Tories statistically had a worse night at European elections – but psychologically it was Labour, says prof John Curtice


LABOUR may have fared better than the Tories at the EU elections, but their loss of ground to the Liberal Democrats means that psychologically they suffered worse.

Professor John Curtice breaks down the election results, revealing why Labour were the real losers and what it will mean for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

PA:Press Association

Labour were overtaken by the Lib Dems as the party of Remain supporters at the EU elections[/caption]

Who had the worse night, Labour or the Tories?

Statistically, the Tories, whose 9% of the vote was markedly worse than the 14% secured by Labour.

But psychologically the answer is Labour. The Tories were expecting to be punished for having failed to deliver Brexit.

In contrast, Labour seemed set for a comfortable, if modest second place.

Instead they found themselves overtaken by the Liberal Democrats, who can now claim to be the most popular party among Remain voters.

Labour now seems set for a row about a second referendum that could every bit as intense as the Tory leadership battle.

Could Farage make a similar impact in a general election?

No. That said, his party is standing as high as 18% in polls of Westminster vote intentions. Past experience suggests that such rises often disappear within weeks.

However, Brexit is not going to disappear from the political agenda any time soon.

If the Brexit Party support continues to run at anything like 18%, the Conservatives are likely to struggle to regain a lead in the polls.

Getty Images – Getty

Unlike Labour, the Tories were expecting to be punished by voters for failing to deliver Brexit[/caption]

How do these results play into Tory & Labour leadership battles?

The Tory contenders will have to convince MPs they can win back the votes lost to the Brexit Party – and that, in turn, will ensure a lively debate about whether the government should embrace leaving without a deal.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, seems set to face severe pressure from within his party to shift in favour of a more avowedly pro-second referendum, pro-Remain stance.

It is a step he has repeatedly seemed reluctant to take – but maybe this time his party will overrule him?

What do the results tell us about support for Brexit?

Many voters lined up behind Remain and Leave parties.

But some voted out of traditional loyalty or on the basis of other issues, such as the environment.

And many voters were willing to leave behind their traditional party loyalties in order to express their view on Brexit.

The results reveal a country polarized between leaving without a deal and wanting a second referendum, though neither options is necessarily backed by a majority.

Getty Images – Getty

The Tory contenders will have to convince MPs they can win back the votes lost to Farage’s Brexit Party[/caption]

So, no mandate for no deal?

No. Only 35% of voters supported a party that was willing to contemplate leaving without a deal. That is well short of a majority.

Is a general election this year now more or less likely?

A general election isn’t going to be attractive to the new Tory PM.

They would be worried that those who voted for the Brexit Party would be reluctant to switch back to Tory until Brexit is delivered.

That said, if the new Prime Minister decides the pressure from the Brexit Party means the UK should crash out without a deal at the end of October, they could well find themselves facing a confidence vote in which some Conservative MPs fail to back the government.

That could lead to an unwanted general election.

Do we now know how a second referendum would go?

No better than we did already. The opinion polls do give us a clue.

They have long suggested that Remain enjoys a consistent but narrow lead – currently, Remain 53, Leave 47.

However, much of this lead rests on the views expressed by those who did not vote three years ago – and who perhaps cannot be relied upon to vote a second time around.


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