Some of the possible headline-grabbers for tomorrow…
The Front National has topped the poll in France with around a quarter of the votes. Life just got a lot worse for President Hollande. In Greece, the far left SYRIZA has won with 26 percent (with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn coming in third at a little under ten percent), a good score for SYRIZA, but not enough (yet) to bring down the Greek government, an event that would not delight either Greece’s creditors or the markets. Hungary’s local extremists, the ‘far right’ (and, yes, I understand the problems with that label) Jobbik remained stuck at around 15 percent, while Fidesz, Brussels’s least favorite ruling party, took over half the vote. In Denmark the populist right (and euroskeptic) Danish People’s Party hit the number one spot with some 23 percent, while across the Kattegat the Swedes came up with results too bizarre to construe: the only thing to be said about them is that the governing center-right coalition is looking set for defeat in the general election this fall. Moving across the Gulf of Bothnia, the euroskeptic Finns Party has probably increased its number of seats, but by considerably less than might have been expected not so long ago, a result that will please Brussels, as will what looks to be a relatively poor showing by Beppe Grillo’s confusing populists in Italy.
Having the wrong currency has consequences.
Sources from the other main parties have conceded Nigel Farage’s party will win, with the leader hailing an “earthquake” in British politics. It will be the first time a party other than the Conservatives or Labour has topped a nationwide poll for the first time in 108 years. With six of 12 UK regions having declared, UKIP has 31.9% of the vote, the Conservatives 24.2%, Labour 22.9% and the Lib Dems 7%.
The result is troubling for both the Tories and Labour, but more for the former than the latter. If Labour ends up in third place that will be a humiliation for its leader, the hard left Ed Milliband, but one that he will be able to weather. The electoral math remains in his favor. The turnout in this election was low (in the mid-30s), something that has exaggerated the UKIP swing (low turnouts are the rule in EU elections across the continent—around 14 percent of Slovaks voted—and that’s something that typically favors outsider parties). In a ‘normal’ election, such as the general election next year, turnout will be much higher and, thanks to archaic constituency boundaries, Labour could squeak home with around 35 percent of the national vote.
David Cameron, by contrast, has to build up a big lead if he has to have any hope of retaining the keys to 10 Downing Street. UKIP cost him an absolute majority in the last general election, when the party scored around 3 percent. Even if (1) UKIP is now taking votes from Labour and (2) many of the usually Tory votes ‘lent’ to UKIP return home for a general election, it’s hard to see the party shrinking far and fast enough to save Mr. Cameron’s job.
For all the headlines, these elections are unlikely to change very much for now. The European Parliament will continue to be dominated by europhile centrists. The key question will be whether the centrists’ colleagues back home will start to worry about what these euroskeptic successes could ultimately mean for them, and what, if anything, they then would do about it.