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So, you've just sat down at your computer with that Sunday evening cup of tea/Monday morning cup of coffee, and pulled up one of your favorite blogs or internationally-focused news sites, when you glimpsed a story about this past weekend's European Parliament elections. And, if you're like most Americans, you probably scrolled past it in deference to gawking at cute pictures of lolcats. Fair enough; I only paid attention because I wrote a thesis on British involvement in the EU myself.

However, there were some results and issues that I think would be useful to be apprised of, especially in Britain. After the jump, I'll try to go over what exactly happened, and some trends we as liberal Americans might want to keep in the back of our minds.

So wait, what happened?

There are several administrative, judicial, and regulatory bodies that comprise the European Union. They're all interrelated in arcane and complex ways only a bureaucrat could love, and for the most part these groups are responsible to the national governments of the twenty-seven EU member states. There is the European Parliament, however, the membership of which is chosen every five years by a near-simultaneous election in each member state. EU rules mandate that, regardless of how a country may choose own national and local leaders, these elections must be run on a fairly standard system of proportional representation. (This means that voters must cast their ballot for a party, and that each party gets a number of members of European Parliament, or MEPs, equal roughly on their organization's vote share.)

For the most part, the parties who run in these elections are the same that run in the national elections, so there aren't any multi-national political parties. (There's one big exception in the UK, but I'll get to that later.) Once elected, the nationally-based parties and their 736 MEPs tend to coalesce into one of several organized voting blocs, or "groups," which act rather loosely as multi-national parties. These groups are pretty fluid: the British Conservative party, who was the big winner in the UK tonight, is considering splitting away from the larger centre-right group along with their ideological counterparts from Poland and the Czech Republic.

This is all mildly interesting stuff, if you're a political math nerd like myself, except for the catch that the balance of power in the European Union rests predominantly with the national governments of the member states. European federalism is alive and well; various attempts by the apparatus of the EU to subsume power away from the individual member states have met with popular blowback. If you want an American parallel, think the Articles of Confederation. Which means that, because they don't do much, there's substantial criticism of the EU parliament as being not much more than a "talking shop," and an expensive one at that - they maintain full-time seats in both Strasbourg, France and Brussels, Belgium. Anyway...

The coming fall of British Labour

Voters in Europe tend to know/care roughly about as much as you do does when it comes to European Union issues, and so therefore tend to treat the elections as a midterm referendum on their own country's government. If you've been reading said favorite blogs or internationally-focused news sites over the past few weeks, you probably have heard that Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, and his Labour party are in a bit of trouble, owing to the overall global economic situation as well as the expenses scandal that's currently rocking Britain.

(Primer within a primer: A bunch of members of the British parliament - not the EU version - billed taxpayers for frivolous personal stuff, and some good old-fashioned investigative journalism came up with the worst offenders.)

Combine this with a long-rumored but rarely-publicized revolt against the leadership of Gordon Brown by some British Labour party MPs, and you have all the makings of a midterm shellacking by the voting public. Owing to the fact that the British had regularly scheduled local elections on Thursday, they contested the European parliamentary election at the same time, but embargoed the European results until Sunday when the rest of the member states had finished. This meant that Labour had the unfortunate circumstance of losing a week's worth of news cycles just from a single election; they received negative press coverage having been wiped out in local elections on Thursday (which were able to publish its results), had to deal with "will they/won't they" rumors of a leadership coup on Friday and Saturday because of the local election results, then get more bad midterm news Sunday night from an election held three days ago and will face another two days of pundits questioning Labour's fate because of "yet another" bad showing. Uhm...

Now, as Democrats we should tend to like the Labour party (at least more than the Conservative party that would be its successor). They'll be in power for up to May 2010 if they wish; the UK Parliament is elected for five year terms but the government can call a new general election whenever they wish. Given the landslide success shown by the Conservatives in the local and European elections, there's three ways that this may turn out.

1. Gordon Brown digs in and figures that there's nowhere for him to go but up. He spends the next eleven months promoting his pretty laudable work combating the economic slowdown, and publicly excising the Labour party of any MPs who get caught up in the expenses scandal. The general election comes around in May; the Conservative party wins but not at a soul-crushing landslide level, and Gordon Brown doesn't go down in a history as an abject failure

2. Gordon Brown resigns (or is forced out... it's about 50-50 which one is more likely). A new Prime Minister is selected from Labour MPs in a slapdash way that deepens the growing divide in the Labour party. Either due to overwhelming public pressure or perhaps even a vote of no confidence, an early general election is called in late summer of this year. The Conservatives absolutely liquidate the Labour party, perhaps knocking them into third place behind the Liberal Democrats (though Kossacks would probably like them more than Labour). From that embarrassment and position of irrelevance, the Labour party self-destructs.

3. Gordon Brown leaves, but does so with a level of wit and self-effacing charm that transforms him into the British version of Gerald Ford. A new, young leader rises up from the Labour backbenches to act as a counter to David Cameron, the Conservative leader. Somehow, someway, he resets the policy agenda and has enough radical street cred to win a general election in mid-winter. Also, I wake up Christmas morning and find a pony under the tree. Yay!

The rise of the British National Party

The other disconcerting element to arise is that, of the 72 MEPs elected by Britain, two belong to the British National Party. The BNP is a bunch of vile racist, Islamophobic, homophobic bigoted thugs. Their leader, Nick Griffin (one of the MEPs) is on record as a Holocaust denier; they distributed pamphlets supporting their group with a picture of a bombed-out bus after the 7/7 terror attacks in London.

The "how could this happen" question has an easy set of answers, and yet a difficult one as well. First off, the proportional representation system employed by Britain broke the country up into twelve "regions," which each elected its own set of MEPs. Primarily this allows mainstream regional parties such as Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party to be competitive, since they won't run candidates outside their main constituencies and could find their vote share diminished on a national level beyond the standard necessary to obtain MEPs. However several regions had to retrogress from an all-postal ballot system to a traditional polling place system. As you might expect, turnout went way down in those areas from five years ago. As all veteran campaigners know, low turnout = wacky results, and both BNP representatives were elected in these regions.

Second, the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party, which garnered 2.2% of the national vote in the 2005 British general election, came in second place nationally with 13 MEPs and 17.5% of the popular vote. (As of this writing, the Scotland and Northern Ireland regions are yet to return their numbers, so the popular vote number is provisional.) They had twelve MEPs in the last European Parliament election in 2004. The party obviously overperforms its national standard in European elections, primarily because their focal reason for existence is dissolution of British ties with the EU. Combining with Labour's performance falling through the floor (for comparison, they won 11 MEPs with 15.4% of the popular vote so far) and there is obviously a unique set of circumstances by which voter protest and discouragement would be channeled.

But - why would it go to the British National Party?

That's the disconcerting question. They won 6.6% of the national popular vote. That means that 13 out of every 200 voting Britons voted for a party that supports repatriating immigrants and denying the Holocaust and suppressing the franchise from minorities, as well as all manner of horrifying social policies. And that means that two members of a party whose founder declared "Mein Kampf is my bible" will be joining an organized group of far-right kooks from the rest of Europe. They'll get European taxpayer dollars to do "research" on policies and to support their campaigns. They'll gain an aura of legitimacy as they walk around styled as MEPs for the next five years. At best, they'll be a running embarassment. At worst, a foreshadowing of the neo-fascism that's become prevalent in so many other European countries.

So now, America. We've just experienced one of the strongest, proudest cultural moments in our nation's history five months ago. We look at opinion polls with confidence and the Republican death spiral with benign amusement. But the pendulum, it swings--

Originally posted to KyleLI on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 08:51 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (14+ / 0-)

    I'm pretty sure this is my first diary that isn't about writing diaries. Pardon my lack of meta :)

    •  Well done (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mariken, page394

      A fine analysis.

      I confess to having a guilty sort of pleasure in learning that America does not have the market cornered on right-wing wackos.

      Nothing is true; everything is permitted.

      by jumpjet on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:00:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We may have more (0+ / 0-)

        but we have a political system that effectively neuters their voice. While in most circumstances I support proportional representation political systems, in this case I'm glad we force everyone into two political parties that fight in the mainstream.

    •  on expenses (0+ / 0-)

      It wasn't good investigative journalism; it was simply a leak that the Sunday Telegraph got their checkbook out for. Good story with none of that tedious "investigating" involved, after all. The Sunday Telegraph is notoriously linked with the Tories, the reason why the Tories probably got advanced warning (more time to prepare a response), Cameron's own expenses were soft pedalled and whilst the Tories didn't come out smelling of roses, they looked a hell of a lot better than Labour. Which they shouldn't have.

  •  That 6.6% figure (8+ / 0-)

    is awfully similar to the 8% of Americans who think that Judge Sotomayor is a "racist".  It's like there's a bare minimum, somewhere around 7-8%, of people who are completely nuts, utterly barking mad. I suppose it's a sign of progress that it's only 7-8%, but it's hard not to be worried that they have any sort of political legitimacy.

    Someone is wrong on the Internet! To the Kosmobile!

    by socratic on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 08:59:48 PM PDT

    •  Interesting analysis (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      socratic

      and rec'd for your sig line

      TO THE KOSMOBILE!!!

      A Contributing Writer for the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

      by danmitch on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:01:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There's fringe-enders everywhere (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      socratic, thebluecrayon, Gatordiet

      but they vote for Republicans in the states, where their fringe tendencies are muted by the political moderation of the mainstream Republican party. Say what you will about them, but if the GOP were in control of everything like the Dems are now, I wouldn't have an existential fear for my country like I would with the BNP.

      •  I'm not sure about that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gatordiet

        I think there is a Republican fringe, but there's also a fringe-beyond-the-fringe that votes for the American Nazi Party and the like (so, that's a hole in my previous comment).  The difference in the States is that our political system is terrible for small parties.  So their fringe tendencies are muted by a structural inability to gain political legitimacy.

        I occasionally comment that I wish we'd move to an IRV system here, but the "danger" in that is that you might end up with political representation for individuals who might not otherwise vote (or might vote for the GOP).  I put quotes around "danger" because I'm hesitant to say a group shouldn't have the opportunity to be represented, but ... yech.  

        Someone is wrong on the Internet! To the Kosmobile!

        by socratic on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:12:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Duverger's Law (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          socratic

          Duverger's Law is a game theory principle that essentially states in a first-past-the-post voting system (what we have almost nationwide, and what the UK has for its national elections), two parties will inevitably develop and fight over the center. Which is what we have here, and mostly over in the UK as well.

          While this does shut out a lot of "fringe" voices... yeah, I concur, an American National Party sounds scarily possible given a PR kind of system. I'd like to think my fellow Americans would never support an openly fascist party. I also would like a pony.

  •  Very good diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    amk for obama

    gives an interesting understanding of the EU elections which have been showing up on my twitter feed but I haven't really understood.

    Tip'd and Rec'd

    A Contributing Writer for the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

    by danmitch on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:00:30 PM PDT

  •  Some of these results were eye-popping (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohcanada, Dauphin, Lazar, amk for obama

    While anyone who paid attention knew the right would do well, it's amazing that they won pretty much everywhere except Denmark, Greece, Malta, and Sweden. In Britain, Labour came in third! They even lost Wales (to the Tories) and Scotland (to the SNP, and the Tories were a close third). For Labour to lose Wales and Scotland is jaw-dropping; in fact, the only region Labour one was their heartland in the North East of England. Meanwhile, the whites-only BNP (really) won 2 seats. Throughout the European Union, xenophobia seems ascendant.

    The rapid movement throughout Europe toward reactionary political attitudes makes me feel even luckier to live in the U.S. right now. It's positively eerie how we're moving in a New Deal-esque progressive direction as industrial Europe veers right/nationalist. Makes you wonder if history does, as Mark Twain said, "rhyme" if not repeat. Luckily, some of these conservatives (David Cameron, Angela Merkel, et al.) seem reasonable, but others (Silvio Berlusconi) are bad news, and some (Nicolas Sarkozy) I can't yet figure out.

    The Republican Party is neither pro-republic nor pro-party. Discuss!

    by Nathaniel Ament Stone on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:04:28 PM PDT

    •  In the UK, it's not necessarily a move to the rig (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SoCalLiberal, Dauphin

      I confess to not knowing as much as I should about other nations' results, though the trend that the EPP has been the big winner tonight is apparent.

      However, the Conservative party tonight got 28.3% of the vote, only a point up from last year. It's not so much that people are strongly voting Tory, it's just that Labour... uh... sucks right now. (They dropped 7%.) The Green party went up 3 percentage points in popular vote, which means that a lot of people were casting protest votes without switching ideologies.

      This is a good sign; it means that the situation is salvageable.

      •  Well (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SoCalLiberal, Dauphin

        it confirms what we already knew about the pending general election in the UK (which will be this year or next year)...the Tories will win huge, mostly because of mass Labour defections. Labour will be lucky to hold Manchester at this point, let alone bellwether London!

        But yes, there is still a large liberal vote in Britain (in some countries, the left collapsed, but in Britain, it was more a repudiation of Labour), it's just awfully divided. Either Labour will get its act together, or it will be replaced as the main center-left party in Britain, or the Tories will reign for many years to come.

        The Republican Party is neither pro-republic nor pro-party. Discuss!

        by Nathaniel Ament Stone on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:13:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's not about defections. (0+ / 0-)

          The Labour vote collapsed, not just because some went for radical alternatives, whether left or right, but because they stayed home. Turnout is down on last EU elections.

          I suspect the same will happen; the Tories will win not because of Labour defections to the Lib Dems or even to the Tories. They will win because vast numbers of Labour base voters simply are too disgusted by the Labour Party to even think about going out and voting for them. Turnout has collapsed massively in British elections since New Labour came to power, and it tends to be low-income working class voters who no longer vote. As we all know, this is good for the right.

      •  How much of this vote is blaming Labour (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        page394

        for the economic meltdown?

        Tony Blair was best buds with George Bush and not only followed him into the Iraq fiasco, but I would argue without Blair and the UK involvement... Bush may never have had the courage to go it alone into Iraq (don't bother with the piddling numbers from those other contributing nations).

        Furthermore, Tony Blair's administration was a yuppie kind of people. They built bubbles.

        Those far-right parties succeed because people are leery of immigrants during difficult economic times.

        People are uneasy right now.

        <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

        by bronte17 on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 10:28:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great Diary (0+ / 0-)

    the BBC charts and graphs were eye popping and confusing. None the less it is fascinating, this is the first time I have paid attention.

    Thanks.

    Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

    by ohcanada on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:06:33 PM PDT

  •  British results map (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, Dauphin, Lazar

    Blue is for the Conservatives, red for Labour, green for the Scottish National Party. As you can see, Labour's win in the North East was modest, while the Conservatives crushed the opposition in the South and won decently throughout the remainder of England, narrowly winning even Wales (which has voted for Labour in every nationwide election since 1922...this is truly a more shocking result than Wyoming voting Democratic or Rhode Island going to the GOP).

    And really, Britain wasn't unique. My relatives in France (who voted for the Socialists) say the right-of-center UMP won 2-1.

    Photobucket

    The Republican Party is neither pro-republic nor pro-party. Discuss!

    by Nathaniel Ament Stone on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:09:57 PM PDT

  •  And if that wasn't enough (0+ / 0-)

    reports say Sinn Fein won in Northern Ireland.

    The Republican Party is neither pro-republic nor pro-party. Discuss!

    by Nathaniel Ament Stone on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:14:41 PM PDT

  •  Yes, it swings (0+ / 0-)

    when you elect a black man named Hussein expecting change, and you get even more of the same re: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bailouts.

    Advice to those who direct the President, unsteal all the money stolen by Wall Street and send it the people in the form of a monthly check.

    Don't delay the promise to get out of Iraq by 2 months for every actual month that passes. Get out now (or sooner).

    Don't "surge" in Afghanistan, get out.

    But that would be sound government... I have no hope for that in my lifetime.

    The pen is mightier than the sword.

    by Paul Goodman on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:28:48 PM PDT

  •  How much of the rise of the Conservative Party (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    page394

    in the UK results from dissatisfaction of typical Labour Party voters with Blair/Brown for enacting too many Bush-like domestic laws and foreign policies?

    -6.75,-3.85 Truly, in history, truth should be held sacred at whatever cost.

    by Sagebrush Bob on Sun Jun 07, 2009 at 09:35:43 PM PDT

  •  I would take exception (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dauphin, Lazar

    to how you say it

    European federalism is alive and well; various attempts by the apparatus of the EU to subsume power away from the individual member states have met with popular blowback.

    I know this is how it is generally presented, but I think its wrong. (Because I am a hopeless European Federalist.) What has been going on is that the european governments have shifted power away from the national parliamentary levels, where they are at least nominally subject to parliamentary oversight, to intergovernmental structures under the name of Europe. They have been very keenly seeing to it that under that name, there was not created a real federal political body/assembly that would have been responsible to the Europeans directly, but rather instances like the Minister-Raete (conseils) that were dependent on national governments, not people. In that way, they were able to keep tight control on decisions, while at the same time shifting them to a body out of sight of the national peoples, and all the time being able to tell at home that it wasn´t them doing unpopular things but this mythical "Europe" creature. That is what people revolt against. If a truly federal Europe were suggested, where decisions at the EU level are accountable to the directly elected Parliament and not the national governments, I think the popular perception of Europe would change a lot. And indeed I think there are signs of hope in these elections (i. e. not only gains of right wing populism but also of dedicated European federalist parties, like the Greens in Holland and D) that people begin to move in that direction.

    What we do not want is lose the remains of our political influence to a "faceless bureaucracy" that is in reality a puppet of the same national governments that pretend to us that they are bound by "the EU" (which is just them, as things stand).  

  •  Also (0+ / 0-)

    I hail the rise of the British UKIP party. Let the Brits think about it, and if they feel they need to, leave the Union. That will be better for clearing up things for all sides, us and them. Then they can have a look at how things work out solo.

    •  Don't hail UKIP (0+ / 0-)

      They're right-wing cranks obsessed with Europe who split with the Tories because the Tories aren't stupid enough to take a hard line on Europe; they're Ultra-Tory, in other words, Monday Club Tories and have the same dodgy links that group used to have with the far right. They've been called the "BNP for the middle classes", a description I think can't really be bettered.

      •  UKIP & BNP (0+ / 0-)

        did well because Gordon Brown did not let the Lisbon Treaty go to a vote by the people.

        There are issues in the US, the UK and elsewhere that need to be decided DIRECTLY by the people.

        As a British Citizen, which makes me a EU Citizen, I support EU integration. But I realize that Westminster deciding Lisbon and passing it will cause much more harm had it been defeated at the polls.

        IMO, Lisbon moves the EU forward five steps. But the anger against the EU because the people did not get a chance to vote sets the EU back eight steps!!

        Former Republican, voted for Obama, tri-national (British, Irish, EU Citizen also US) card carrying member of New Labour, that works in The City.

        by Libertarian Friend on Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 04:18:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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