should you care about the eu elections this week?
Here's a handy breakdown of what these elections actually are about, why they could matter and who's backing what.
Posters by EU United
There are EU elections later this month?!
Yes, yes there are.
There... wasn’t meant to be EU elections later this month?
No, no there wasn’t. Theresa May and the rest of her government spent a very long time saying that the UK would leave the European Union on March 29, then some more time after that saying that whatever happened, it would leave before the next round of EU elections. As you might have noticed, this has not happened.
So we have to care about the EU elections now.
We have to. I’m very sorry. They’re not exactly the most exciting bit of politics there is, but they are happening.
Alright, fine. When are they?
Yes! That’s an easy one. The EU elections are taking place on 23 May in the UK.
Cool - and, er, [coughs], I obviously know what they entail but my, er, friend would need a quick refresher on the whole thing, if possible.
Of course! Your friend is probably a normal person with a life and friends and hobbies so doesn’t have time to care about this stuff. This is why I, your resident tragic Westminster dweeb, am here to help.
In a nutshell: there are 73 MEPs in the UK, elected throughout 12 regions (nine in England, and one each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Once elected, they join the European Parliament in Brussels and sometimes Strasbourg (don’t ask), and their main role is to scrutinise the work of the European Commission. There are EU elections every five years, and this time round there are over 400 million people who are eligible to vote, making it one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world, which is pretty cool.
Okay, and who’s standing in them and what do they stand for?
Oh god. Well. We have the Conservative party, who’ve decided to basically not campaign because they have nothing to campaign on and also couldn’t possibly agree on what they should be campaigning on right now. We have the Labour party who’ve decided they want the election to be about “local issues”, which is not really what EU elections are about but okay, fine, why not. Then we have the Lib Dems, whose current slogan is “Bollocks to Brexit”, so that’s straightforward, then the Greens who also dislike Brexit but are extra worried about the impending doom of climate change. Then there’s the Brexit party, which...sort of does what it says on the tin? It’s headed by Nigel Farage and he’s not really bothered to clarify exactly what kind of Brexit he wants and how he plans to get it, but we’ll let you know when we know. Oh, and there’s Change UK as well -- the bunch of MPs who left Labour and the Tories to form a centrist party together a few months ago, and have since been mostly stepping on rakes and slipping on banana peels.
Wow! This great selection of parties and manifestos certainly does not make me want to lie face down on a cold hard floor until this is all over!
I did say it wouldn’t be thrilling.
That’s fair -- so how are they all doing in the polls?
It’s… It’s a bit of a mess, frankly. As is always the case, different polling companies are getting different figures and those figures keep going up and down from one week to another. Still, the broad trend is: Labour isn’t doing great at all, the Tories are doing very very badly, the Brexit party is doing great, the Lib Dems are doing really well, the Greens are doing really well (but from a slightly lower bar than the others).
And what does that mean?
It depends on who you ask, frankly, but one thing that seems clear is that the two main parties will suffer from this. The UK is still very divided regarding what it wants from Brexit, and seemingly getting even more polarised. Because they are very broad churches and cannot agree internally on what they want from Brexit, Labour and the Tories aren’t offering anything very exciting for committed remainers or committed leavers. Instead, those people seem to be going to the smaller parties with a clearer line on what should happen next.
Should I be worried about how well the Brexit party is doing? Does it mean we’re going to crash out without a deal?
Well, it’s quite complicated. On the one hand, UKIP used to do very well in European elections but they still rarely managed to get seats in general elections -- partly because the two elections use different voting systems, and partly because people can often use the EU elections as a bit of a protest vote. On the other, those results did scare the Tories enough to move further to the right and eventually have the referendum, so… yeah.
Hmmm. I’m not loving this, to be honest.
Is there anything I can do to make sure we somehow don’t end up with a Farage landslide and everything that comes with it?
Yes! Well, you probably won’t be able to single-handedly change the minds of every hard Brexiteer out there, but there is one thing you can do. Turnout for EU elections is usually very low -- like, comically low, it was 35% last time -- and as with every election, young people are even less likely to vote than their older counterparts.
It is now too late to register to vote for the EU elections, but if you know people who are on the electoral register and probably wouldn’t bother voting otherwise, convince them to do it. There are a bunch of organisations trying to get the word out -- including this one, and this one, EU United, which you should check out -- so you don’t even have to do it alone.
Fine! Fine. I’ll do it. But one last thing - how important are these elections, really?
To be completely honest? They probably won’t be life-changing, but the UK has been stuck in a Brexit impasse for months and shows no signs of changing course, so a decisive result at the end of this month might well shake things up in Westminster. And if not? Well, it was definitely worth a shot.