouth, where it wants to win two MPs in a year’s time, just days after it emerged the city had elected three UKIP councillors. Nigel Farage’s party is taking a bite out of the Labour vote too.