It was known in advance that this year would see three, possibly four major European elections. It was not expected that the upcoming British general election would be among them. After all, they went to the polls two years ago and delivered a majority Conservative government, and then again last year to decide whether or not to leave the European Union, the result of which forced the Conservatives to change their leader and cabinet. Theresa May, playing the role of ‘last man standing’, promised upon her election to the leadership by Conservative MPs that she would not go to the polls again. Overandover, she promised that she would not have another election, because Britain needed stability.
Then, in April, she called a snap poll, set for early June. Officially, it’s also for stability. Given that directly contradicts her stated reason for not going to an election, it seems more likely that it has to do with the investigation into Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 election, which may well have necessitated multiple by-elections. Losing those by-elections would have made a slim majority even slimmer, and make her government even more susceptible to backbenchers crossing the floor. So, here we are. (As an aside, it also seems likely the Conservatives really, really wanted to wait until the new electoral boundaries were put in the place next year before having an election, which reduces the Commons by 50 seats. Most of the seats being taken away are in Labour areas.)
The victory of the liberal, establishment-backed Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election was predictable and straightforward, as with the Dutch election that preceded it. The snap British election seems very likely to have a similar result, and the German election too. It looks rather like a return to the status quo. After their shocking 2016, the media have been over-cautious in predicting political events in 2017. Come year’s end, though, the theme of a return to the status quo will be widespread, and we will be told 2016 was simply an aberration. Reality will not be so simple, and what happens in Europe in the years to come may well depend on the new French president.
To put it another way: Emmanuel Macron has five years to prove he is the saviour of the European Union.
In a few days from now, the Netherlands will be going to the polls, the first of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the charismatic Geert Wilders, is fighting with the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) for first place in the election. If they do manage to win, will PVV form government and have Wilders as the new Dutch Prime Minister? Probably not.
In a month and a half from now, France will be going to polls, the second of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The National Front (FN), led by the charismatic Marine Le Pen, is fighting to have her elected as president, and she is leading the polls despite a strong challenge from the young Emmanuel Macron. If she does come first, will she be elected as President of France? Probably not.
Nationalist parties in Germany and Italy have the same problem, as did Austria’s Freedom Party in elections last year. What’s stopping them?
What does the United Kingdom Independence Party stand for?
That is, on the surface, actually quite easy to answer: they want a United Kingdom that is independent of the European Union. Last year we learned via referendum that a majority of Britons want that too, and the British government – a Conservative Party government, not a UKIP one – is going through the process of extracting the country from the European super-state.
The problem for UKIP is that Britain leaving the EU removes their own raison d’être. The party seems to realise this, and has spent the last two years trying to build a purpose for the party beyond its foundation principle. UKIP made some big gains at the general election in 2015, coming second in 120 of the 650 constituencies, most of which were in Labour heartland in the north of England. This sounds impressive for a party that is, as far as British political parties go, quite young, particularly given it only really became a ‘serious’ party within in the last decade.
However, in most of these second-place performances, UKIP was in second by 10% or more. This is suggestive of a wider problem that the party faces at the moment, which is exemplified in their second place in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. This was a seat that Labour won in 2015 with 39.3% of the vote, and UKIP just pipped the Conservatives for second, with 22.7% against 22.5%. This council area voted the most heavily for Leave out of any in the entire United Kingdom, and many thought UKIP could win the seat, or at the very least run it mighty close.
Instead, despite UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall being their candidate, Labour won with 37.1%, UKIP came second with 24.7% and the Conservatives came third with 24.3%. The needle barely moved. Why?