The UKIP leader told James O'Brien that he should “know the difference” between a family of Romanians and a family of Germans moving in next door. This is not a slip of the tongue, this cannot be blamed on his supposed tiredness, this is just racist.
Unhelpfully however, the twitterati were quick to try and top this, with shouts that UKIP were “Fascist” or “Nazis”. This insult is a particular annoyance of mine, partly because name calling detracts from any genuine political debate; partly because to call a generic right-wing party “Nazis” plays down the true horror of that particular regime; but mostly because actual, real life Nazis have been elected in parts Europe.
Yes, the NPD (proper Neo-Nazis) managed to gain a seat in Germany. In reality, this is more of a bureaucratic victory - they only managed to take 1% of the national vote following the removal of the threshold for representation. More alarming was the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece, who resemble more a crime syndicate than a political party. Nonetheless, they managed to gain nearly 10% of the vote and three seats. This despite the fact that their leader Nikos Mihaloliakos was arrested on suspicion of forming a criminal organisation, following the murder of an anti-fascist rapper.
While these are the only genuine fascists elected, a selection of bigots and racists seemed to do well across the continent. Most notable was France where Marine Le Pen’s Front National won a quarter of the popular vote, even after her father (and former leader) had pondered that overcrowding could be solved by the spread of Ebola in the third world. Say what you want about UKIP, at least none of them have suggested that a disease where liquid comes out of every orifice was good if it happens to Africans.
Beyond this, Geert Wilders - the man with the world’s worst hair - continued to poll well in Holland; the Danish People’s party won 27%, despite talk of removing Islam from their “thousand year old realm”; the Finns Party secured two MEPs after calling Somalian’s “parasites”; even Lega Nord still got 5 MEPs, whilst seeking the “Ethnic cleansing of all faggots”.
Despite this, the Economist argues that Eurosceptic parties make up just 108 of the 751 seats in the EU, although 70 of them come from Britain, France and Italy. Traditionally, EU elections have been the home of the protest vote, and the chances of any of these parties winning a domestic election are (mostly) pretty slim. Lega Nord are on the fall, although the other, less scary, Italian Eurosceptic party M5S continued to grow, becoming the largest party in the country. Demonstrating how to be Eurosceptic, whilst remaining a sensible, ‘catch-all’ party.
Marine Le Pen’s National Front have previously enjoyed moderate domestic success, even reaching the second round of voting in the 2002 Presidential elections (before registering a record defeat) and could conceivably do so again. Plus, on the back of their local council and mayoral results, there seems to be a fair amount of base support. That said, the nature of the French coalition system means there is no chance Ms. Le Pen will be the first female President.
But what of UKIP? Farage promised a political earthquake, and the BBC covered it as such, but the truth is they will still struggle to get any seats in Westminster. Yes they did score an impressive 27% of the vote, but on a paltry 34% turn out it means less than 10% of eligible voters backed them. Worse news still, a poll in the Guardian this week showed that just half of those who voted for them in the EU elections will support them at the General Election next year.
This was illustrated in their underwhelming council results, the impression is that much of their voting was not ‘pro-UKIP’, merely ‘anti-EU’. With no other mainstream Eurosceptic party this was perhaps inevitable. Nevertheless, they still only polled 27%, leaving the other 73% of voters either ‘pro’, or pretty ambivalent about, Europe. Less of an earthquake, the tremors are more akin to the kind produced when Eric Pickles falls off his office chair - significant in the surrounding area but little long term damage.
Quietly, Labour had quite a good election weekend. They won more council seats than the other major parties combined, and had their best EU result for twenty years. The UKIP effect has made many Labour figures call for a referendum, although almost every single member would vote to stay in. Instead, the biggest impact of the UKIP triumph will be on the Conservatives. There are already calls for a pact to be made from some parts of the party, and major donors are beginning to defect. If nothing else, the party will be forced to shift right and adopt more nationalist and anti-immigration policies. Could this open up the centre ground for Labour to take advantage of the Median Voter Theorem? They may have moved left under Miliband, but only from Blair’s vaguely centre-right position.
The irony of this election is that the EU is being systematically bought down by the very people who were responsible for its existence: the far-right. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that voters look to extreme parties when the mainstream has led them into economic turmoil. Far more interesting will be to see what impact this has on National elections, nowhere more so than here in the UK.
My prediction? UKIP will do well to get any seats, and have no chance of making it to double figures. Labour ‘should’ win, but this really depends on whether Ed has the capacity to convince, or if he’s just a reincarnation of that Gordon Brown smile.
(Comment from Editor: an interesting table to have a look at from the Washington Post --> here)