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Monday, 8 June 2009

European Elections: the real winners are...The Apathy Party

There is no question who the biggest losers are: the Labour Party. They suffered a hammering on an unprecendented scale. Following questions about Brown's leadership, the expenses scandal and a spate of cabinet resignations, Labour's performance was worse than imaginable, losing the popular vote in Wales for the first time since 1918 and finishing third overall, behind UKIP.

But the Conservatives did not benefit as should have been expected. There was no great increase in their vote. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats had a disappointing night and are clearly failing to capitalise on the government's unpopularity and peceived incompetence. We are usually the recipient of protest votes but in EU elections find ourselves being replaced by a number of other parties including the fascist BNP. While the election results are clearly a desperately bad thing for Labour, there is little evidence that the public have fully embraced David Cameron's Tories.

Dissapointingly, the lead up to the election has been dominated by the Westminster expenses issue, the personality of Gordon Brown and cabinet resignations. There has been little talk about Europe or the EU; even less about the complex political issues in which the EU is central. The only dialogue on Europe has been the simplistic and unsophisticated arguments from UKIP. It is a tragedy that the public are generally unaware on European issues - while this is perhaps the fault of the mass media, the beneficiaries of general ignorance are the extreme Eurosceptic parties like UKIP.

The real winners last night were not UKIP, the Conservatives or even the BNP who were shamefully allowed to gain two seats. It was a victory for apathy. These elections proved that people can do amazing things through inaction. With a turnout at a pathetically low 30% voters stayed away - especially many Labour voters. The low turnout benefitted UKIP and the BNP who, while not increasing their votes, saw their share of the vote increase significantly. Unfortunately, this is what happens when voters "stay at home to give Labour a kicking".

The sight of Nick Griffin giving a "victory speech" was, quite frankly, appalling and unexpected. This should serve as a wake-up call not only to politicians but to the public and the media. Sections of the press have run a determined campaign to discredit certain mainstream politicians and the effect has been to encourage voters to stay away - with dreadful consequences.

It is a tragedy that the vast majority of British voters stayed away from the polls. In a sense, it is unsurprising, given the media emphasis on personality politics (which turns voters off) and the lack of constructive debate on Europe. What needs to happen is for greater engagement with the public that actually empowers the electorate and inspires them to use their democratic right constructively. And on Europe it is vital to have more honest discussion about European issues, rather than leave these important issues to the unsophisticated and ill-informed UKIP.

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