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The European Parliament elections are looming: who has the most to lose?

April 16, 2014

The European Parliament elections next month – and the council elections that will run alongside them – are the last big test of public opinion ahead of the 2015 General Election. There is alot at stake, not least for the leaders of the three main parties.

The opinion polls have been telling a similar story for several months when it comes to the relative standing of Labour and the Tories with a modest Labour lead never turning into a decisive margin as it is hauled back by periods of Conservative recovery. Neither party seems to have the ability to build any real momentum when the polls start swinging their way. It seems that the public remains unconvinced by Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Labour’s still threadbare economic policies. Certainly in terms of personal ratings Cameron and Osborne are a very long way ahead of the Labour pair. This will become an increasingly heavy millstone for Labour as the election approaches and without a decisive lead over the Tories in the Euros Miliband could find his leadership under pressure.

For Cameron the challenge at this stage is to keep the Tories in touch with Labour and avoid being mugged too badly by UKIP in May. He isn’t doing as well as he should be on either count at the moment. His Chancellor delivered a popular Budget which momentarily boosted the Tories standing but then the Prime Minister went and blew that with his mishandling of the Maria Miller expenses row. A year out from the last General Election, George Osborne was viewed as a liability by many Tories: now he is being seen as a major asset and the frontrunner to succeed Cameron, especially while Boris Johnson remains outside the House of Commons. Cameron’s leadership isn’t under any immediate serious threat but it wouldn’t take much for the simmering discontent among traditional Tories to rise to the surface. That isn’t likely to happen this side of the General Election but it isn’t impossible if the Euro results look too bad.

Clegg is in serious trouble
The Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg look to be in serious trouble. The most recent opinion poll for the Euros put them on 6%, level with the Greens and a long way behind UKIP. That would mean wipeout in terms of MEPs and a serious culling of the important Liberal Democrat local government ranks. The messages coming from the Clegg camp this week that he wants still to be leading the party into the 2020 General Election look very panicky and show just how vulnerable his leadership is. He is the most likely leader to find his services being dispensed with ahead of the autumn party conferences.

Clegg is having a terrible time and his desperate bid to rekindle the excitement of the leadership debates in 2010 by challenging Nigel Farage over Europe badly backfired. He needs a good European result but looks to be heading for a disaster.

If Clegg goes – or manages to fight off a determined but bitter bid to oust him – the possibility of a split in the Lib Dems cannot be ruled out with some seeking an electoral deal with the Tories in order to help them keep Labour out and cushion them against the UKIP threat.

Which brings us to the joker in the pack: UKIP and Farage. They look set to increase the number of European Parliament sets they hold unless the current sniff of an expenses scandal surrounding Farage turns into something alot more serious. Somehow he seems to get away with playing the anti-politics card despite being a consumate and long-time political operator. Perhaps it will catch up with him one day but until it does he will remain a thorn in the Tories’ side.

In terms of the General Election they will not win more than one or two seats (and even that is unlikely given their chaotic organisation) and so will have very little influence at Westminster but the number of votes they will syphon off from the Tories could cost Cameron a crucial 20-25 seats and with them any chance of forming the next government. Could some of those seats be protected with an electoral deal with the Lib Dems? Probably. Will they? Unlikely.

I have said before that I think it is possible that at least one of the current three party leaders will not be at the helm of their party in 2015. As the months tick away, last minute changes become much riskier and therefore less appealing to MPs defending their seats. But if enough of them take the view that they will lose their seats, their ministerial jobs (either present or future) anyway then that risk becomes one worth taking. Where are those odds most likely to play out and sink a leader? The Liberal Democrats and Clegg.

From → Politics

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