Monthly Archives: June 2014
The European Parliament elections were held in France on May 25, 2014. Its results, with the victory of the far-right National Front (FN), made headlines across the EU and became one of the top media stories out of the EP elections.
Electoral system and history
France returns 74 MEPs to the European Parliament, two more than in the 2009 election. Since the 2004 election, France’s MEPs are elected in eight multi-member inter-regional constituencies – special constituencies drawn for EP elections which follow the boundaries of France’s existing administrative regions. In each region, seats are distributed by closed party-list proportional representation (highest averages method) with a regional threshold of 5%. In practice, however, because of the low magnitude of a lot of the constituencies, the effective thresholds can be significantly higher. France’s eight EP constituencies are Nord-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie), Ouest (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire and Poitou-Charentes), Est (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and Alsace), Sud-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon), Sud-Est (13 MEPs, composed of the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Corsica), Massif central-Centre (5 MEPs, composed of the regions of Centre, Limousin and Auvergne), Île-de-France (15 MEPs, composed of the region of Île-de-France and French citizens resident abroad) and Outre-Mer (3 MEPs, composed of all overseas regions and collectivities). The Outre-Mer constituency is further subdivided in three ‘sections’ with one seat each: Atlantic (Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), Indian Ocean (Mayotte, La Réunion) and Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis-et-Futuna). The constituency’s three MEPs are allocated at the constituency-wide level, but the names of the MEPs to be elected for each list are determined by the results of their list in the sections. For example, a party which won one seat in the constituency and polled highest in the Pacific section would see the list’s Pacific section candidate elected.
From 1979 until 2004, French MEPs were elected in a single national constituency using proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The new electoral system was adopted by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, with the stated aim of fighting decreasing turnout and increasing ties between citizens and local MEPs. Smaller parties, which have been the losers of the new system, have supported the re-creation a single national constituency. In 2013, deputies from the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small centre-left party allied to President François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS), tabled a bill to re-create a single national constituency. While the idea was supported by all small parties – from the FN to the Left Front (FG) – it died in first reading because both the PS and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the main right-wing party, opposed it. However, in 2010, when the PS was in opposition, its senators had supported a bill to create a national constituency.
There has been a near-consistent decline in turnout in EP elections in France, like in most European countries, since the first elections in 1979. In 2009, turnout reached a record low of 40.6%, while thirty years prior, turnout in the first EP election was 60.7%. Like in other EU countries, EP elections in France have usually been seen as midterm elections fought around national political issues, often with the aim of punishing an incumbent government.
In European elections, the system of proportional representation (since 2003, the EP elections are the only French national elections fought under a pure PR system) and the low stakes of the election have led many of those who did vote to vote for smaller parties or protest parties rather than their traditional parties. As such, past EP elections have seen the success of a number of ‘small’ parties, results which were not replicated in subsequent high stakes national elections.
On the right, a lot of voters who backed the traditional mainstream right in national elections have voted for conservative Eurosceptic (non-FN) parties – the UDF dissident Majorité pour l’autre Europe list led by Philippe de Villiers in 1994 (12.3%), the Charles Pasqua-Philippe de Villiers alliance in 1999 (13.1%, placing second ahead of the mainstream RPR list led by Nicolas Sarkozy) or de Villiers’ Movement for France (MPF) in 2004 and 2009. These successes for Eurosceptic conservatives outside the mainstream parties of the right (Jacques Chirac’s neo-Gaullist RPR and the centre-right alliance UDF) failed to be replicated in the next presidential elections. In 1995, fresh from his success in the EP elections and having launched his own party (the MPF), Philippe de Villiers’ presidential candidacy won only 4.7%. In 2002, Charles Pasqua (a former leader of the hard-right and Eurosceptic wing of the RPR, who broke with Chirac in 1990) failed to win the signatures necessary to run for President (his alliance with de Villiers having already fallen apart, two years earlier).
Before 2004, other lists from the right have enjoyed some success as well. In 1989, a Christian democratic (CDS) list ran independently of the UDF, led by Simone Veil and the rénovateurs – a group of twelve young ambitious politicians from the RPR and UDF (including big names such as François Fillon, François Bayrou, Michel Barnier, Bernard Bosson, Philippe de Villiers, Jean-Louis Borloo etc…) who challenged the old guard’s (Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Raymond Barre) hold on the RPR-UDF machines after the 1988 defeat. It won 8.4%, a result which was disappointing at the time and led to the early demise of the rénovateurs challenge. Between 1989 and 1999, a right-wing rural hunters’ party (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions – CPNT) won significant support, culminating at 6.8% and the election of 6 MEPs in 1999. CPNT appealed to a very rural and culturally conservative electorate largely made up of hunters, largely but certainly not exclusively right-leaning in presidential elections (the far-right has won a large share of the CPNT vote, especially in the Somme estuary, CPNT’s strongest region).
On the left, the Greens have seen their support in EP elections fluctuate fairly dramatically, but they achieved very strong results in 1989 (10.6%), 1999 (9.7%) and of course 2009 (16.3%). In general, Green support in French EP elections have followed zig-zag patterns. In 1994, the Greens – divided between two lists (one by the Greens, the other by Génération écologie) – lost all their MEPs due to the deep infighting in the green movement after their underwhelming result in the 1993 elections and the questions over political alliances. In 2004, the Greens fell back to 7.4% and lost 3 seats, hurt by the new electoral system and the decision of their 1999 top candidate – Daniel Cohn-Bendit – to run in Germany instead.
The far-left has usually had limited success in EP elections, given that the French far-left usually does better in more personalized presidential elections provided that they have a telegenic and amiable face. However, in 1999, a common list between the two ‘fraternal enemies’ of the far-left (the traditional Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle, LO and the more May ’68-New Left Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) won 5.2% and 5 MEPs. In 2004, the LO-LCR common list collapsed to 2.6%. In 2009, the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) – the reformed LCR under Olivier Besancenot – won 4.9% but no seats; the NPA’s poor showing and the end of a brief popularity upsurge for Besancenot around that same time led to the NPA’s premature death.
The far-right FN has a mixed record in European elections. The party’s first national breakthrough came in the 1984 EP election, when the FN emerged from near-total obscurity to win a remarkable 11% of the vote – just a few points behind the Communists, whose support fell from 20.5% in 1979 to only 11.2% in 1984. In the 1980s, the FN’s support in EP elections (1989: 11.7%) was fairly close to its support in national elections – especially legislative elections (10% in 1986 and 1988). In 1994, however, the FN won ‘only’ 10.5% of the vote, while Le Pen took 15% in the 1995 presidential election. In the 1999 EP election, held in the wake of the painful and debilitating split between Jean-Marie Le Pen and his former ally Bruno Mégret in December 1998, the FN list won only 5.7% of the vote (and Mégret’s MNR list won 3.3%, falling short of the threshold in what would be the MNR’s best result before a slow death). However, only three years later, Le Pen famously qualified for the presidential runoff in 2002, taking 16.9% of the vote in the first round. In 1999, besides the split, a lot of FN supporters had also sat out the election – demotivated by the split on the far-right, they lost a major motivator to vote in an election which most ultimately cared or knew little about. In 2004, the FN increased its support to 9.8%, although that result too remained weak in comparison to the FN’s results in the 2004 regional elections held just a few months earlier. In 2009, the FN’s vote fell to 6.3% and the party saved just three MEPs. In 2007, Le Pen had been crippled by Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy, who stole first round FN supporters and left the FN in a chaotic and disorganized state. In 2009, the FN was still at a weak point: the leadership handover from the patriarch to his daughter would take place in 2011, Sarkozy’s popularity had declined but retained some degree of goodwill from far-right supporters, and the record-high abstention penalized the FN.
In contrast, the traditional forces of the left and right – the PS and RPR-UDF/UMP – have not done well in a lot of EP elections. In 1984, Lionel Jospin’s PS list suffered from the unpopularity of President François Mitterrand and won only 20.8%. In 1994, the PS list led by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard won a terrible 14.5%, putting an early end to Rocard’s presidential ambitions. Rocard faced the open enmity of his eternal enemy, President François Mitterrand, who offered a very thinly-veiled endorsement to controversial businessman and ephemeral politician Bernard Tapie’s Énergie radicale list, which ended up taking a remarkable 12%. In 1999, after Philippe Séguin withdrew his name due to Chirac’s weak support of his leadership and candidacy, the RPR-DL (Démocratie libérale, the split of the right-wing liberal wing of the UDF, led by Alain Madelin) list led by Sarkozy and Madelin fell to third place with only 12.8% against 13.1% for the Pasqua-Villiers list. In 2004, Chirac’s UMP was dragged deep down by his unpopularity, and won only 16.6% against 28.9% for the PS. In 2009, while the UMP did quite ‘well’ for a governing party in an EP election (27.9%), the PS won only 16.5%, saving second place by a hair against the Greens (Europe Écologie). The PS had been severely weakened by the leadership chaos and infighting at the Reims Congress in late 2008 (the infamous Martine Aubry-Ségolène Royal contest) and its subsequent difficulty at being a credible opposition.
The Communist Party (PCF) fell from low to low in EP elections between 1979 and 2009 – falling from 20.5% in 1979 to 5.9% in 2004, with nothing seemingly able to shift the tide – in 1999, for example, PCF leader Robert Hue’s Bouge l’Europe! list had expanded to social movements and non-communist leftist activists, but its support still fell from 1994. Only the creation of the Left Front (FG), in which the PCF added the institutional and grassroots structures to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new Left Party (PG), shifted the tide somewhat. In 2009, the FG lists- with Mélenchon leading the list in the Southwest constituency – received 6.5%, which was far from spectacular but nevertheless allowed them five instead of three MEPs (in both 2004 and 2009, one MEP came from the Reunionese Communists).
These EP elections came only two months after municipal elections in March 2014 and come as President François Hollande has completed his first two years in office.
Hollande is now the most unpopular President in the history of the French Fifth Republic. Almost every single pollster which regularly measures the popularity of the President and Prime Minister have his approval rating below 20%. Ifop’s June 2014 barometer showed his approval rating at 18%, with 81% disapproving. Ipsos showed his approval rating at 19% in May 2014. TNS-Sofres has Hollande even lower: only 16% expressed ‘confidence’ in the President, with 81% expressing no confidence in him.
The results of the municipal elections in March, which I covered in very extensive detail here and here, were a bloodbath for the left, which had not expected such a phenomenal defeat. The right now controls 63.3% of all municipalities with over 30,000 inhabitants while the left holds only 35.5% – before the election, the left held 57.9% of these same municipalities. The right gained a number of large cities and towns from the left (Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort among hundreds), while the left only gained two towns from the right (Avignon and Douai). Slightly mitigating the intensity of the defeat, the PS managed to hold Paris and Lyon – two cities which the left had gained from the right in 2001. In Marseille, however, the PS, which was initially optimistic about its chances of gaining the city from the right, ended up a very distant second, tied with the far-right FN in the municipal council (after having placed third behind the FN in the first round) and losing three of the four municipal sectors it controlled prior to the election. The far-right gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Béziers and Fréjus. It also won the 7th sector of Marseille, which has a population of 150,326. Overall, the FN and similar far-right parties/candidate won 13 towns in France – with a major symbolic first round victory in Hénin-Beaumont, the depressed northern mining basin town which has been FN leader Marine Le Pen’s political base since 2007. The FN had strong results in these municipal elections, with results in a number of communes being higher than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 presidential result (a high-water mark for the FN) while the FN made strong gains in some places between both rounds (indicating the party’s ability to attract additional supporters in a runoff); however, the results also showed that there remains a clear limit to the FN’s growth. For example, all the FN’s victories in the second round except in one town came triangulaires/quadrangulaires – three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote and in other cities targeted by the FN, putative ‘republican fronts’ were actually successful at blocking the FN from winning the city hall.
Hollande’s unpopularity is largely due to the economic crisis, which has been fairly severe and difficult in France. Unemployment was 10.1% in the first trimester of 2014, which is up from around 9.5% when Hollande took office – although the current increase in unemployment began in 2011, under Sarkozy’s presidency. However, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the increase in unemployment when he took office in 2012, and it’s clear that on that commitment, the government has failed badly. In September 2012, for example, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the trend within a year, and despite all indications to the contrary, the government and the President reiterated that promise for the first half of 2013, until September 2013 when it was clear that unemployment would not fall. Over 3.3 million people are unemployed, using the narrowest definition, up from 2.9 million in May 2012. Since then, the government has shifted its rhetorical techniques to emphasize a ‘stabilization’ of unemployment and watering down, delaying the reduction of unemployment. Economic growth has been flat or in recession since Hollande took office two years ago, with 0.3% growth in 2013 and 0% growth in the first trimester of 2014. The debt and deficit situation of the country is hardly better, and the government’s performance on those issues has been poor. Hollande failed to keep his electoral promise of reducing the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013, but with weak growth, the budget deficit in 2013 was finally 4.2% of GDP – even breaking the government’s second target (3.7%). Now, the government insists that it will meet the EU Commission’s deadline to reduce the deficit to 3% in 2015, but already the Commission has projected that the deficit will be 3.8% in 2014 and 3.7% in 2015 (although the government’s numbers project a 2.8% deficit in 2015). While it would be unfair to blame Hollande for the entirety of the mess which France is in, the government has a large share of the responsibility in the worsening of the economic situation since 2012.
Under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s often chaotic, cacophonic and incoherent cabinet, the government was often like a deer in the headlights – powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The policies adopted by the government to address unemployment, growth and the budget have all been inadequate and criticized on both the right and the left. For the right – but also a large majority of French voters – their main issue with Hollande’s economic policies have been the tax increases. The government increased the top bracket on the income tax (incomes over 150,000 euros) from 41% to 45%, the wealth tax (ISF) was toughened up, family tax benefits were cut, a pension reform increased employees and employers’ contributions (the same reform also increased the contributory period to 43 years, after the right’s 2010 reform, opposed by the PS, had raised it to 41 and increased the legal retirement age to 62). The government also increased the VAT’s standard rate from 19.6% to 20% (to finance a €20 billion tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs), the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%). Although the government announced in early 2013 that there would no tax increases in 2013, it was quickly forced to backtrack and announce ‘small’ tax increases in 2014 and talk of ‘tax cuts’ after 2016.
In 2012, Hollande’s manifesto was filled with flowery but ultimately meaningless blabber about ‘growth’ and opposition to austerity policies. In power, Hollande has continued austerity policies – consisting of tax increases, spending cuts and public sector job cuts – which had begun under Sarkozy (although, in the French tradition, austerity is disguised as ‘efforts’). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. The pledge for Eurobonds has been buried, the government gave up a promise to legislate on ‘excessive pay’ in the private sector and Hollande’s ambitious promises to deepen European/Eurozone political integration have been abandoned. The Constitutional Council forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over €1 million. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over €1 million.
In 2014, Hollande announced a pacte de responsabilité with employers, proposing to reduce payroll taxes paid out by employers if they took on new, especially young, workers. The announcement, which led to significant talk of Hollande shifting to the right, was met with skepticism in France. Regular citizens, who have seen Hollande’s record of failure since 2012, have little optimism in his proposal. The left and unions were skeptic or hostile towards the idea of dropping costs on employers (up to €30 billion in cuts to payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minimal) job creations. On the left, the rumour that Germany’s Peter Hartz would come to advise Hollande led to fears of a ‘neoliberal’ economic agenda.
Following the municipal elections, Hollande fired Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was seen as weak, indecisive, lacking authority and had been very effaced compared to the President. Manuel Valls, the popular Minister of the Interior under Ayrault, replaced him as Prime Minister. Valls, a fairly young Catalan-born ambitious politician perceived as being on the PS’ right, who, as interior minister, often ranked as one of the government’s most popular members because of his hardline policy on criminality and immigration. Although Valls himself had previously decried the Sarkozy administration’s controversial immigration policies, he effectively continued them – deporting undocumented migrants and dismantling Roma encampments. Valls ran into several controversies while he was interior minister, but none of them really hurt him. Last fall, he said that it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. In October 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant from Kosovo attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.
Valls’ nomination to Matignon as Prime Minister was, from the looks of it thus far, an attempt for Hollande to divest himself of some domestic political responsibilities and lay low for a while. The initial reaction from the opposition – left and right – was negative. The left, especially the left outside of the PS, is very critical and suspicious of Valls, who has a strong reputation as a ‘maverick’ and iconoclast challenging the left’s dogma, for example on the sanctity of the 35-hour work week introduced by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government (1997-2002). The Greens (EELV, Europe Écologie-Les Verts), who had sat in the Ayrault government, faced a major test of credibility with Valls’ nomination and the issue of their continued participation in government. Already under Ayrault, EELV had been displeased with several of the government’s decisions, notably the unceremonious dismissal of the environment minister (Delphine Batho) who had lamented budget cuts at her ministry, and a left-wing anti-government minority within EELV challenged the pro-government leadership of the party at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013. With regards to valls, former EELV leader and housing minister Cécile Duflot had decried Valls’ comments on the Roma, and after his nomination to Matignon, EELV’s two ministers (including Duflot) announced that they would not join a Valls cabinet. Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation, but EELV voted against participation in the Valls government. However, on April 8, 10 of EELV’s 17 deputies voted in favour of the government on the initial vote of confidence in the National Assembly.
Valls’ government included Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), as Minister of the Environment. To reassure the left, two of the Ayrault government’s members from the PS’ left, Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg, received promotions to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research and Minister of the Economy respectively. Neither had been particularly impressive, especially Montebourg, ever the flamboyant one, in Ayrault’s government. Montebourg and Hamon, although both rhetorically on the left of the PS, found common ground with Valls in being the leading opponents of Ayrault in the old government. Montebourg has continued his anti-austerity posturing, as he had in the old government, but he has been fairly quiet (uncommon coming from him) thus far.
In his speech to the National Assembly, Valls largely recycled existing pledges and promises made by Hollande – most notably confirming the pacte de responsabilité. On that topic, Valls announced several specific initiatives: removing employer contributions on minimum wage jobs, reducing employer contributions on low-wage jobs, reducing employee contributions and reducing the corporate tax by 2020. In mid-April 2014, Valls detailed the government’s plan to ‘save’ €50 million. The government called for €18 million in ‘savings’ from the state budget, €11 million from local governments, €10 million from health insurance and €11 million from other social security benefits. ‘Savings’ included a freeze in social security benefits, a deferment in the increase of several welfare benefits (including the RSA, a minimum income for unemployed, underemployed or low-wage workers) and a continued freeze of the ‘indexation point’ (used to calculate civil servants’ wages) until 2017 (the indexation point has not increased since 2010). The latter means that, with inflation and no concomitant increase in the base for calculating public sector pay, civil servants will suffer not only a pay freeze but a net loss in salary.
The €50 million savings plan, effectively an austerity program in all but name, was very controversial and provoked strong negative reactions from the PS’ left, which had already been suspicious of Valls’ intentions. The austerity plan was approved by the National Assembly on April 29, with 265 votes in favour, 232 against and 67 abstentions. What was historic, however, was the abstention of no less than 41 deputies of the Socialist group (SRC), the bulk of them from the PS’ left. 11 PS deputies, from the left of the party, had abstained on the vote of confidence in early April. On the austerity program, there were now 41 frondeurs within the ranks of the governing party. Only 3 green deputies voted in favour, with 12 of them voting against. The predominantly Communist GDR group voted against, while the centre-right UDI group largely abstained while only the Left Radicals (PRG) – very close allies and junior coalition partners of the PS – voted in favour.
Valls also announced plans to reduce the number of regions in metropolitan France from 22 to 14, abolishing general/departmental councils by 2021 (despite the fact that he had re-created them himself, as interior minister!) and abolishing the general power of competence (which was abolished by Sarkozy in 2010, re-instated by Valls in 2013…). Hollande presented a draft map of France’s 14 new regions, which the government (but no-one else) insists will result in cost savings, efficiency and competitive regions. The regional reform and the new map (which reduces regions by merging existing ones, instead of re-drawing new ones) has been poorly received.
French voters have been surprisingly kind on Valls so far, although the popularity trend is already looking south. His approval ranges between a high of 52% (in the latest Ifop, BVA) and 39% (CSA); in all cases, his popularity is declining, slowly but surely. Hollande has seen no improvement in his popularity since March, although he has hit a floor of 16-20% approval. At this point, a lot of voters have lost all faith in Hollande (or his policies) and that practically anything he says or does has no effect on his popularity. He has lost so much credibility that it would take a miraculous and huge improvement in the economy for Hollande’s popularity numbers to look north again. The situation for the PS is so bad that Hollande himself has already openly said that he may not seek reelection if unemployment does not decline before 2017.
The government has been further dragged down by a plethora of other issues: broken promises, promises delayed indefinitely (assisted reproductive technologies, law on families), corruption scandals (the Jérôme Cahuzac, the then-budget minister, and his secret offshore account in Switzerland), crises (the manif pour tous against same-sex marriage and adoption, the Leonarda affair).
Parties and lists
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front (FG)’s presidential candidate in 2012, has been extremely critical of the government’s austerity policies. However, despite incessant and violent attacks by Mélenchon and the FG on the government’s policies, they have largely been unable (thus far) to profit from the government’s unpopularity with left-wing voters. Mélenchon is a polarizing figure; his abrasive, in-your-face and often unpleasant public person is off-putting to many voters and the FG generally appears to lack credibility as a credible leftist alternative to the PS. The municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the Communists (PCF), the largest party in the FG, which still retains some attachment (mostly for strategic and self-serving electoral reasons) to the old alliances with the PS. The FG is a contradictory alliance of people with similar ideologies but differing strategies. The PCF latched on to Mélenchon’s charisma and relative appeal to a left-wing electorate, and it initially served the PCF well in the 2012 presidential election. However, after the FG (PCF)’s unexpectedly horrendous performance in the 2012 legislative elections, there was some reticence within the PCF towards Mélenchon’s radical and dogmatic opposition to any kind of cooperation with the PS in elections. In the 2014 municipal elections, the PCF chose to ally by the first round with PS lists in major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Rennes, Grenoble, Tours and Rouen. Mélenchon’s Left Party (PG) is largely an empty shell and, with the departure of Marc Dolez (the PG’s only deputy), Mélenchon is the only one in the PG who is actually elected to some kind of parliamentary institution (the EP). Given that it has nothing to lose from doing so, the PG has followed a strategy of total independence from the PS, refusing any first round alliances with the PS. In municipalities where the PCF allied with the PS in the first round of the local elections, the PG ran independent lists of its own, often alongside other components of the FG (Ensemble, a new movement uniting various small parties – old and new – ranging from dissident ‘reformist’ communists to dissident factions of the NPA which left the dogmatic far-left microparty disagreeing with its anti-FG stances). These PG lists did fairly poorly, although in Grenoble, where the PG allied with EELV against a PS-PCF list, the EELV-led list was victorious in the second round against the PS list backed by the retiring PS mayor.
The FG managed to hold together for the EP elections; although Gauche unitaire, an old far-left movement which emerged from a pro-FG faction of the old LCR (now NPA) in 2009, decided not to participate on FG lists. The FG was defending four incumbent MEPs in metropolitan France, in addition to one MEP from the Overseas constituency (Younous Omarjee, who replaced Reunionese Communist MEP Élie Hoarau in 2012).The FG incumbents were Patrick Le Hyaric (PCF-Île-de-France), the current director of the communist daily L’Humanité; Marie-Christine Vergiat (independent-Southeast), an independent left-wing activist; Jacky Hénin (PCF-Northwest), the former PCF mayor of Calais (2000-2008) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (PG-Southwest). Mélenchon has been one of the least active MEPs, participating in only 71% of roll-call votes. The PG held the top candidacy in the East and Centre, while former NPA spokesperson Myriam Martin (who joined the FG in 2012) led the list in the West. In the Overseas constituency, the FG supported the ‘Union for the Overseas’ list led by incumbent PCR MEP Younous Omarjee and supported by the Martinican Progressive Party (PPM), the largest party in the regional and general councils of Martinique. The FG campaigned against austerity (with the clear target being the French government, rather than the EU), for higher wages, against the proposed Transatlantic free trade agreement with the US and against NATO.
On the far-left, which is as divided as ever but also weaker than ever, there was no agreement on common lists between the NPA and Workers’ Struggle (Lutte ouvrière, LO) nor was such an hypothesis ever realistic. LO, led by the party’s leader and public face Nathalie Arthaud (candidate in Île-de-France) had lists in every region, including the Overseas. The NPA, which is increasingly divided, ran only 5 lists.
The Socialist Party (PS) had already performed very poorly in 2009, and was not expected to perform much better in 2014 given Hollande’s massive unpopularity. The only question, especially after the PS’ defeat in the municipal elections in March, was whether or not the PS would perform better or worse than its 2009 result (16.48%). At the end of the EP term, the PS was left with 12 MEPs (it had elected 13 in 2009). The PS formed common lists with the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small party ostensibly following in the radical-socialist (social liberal, pro-European) tradition but in reality known solely as being an annex of the PS. The PRG had not participated in 2009 and ran a few lists independent of the PS, with very weak results, in 2004. The PS’ top candidates were: incumbent MEP Gilles Pargneaux, an ally of Lille mayor Martine Aubry (Northwest); incumbent MEP Isabelle Thomas from the party’s left (West; Emmanuel Maurel, a regional councillor also on the left of the PS, was second); Édouard Martin, a CFDT trade unionist active in social movements against the closing of the last blast furnaces in Lorraine (East; Catherine Trautmann, a two-term MEP and former mayor of Strasbourg, was second on the list); Jean-Paul Denanot, the president of the regional council of the Limousin since 2004 (Massif central-Centre); Virginie Rozière, a little-known PRG member and deputy director of cabinet to Sylvia Pinel, a PRG cabinet minister (Southwest); former MEP Vincent Peillon, the former education minister who was not kept in the new Valls cabinet because of an unpopular education reform (Southeast); four-term MEP Pervenche Berès (Île-de-France) and Joseph-Louis Manscour, a former Martinican PS deputy (Overseas; Marie-Claude Tjibaou, the widow of assassinated New Caledonian Kanak nationalist leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, was the lead candidate for the Pacific section). Harlem Désir, an incumbent MEP and secretary-general of the PS from 2012 until March 2014, was due to run for reelection as the PS’ top candidate in Île-de-France, but after the PS defeat in the local elections (for which he was held responsible by many Socialists), he was quietly fired from the party leadership and became Secretary of State for European Affairs – even if some of his EP colleagues judged him to be a completely useless and inactive MEP.
Unsurprisingly, the PS’ campaign literature made no mention of the government and only included very small PS and PRG logos (all PS lists were named Choisir notre Europe – choosing our Europe). Instead, they very much emphasized Martin Schulz, the PES candidate for president of the Commission. Quite disingenuously (and dishonestly), the PS campaign attacked austerity policies and ‘social dumping’, calling for pro-growth job policies, fair trade and a tax on financial transactions (an issue which the PS government seems to have forgotten about). No mention was made, of course, that the Valls government is effectively carrying out austerity policies (although it denies it) rather than ‘growth-oriented’ policies.
There was a new movement/party on the left contesting the EP elections: Nouvelle Donne, or New Deal, a party founded in November 2013 by Pierre Larrouturou, a longtime but little-known activist on the left (who has come and gone from the PS several times) who has embraced causes such as a four-day workweek or, these days, an interventionist economic policy modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies in the US. The party was joined by EELV deputy Isabelle Attard, EELV MEP Malika Benarab-Attou and PS MEP Françoise Castex. The party’s campaign was fairly Eurosceptic or EU-critical, attacking the EU from a left-wing angle – austerity policies, ‘fiscal dumping’, the need for a ‘social treaty’ and the democratic deficit (no new treaty without a referendum). It called for a €1,000 billion pact to save the climate, fighting layoffs and renegotiating working hours. Pierre Larrouturou, who is a regional councillor (elected for EELV, when he briefly joined that party between 2009 and 2012), was top candidate in Île-de-France.
Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) had nowhere else to go but down after the record-breaking and shocking performance by the Greens (Europe Écologie coalition) in the 2009 EP elections (16.28%). The 2009 success was the result of a perfect storm for EE: a divided and chaotic PS a few months after the Reims Congress, and the green movement’s remarkable ability to temporarily overcome the factional and strategic divisions which had weakened it for so long. EE was a coalition which extended from traditional Green politicians to non-partisan environmentalist activists in NGOs and anti-globalization movements – uniting people like José Bové, the peasant leader and anti-globalization leader; political newcomers from civil society like Eva Joly (the Norwegian-born magistrate, who went on to become EELV’s 2012 presidential candidate), Sandrine Bélier and Yannick Jadot and regionalist allies like François Alfonsi (from the PNC – Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, a moderate nationalist party from Corsica). The candidacy of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had already led the French Greens’ list in 1999 but had run for the German Greens in 2004, also provided a charismatic and well-known leader to the movement. Some in the media have also speculated that the airing of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s movie Home (on global biodiversity and environmental destruction) days before the vote may explain the very late surge for EE, undetected by most pollsters at the time. Although EE’s success prompted The Greens to transform the party into EELV in 2010, aiming to attract new members and activists who had not been members of the old green party, since 2009, the party’s star has faded. In 2012, after a very mediocre campaign, Eva Joly won only 2.3% of the presidential vote. In the legislative elections, EELV only elected 18 deputies thanks to an electoral alliance sealed with a magnanimous PS. In the Ayrault government, in which EELV had two minister (Cécile Duflot as housing minister and Pascal Canfin as junior minister for international development), the party faced internal and external criticism for largely bowing down to the PS and largely accepting several policies which they privately disagreed with. In 2013, there was major internal pressure within the party for it to leave the government or at least take a more assertive stance. Pascal Durand, the national secretary of EELV, was forced to retire after launching an ‘ultimatum’ to the government. At EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, a left-wing anti-government minority faction won about 40%. Several prominent members of EELV have since left the party: Cohn-Bendit in late 2012, and Noël Mamère in September 2013.
The EELV top candidates were: Karima Delli, a young MEP of Algerian descent (originally from the poor textile town of Tourcoing in the Nord) elected in Île-de-France in 2009 but running in the Northwest; Yannick Jadot, an incumbent MEP and former Greenpeace member (West); incumbent MEP Sandrine Bélier (East; Antoine Waechter, the old leader of the Independent Ecologist Movement, MEI, was ranked in second); Clarisse Heusquin (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MEP José Bové, the famous anti-globalization peasant leader (Southwest); incumbent MEP Michèle Rivasi, also a former Green deputy (1997-2002) (Southeast; incumbent MEP Karim Zéribi, a former Socialist, was second) and Pascal Durand (Île-de-France; Eva Joly was second). EELV also had a list in the Overseas. EELV supports a federal Europe, and its campaign focused on environmental priorities, promoting democracy, reducing the ‘power of the market’ (it opposes the FTA with the US) and ‘changing economic models’.
EELV lost the support of its minor regionalist partners, the Régions et peuples solidaires (R&PS) – an alliance of left-leaning autonomist parties from several regions (Brittany’s Breton Democratic Union, Corsica’s PNC, the Partit occitan, Basque and Catalan nationalists, the Mouvement région Savoie) affiliated with the EFA. R&PS ran lists in 6 regions (all except the East and Northwest), the most important being a Corsican one led by incumbent PNC MEP François Alfonsi in the Southeast, the Breton Democratic Union (Union démocratique bretonne / Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh, UDB) list led by regional councillor Christian Guyonvarc’h in the West, a Basque list led by Jean Tellechea from the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNB) and an Overseas list led by incumbent EELV MEP Jean-Jacob Bicep. In the West, there was also a strong regionalist led led by Christian Troadec, the popular Breton nationalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) who was a key leader in the 2013 bonnets rouges protests against the application of the écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles. Troadec’s list – Nous te ferons Europe ! – was backed by Troadec’s local left-wing Mouvement Bretagne et progrès and the moderate nationalist Breton Party (Strollad Breizh).
In the centre, François Bayrou’s Democratic Movement (MoDem) formed common lists with the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).
The UDI, created in late 2012, is an alliance of several small centre-right pro-European parties which were allied with the UMP during Sarkozy’s presidency and continue to be closely identified with the UMP-led parliamentary right. The UDI included Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radical Party (PR, social liberal and pro-European), Senator Jean Arthuis’ Centrist Alliance (AC, largely an empty shell in the centrist tradition of partis de notables), the New Centre (NC, the original pro-Sarkozy dissidents from Bayrou’s UDF in 2007, which has a strong base of elected officials but little independent electoral support), the European Democratic Force (FED, founded by Jean-Christophe Lagarde and other anti-Hervé Morin dissidents of the NC in 2012), the Modern Left (LGM, a social liberal party founded by Jean-Marie Bockel, a Blairite ex-Socialist who joined the Fillon government in 2007), Territories in Movement (TEM, the personal machine of Jean-Christophe Fromantin, the maverick right-wing deputy and mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine), the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD, a tiny libertarian/right-wing liberal party), GayLib (the former gay rights lobby within the UMP) and two tiny shells. The UDI is often seen as a recreation of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), which was one of the two major components of the right-wing bloc in French politics between 1978 and 2002, and which was originally an alliance of several ideological families of the traditional non-Gaullist right (liberals, Christian democrats in the MRP tradition, anti-Programme Commun right-wing social democrats and the Radicals). The UDI won the support of former members of the UDF who had joined the UMP in 2002, like Pierre Méhaignerie or Louis Giscard d’Estaing (the son of the former President, who also supports the UDI). The UDI has a strong parliamentary caucus, with 28 deputies and 30 senators, but the party suffers – like a lot of non-Gaullist centre-right movements before it in French politics – from the lack of a strong leader in France’s presidential-centric system and the absence of a reliable electoral base. Jean-Louis Borloo, the UDI’s leader and one of its most most popular and well-known figures, has retired from politics for health reasons and the initial reaction was that his retirement will badly hurt the UDI. There are, nevertheless, a few other talented or promising politicians within the UDI.
The MoDem was crushed in the 2012 legislative elections, which followed Bayrou’s mediocre performance in the presidential race. Although Bayrou had personally endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, since 2012, the party has generally moved towards the right-wing opposition. In the 2014 municipal elections, the MoDem supported the right (UMP-UDI) by the first round in a number of major cities including Paris, in return for the UMP begrudgingly endorsing Bayrou’s ultimately successful bid for mayor of Pau. Relations between the MoDem and the UDI (or its component parties prior to 2012) have generally been fairly acrimonious, but there has been a clear thaw since 2012. The alliance for the EP elections served both parties’ strategic objective: for the MoDem, to retain its base in the EP and prominence in French politics; for the UDI, a tailor-made opportunity for the party to prove that it is not a mere annex of the UMP and that it can run without UMP if it wishes too (a strategy the UDI tried in some towns, notably Caen, Strasbourg and Rouen in the locals). In 2009, the Radicals (which were still an affiliate of the UMP) had elected 4 MEPs, the NC 3 MEPs and the Modern Left 2 MEPs running on the UMP’s Presidential Majority lists.
The UDI-MoDem lists – known as L’Alternative or Les Européens – were led by: incumbent Radical MEP Dominique Riquet, a close ally of Borloo in Valenciennes (Northwest); Mayenne Senator Jean Arthuis from the AC (West); incumbent MoDem MEP Nathalie Griesbeck (East); incumbent FED MEP Sophie Auconie (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MoDem MEP Robert Rochefort (Southwest); incumbent MoDem MEP Sylvie Goulard (Southeast, elected in the West in 2009); incumbent MoDem MEP Marielle de Sarnez (Île-de-France, with incumbent UDI MEP Jean-Marie Cavada in second) and a list in the Overseas. The UDI and MoDem are two parties which come a very pro-European (federalist) tradition in French politics, and it ran a pro-European campaign although it did not use the word ‘federal’ unlike EELV. It called on the EU to strengthen and concentrate its powers in industrial policy, infrastructure, social and fiscal harmonization, small businesses, protection of European industry, foreign policy and a coherent immigration policy and border police. It also called on a more democratic EU, with a directly-elected European president and more direct democracy.
Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister under Chirac (1995-1997) and a centre-right green who ran for president in 2002 as candidate of her ‘blue green’ party (Cap21), had been elected MEP on a MoDem list in 2009, but Cap21 left the party a year later and Lepage unsuccessfully tried to run for President in 2012. She ran for reelection atop her own new lists – Europe Citoyenne – with Lepage as the movement’s candidate in Île-de-France. It claimed to be a non-political movement of normal citizens, emphasizing ethics and the creation of a ‘heart’ of the EU with 6-10 members acting as the lead forces for the EU.
Denis Payre, a businessman, launched an ‘independent citizens’ movement, Nous Citoyens (We citizens) in late 2013. With lists in all metropolitan constituencies, the list, despite being fairly vague on specifics and claiming to be ‘independent’ (with lists of non-politicians) leaned towards the liberal centre-right with pro-European positions.
The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is the main opposition party to the PS government, and it has led an uncompromising opposition to the government’s policies on nearly every front and has been very virulent in its criticism of what it describes as the ‘socialist state’. However, the UMP has done a fairly mediocre job in opposition and the party faces nearly as many crises as the PS.
Sarkozy’s defeat in May 2012 traumatized the UMP, which, for the first time since its creation in 2002 was now an opposition party. In November 2012, a UMP congress to elect a permanent president for the party turned into a nearly fatal civil war between the two candidates, the incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon. In an election marred by fraud and vote rigging by both sides, Copé was initially proclaimed the winner by 98 votes by an internal party commission. Fillon’s supporters later challenged the results, claiming that Fillon won by 26 votes because the party commission ‘forgot’ to include 1,304 votes cast in three overseas federations. This opened a civil war between both men; mediation by party elder and the popular moderate mayor of Bordeaux (and former Prime Minister) Alain Juppé failed, an appeals commission (led by a man who had backed Copé) ruled on a challenge lodged by Copé against filloniste fraud in the Alpes-Maritimes – it proclaimed Copé as the winner nationally, now with 952 votes (they cancelled the results, very selectively, in pro-Fillon Alpes-Maritimes and New Caledonia), and Fillon created a dissident parliamentary group in the National Assembly (R-UMP). Facing the very real threat of a split in the UMP, which would cripple the financially strapped party, the two enemies agreed to a temporary compromise in January 2013: Fillon’s R-UMP would dissolve, Copé would remain president while all other leadership positions in the party would be ‘doubled’ – one filloniste, one copéiste (creating an unwieldy and tense leadership, described by critics as a ‘Mexican army’).
Copé suffered from a very acute image problem: he is extremely unpopular with voters (Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating, Fillon had a 49% disapproval – both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war). Copé was perceived as too right-wing, too economically liberal, too rash and the story of the 2012 congress (and how, if he won, it owes a lot to organized fraud and vote rigging by Copé’s men) further hurt his image. His leadership, by all accounts, was hardly inspiring stuff. The UMP has been desperate to oppose the government at every turn, in the process latching on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues – for example, Copé once complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth; the UMP, at the same time, briefly went nuts with faux outrage over ‘gender theory’ education in public schools (the government has a program to promote and teach gender equality in primary school). In the meantime, the UMP is not considered to be a credible alternative to the government – it lacks coherent policy (except being anti-government), its fire is often stolen by the far more popular far-right FN and the division between Copé and Fillon remains very clear – quite tellingly, at a final EP election ‘unity rally’, Fillon only came in for his speech and left as soon as Copé took the stage.
Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. In late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received €8 million in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the defeated President, has never been far behind in all this. It is known that he took his defeat in 2012 pretty badly, and holds a deep grudge against Hollande (his singer/songwriter wife, Carla Bruni, wrote a song, Le pingouin, which was widely assumed to be referring – negatively – to Hollande). The UMP’s rank-and-file remains, by and large, solidly sarkozyste and would love to see him return in 2017. For UMP sympathizers and many on the right in general, Hollande’s disastrous presidency only vindicates Sarkozy and reinforces their burning desire to see Sarkozy return to the presidency in 2017. That Sarkozy himself is very much planning for a return in 2017 is probably the worst keep secret in French politics right now. If he were to do so, polls show that Sarkozy would win the UMP’s 2016 primaries in a landslide. But Sarkozy, since 2012, has been dogged by several scandals.
In December 2012, the campaign finance and public financing commission rejected Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign finance report. The issue plunged the financially troubled party further in debt, but an appeal by Sarkozy to UMP members to contribute to the party allowed the UMP to raise over 11 million euros in just two months, which is equivalent to the sum lost by the party in public financing after Sarkozy’s campaign finances were invalidated. Sarkozy has faced other scandals. In March 2013, Sarkozy was indicted in the Bettencourt affair (illegal payments from L’Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt to UMP members, part of a wider tax fraud case involving Bettencourt and her family) but charges against him were dropped in June 2013. One of the most important ones is the Sarkozy-Gaddafi scandal: in April 2012, Mediapart published documents which indicated that the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have given 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the Libyan Civil War, officials in Gaddafi’s regime, including his son Saif al-Islam had said that Libya had funded Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. In April 2013, a Parisian court opened a judicial investigation (citing no names) in the Gaddafi case. On March 7, 2014, Le Monde revealed that Sarkozy (and two former interior ministers Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close allies of Sarkozy cited in the Gaddafi case) had their phones bugged as part of the judicial investigation, beginning in September 2013. The transcripts of the wiretaps had found that Sarkozy and his lawyers were benefiting from insider information on the judicial process from judges and law enforcement sources – Sarkozy was appealing to the Court of Cassation the decision a judge in the Bernard Tapie scandal to send Sarkozy’s personal agenda to the judge in charge of the Bettencourt case.
The wiretap case shifted against the government, when the UMP successful changed the angle of media focus in the case to whether or not Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, had been aware of the wiretaps. Taubira claimed that she had not been aware until the media revealed it; the following evening, Ayrault said that the government had indeed been aware. Taubira later showed two documents which she claimed proved that she was not aware, but those documents in fact did state that the minister was kept aware. The UMP claimed that Taubira lied and called on her resignation, but it may now appear that Taubira was not lying – her chief of staff was aware, but had not shared the information with Taubira. Since then, new revelations by Mediapart, on how Sarkozy was suspicious of the wiretaps and bought a phone under a ‘fake name’ to talk with his lawyer.
Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro only days before the first round of the municipal elections in March 2014. He claimed, disingenuously, that he remained silent and ‘in retreat’ since 2012 and that he has no desire for revenge or ill-feelings against anyone. He continues by saying that ‘sacred principles of our Republic are being trampled unprecedented violence and unscrupulousness’ and even denounced Stasi-like techniques.
The UMP’s preparation for the EP elections was hindered by the difficult balancing act between the Copé and Fillon factions of the UMP, and the wranglings of the UMP’s small but vocal Eurosceptic (often from the party’s hard right) faction. Henri Guaino, a UMP deputy from the ‘social Gaullist’ tradition, said that he could not support the UMP list in his region because of its pro-EU top candidate; Juppé issued a thinly-veiled rebuke telling him to leave the party if he was unhappy. The UMP’s campaign concealed all ties it had with the EPP or Jean-Claude Juncker, the federalist candidate of the EPP. Instead, it explicitly targeted Hollande and ran on the terribly vague slogans of ‘a more efficient Europe’ and ‘a Europe which works’ – mixing support for the EU with pablum about ‘a stronger France’ in Europe. It opposed enlargement and Turkish membership, called for a reduction in immigration and a stronger Europe in international negotiations. In another Sarkozy op-ed right before the vote, the former President called to suspend the Schengen agreements and replace it with new agreements conditional on a common immigration policy and a Europe of co-existing identities. Oftentimes, however, the EU-critical rhetoric coming out of the UMP (and PS) is mostly for show: for example, of 40 UMP parliamentarians who signed an op-ed penned by Laurent Wauquiez and Henri Guaino (criticizing the current form of European integration, ‘excessive’ freedom of movement, austerity, social and fiscal dumping), only 8 of the 33 deputies who signed the op-ed actually voted against the European Fiscal Compact (17 UMP deputies in total had voted against, along with 20 SRC deputies) and two of them had voted against Lisbon at the time (5 UMP deputies in 2008 had voted against Lisbon, against 206 who voted for it). Therefore, when it comes to a vote, a lot of the UMP and PS deputies who criticize the EU will actually vote for the EU treaty or policy in question.
The UMP lists largely included incumbent MEPs or former deputies defeated in 2012 – confirming the old adage about the EP being a repository for failed or defeated politicians. In the Northwest, the UMP list was led by Jérôme Lavrilleux, a general councillor in the Aisne who served on the Sarkozy 2012 campaign and is a close ally of Copé, for whom he’s served as chief of cabinet since 2004. Tokia Saïfi, an ex-Radical filloniste MEP (elected since 1999), was second on the list. In the West, the list was headed by Alain Cadec, an incumbent MEP and general councillor (Côtes-d’Armor), followed by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, an incumbent MEP and former president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes (2002-2004, succeeded her ally Jean-Pierre Raffarin, lost reelection to Ségolène Royal in 2004). Marc Joulaud, the mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe – the former stronghold of François Fillon – who lost his bid to succeed his mentor (Fillon) as deputy in Fillon’s old constituency in 2012, was third on the UMP list. Nadine Morano, a fairly unpleasant loudmouth copéiste and former junior minister who lost her seat in the National Assembly in 2012, led the UMP list in the East; Arnaud Danjean, a filloniste incumbent MEP, followed her on the list. In the Massif central-Centre, the UMP was once again led by Brice Hortefeux (incumbent MEP), a close friend of Sarkozy and former cabinet minister (immigration, then labour and finally interior between 2007 and 2011). Jean-Pierre Audy, France’s most active MEP, was third on the list. In the Southwest, the UMP list was led by Michèle Alliot-Marie, a political veteran who’s served in cabinets under Chirac and Sarkozy (in portfolios such as defense, justice, interior and foreign affairs) who lost reelection in her constituency (first elected in 1988) in June 2012; as foreign minister, until February 2011, she had gotten into hot water for vacationing with friends of Ben Ali during the Tunisian Revolution. In the Southeast, the UMP was led by Renaud Muselier, another deputy defeated in 2012, who likely got his MEP gig in exchange for not getting Marseille city hall with his rival, the patriarch Jean-Claude Gaudin (the UMP mayor since 1995) opting to run for reelection. The UMP list in Île-de-France was led by Alain Lamassoure, a strongly pro-European MEP in the EP since 1999. Lamassoure’s political base, however, is in the Basque Country, and he was elected from the Southwest in 2004 and 2009. Incumbent MEP and the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement Rachida Dati was second, with two other incumbent MEPs placing third and fourth on the UMP list. In the Overseas constituency, the UMP was represented by their incumbent MEP, Maurice Ponga, from New Caledonia – although Ponga’s local party, the Rassemblement-UMP, is no longer the official UMP affiliate in New Caledonia.
Christine Boutin, a political gadfly and former cabinet minister known for her very socially conservative positions (and other controversial positions for which she is often the target of ridicule) ran socially conservative pro-life and anti-gay marriage lists in all 8 constituencies – Force Vie. Boutin had been fairly close to the UMP between 2007 and 2009, and served in Fillon’s government until she got fired in 2009, at which point her small Christian Democratic Party (PCD) took its independence from the UMP and Boutin gradually shifted away from the UMP, although she endorsed Sarkozy in 2012 after failing to run herself and the PCD’s elected officials all won as UMP-endorsed candidates. Since the 2012 election, Boutin has left the leadership of the PCD and somewhat acted as a loose cannon and was a major leader in the 2013 manif pour tous against same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Boutin – who is a bit nuts – claimed that homosexuality was an abomination; her name has stuck in popular memory in France for allegedly waving her Bible during a 1998 debate on civil unions (legalized by the left-wing government at the time) and she has faced controversy and ridicule for having married her first cousin. Christine Boutin led the Force Vie list in Île-de-France, with the PCD mayor of Montfermeil Xavier Lemoine in second position. In the Southwest, the top candidate was Jean-Claude Martinez, a former FN MEP (1989-2009) who left the FN in 2008 because he strongly opposed Marine Le Pen. The list’s platform focused on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, but had more Christian-social positions on economic issues (‘social market economy’, a European basic income). On the EU, it opposed Schengen, Turkish membership, EU ‘deepening’ and called on the affirmation of ‘Christian roots’ of Europe and an ‘alliance of civilizations’ with Latin America.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is the leader of Debout la République (DLR, Arise the Republic), a small right-wing paleo-Gaullist and Eurosceptic party founded in 1999 and an independent party since it broke with the UMP in 2007. NDA won 1.8% in the 2012 presidential election, and DLR’s media profile is very low – stuck in between the UMP to its left and the FN to its right (it claims to be a non-extremist anti-EU party; something of a FN-lite or ‘bridge’ between the UMP and FN, comparable to UKIP, the uniqueness of Gaullism notwithstanding). NDA did not run in the EP elections (a symbolic 29th place on the DLR list in IdF notwithstanding), but DLR put up lists in all 8 regions. Only Dominique Jamet, a right-wing journalist/writer, who was DLR’s top candidate in Île-de-France (the only region where DLR could win a seat, with the lowest effective threshold at 6% according to DLR’s campaign lit). With a slogan of ‘neither system nor extreme’, DLR proposed to drain the EU of 80% of its powers, end Schengen, adopt French protectionist policies, limit the number foreign workers in France and reducing bureaucracy and welfare dependency in France. Unlike UKIP and some other Eurosceptic parties on the right, DLR’s economic positions are more statist – in the traditional Gaullist tradition of dirigisme.
The one party expected to profit the most was the far-right National Front (FN). Marine Le Pen won a record high 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election, and after Sarkozy nearly killed the FN in 2007, the FN under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has roared back. Marine Le Pen benefits from a better image than that of her father and FN patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If most academics agree that under the veil of dédiabolisation, not much has changed in reality and policy; she does a much better job at appearances and communication than her father, who has a knack for provocative, racist and outrageous statements, lacked. She appears, in the eyes of part of the public, as cleaner, more acceptable, more credible and more moderate. Marine Le Pen has been quite careful at ensuring that the cranks and neo-fascist loons in the FN are kept quiet and has moved quickly, as much as she could without alienating her father and the more radical factions of the FN (who have been suspicious of her), to remove from public spotlight anybody who was inconvenient for the FN’s rebranding efforts. Marine Le Pen has surrounded herself with a new generation of FN leaders who are more polished and presentable to the media than some of the old guard (men like Bruno Gollnisch, who have said crazy things in the past); they include men like Florian Philippot, a technocrat who is now a FN vice-president.f
An Ipsos poll in November 2013 showed that a majority of respondents still think the FN is a far-right party, dangerous for democracy and would never vote the FN and most don’t think that the FN is a credible alternative. The FN’s positions, the poll showed, are not endorsed by a plurality (with one exception, on maintaining local services) although very substantial minorities (up to 46%) agree with the FN on immigration and immigration. However, the results did show favourable trends for the FN: a 9% drop since 2003 in those believing the FN is dangerous for democracy, a 13% drop since 2003 in those who say the FN is a far-right party (most notably with FN voters themselves, 57% in 2003 said the party was far-right but only 34% think so nowadays, a confirmation of the shifts in the FN’s electorate) and an overall ‘potential’ support of 35% (combining those who have already voted FN and those who say they may potentially do so).
The FN did quite well in the municipal elections, although they did confirm that there are clear limits to the FN’s growth. The majority of polls during the EP campaign showed the FN as the single largest party, maintaining a small but consistent lead over the UMP while a limping PS languished in third place. The FN’s campaign was relatively undisturbed by the obligatory last-minute racist provocation from the patriarch, who suggested that the ebola virus could solve the ‘demographic explosion’ in the world within three months. The FN’s electorate, still largely made up of malcontents and protest voters rather than dogmatic fascists or far-rightists, seems to have accepted Jean-Marie Le Pen’s continued presence in the party as a strategic necessity but downplaying his influence as that of a senile old man. Nevertheless, there is a thinly-veiled conflict between Marine and her father within the FN. Marine Le Pen has made real efforts to ‘clean up’ the party – expelling the neo-Nazi nutcases (Alexandre Gabriac, a vile skinhead elected to a regional council in 2010 on a FN list got kicked out in 2011 after publication of pictures showing him doing the Hitler salute to a Nazi flag), drawing closer to the European radical right and dropping ties with the extremists (although Bruno Gollnisch nevertheless attended the rally of the quasi-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary) and polishing the party’s public image and rhetoric. She has also shifted the FN’s policy and its thematic focus – a greater focus on economic issues (where she has taken a statist and interventionist tone – with protectionism and the préférence nationale, and strongly anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal angle; a major break with the FN’s original radical economic liberalism of 1984) and refocusing the immigration rhetoric around the popular ‘republican value’ of laïcité (and nothing about the ‘Christian roots’ or Catholic traditionalism, as existed in the past; the FN no longer supports repatriating all immigrants). She has been backed in her shift by a ‘new guard’ of young, polished and somewhat technocratic figures – Florian Philippot (the ‘teacher’s pet’; a polished technocrat strongly attached to the dédiabolisation and moderation), Louis Aliot (Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend), Steeve Briois (the new FN mayor of Hénin-Beaumont and Marine Le Pen’s local right-hand man in her stronghold) and more minor FN cadres such as Nicolas Bay, David Rachline and Julien Sanchez. On the other hand, her father has become identified with a traditionalist wing, which is suspicious of excessive dédiabolisation – which it sees as unacceptable moderation which is causing the FN to lose its specificity – and is silently critical of Marine Le Pen for ‘abandoning’ traditional issues such as immigration, security and same-sex marriage (Marine Le Pen and Philippot did not participate in the manif pour tous, but Gollnisch and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – the young granddaughter of Jean-Marie and Marine’s niece who is now one of two FN deputies – did march in it). At times, Jean-Marie Le Pen has even been publicly critical, in a thinly-veiled manner, of his daughter’s leadership and he is especially irked by the influence of her young ‘clique’ led by Aliot and Philippot. In this, Jean-Marie has been joined by Marion, who has emerged as a major rival of Marine and provided a young face to Jean-Marie’s ‘faction’.
In 2009, the FN had elected only three MEPs – Le Pen father and daughter and Gollnisch. The FN was not hurt by the fact that its three incumbents MEPs were quite inactive in the last EP, with low attendance records and limited participation in the daily and ‘unglamorous’ parliamentary activities; some in the media attempted to question them on their records, but they disingeniously claimed that the VoteWatch website was unreliable and biased (Mélenchon, another top inactive MEP, made a similar claim) or avoided the issue. Marine Le Pen refused to participate in a French TV debate with Martin Schulz, the PES candidate, likely because she would have been asked by the President of the EP why she was so inactive in her job. In the end, she had the last laugh…
This year, with polls showing them in the lead and therefore heading for a record 20+ seats, the composition of the FN lists beyond top candidates mattered a lot more. However, besides a fairly small elite of party cadres and elected officials in regional and municipal councils, the FN lacks the UMP or the PS’ grassroots bases across the country – so a lot of their candidates beyond the first two or so names tend to be quite anonymous (with the danger, as they saw in the locals, that these nobodies turn out to be hidden neo-Nazi cranks or racist fruitcakes). The law requiring the lists to alternate men and women to ensure gender parity also annoys the FN, a largely male-dominated party which has publicly ranted against the need for gender parity on lists.
In the Northwest, Marine Le Pen led the FN list, followed by Steeve Briois. Nicolas Bay, a former mégretiste turned young Marine protégé and politburo member, was fourth on the list. In the West, a weak region for the FN, the list was led by Gilles Lebreton, a law professor aligned with the small SIEL party (an ideologically quasi-identical party besides a Gaullist identity, aligned with Marine’s Rassemblement Bleu Marine broad front-thing). In the East, the FN list was led by Florian Philippot, who is trying (with very mixed results) to set up a base in the depressed old coal mining basin of Moselle (he ran for mayor of Forbach but lost to the PS incumbent in March, victim of a number of right-wing voters flocking to the PS in the runoff to block the FN). Jean-François Jalkh, a quiet party vice-president, was third on the list behind Sophie Montel, a regional councillor and FN leader in Franche-Comté. In the Massif central-Centre, the FN list was led by Bernard Monot, a libertarian economist. In the Southwest, it was Louis Aliot, styled the ‘prince consort’ by an irritated Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the FN list. In the Southeast, the other major FN stronghold, the FN list was led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (who is the FN’s ‘boss’ in the PACA region), followed by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (an ally of Jean-Marie) and Bruno Gollnisch (elected in the East in 2009, but whose historical base was in Rhône-Alpes although he seems to have shifted to the Var now). In Île-de-France, the FN’s list was led by Aymeric Chauprade, a souverainiste realist polisci academic known for his controversial work on ‘civilizations’ and pro-Russian viewpoints. The FN also had an Overseas list, but the FN is obviously weak there outside some regions (New Caledonia).
The FN’s campaign was quite simple and had a clear target: the EU – the ‘destroyer’ of the nation-state and the culprit for unemployment, deindustrialization, outsourcing, mass immigration, dilution of the French identity, criminality, ‘communitarianism’ and undemocratic supra-national governance. The FN called for border controls to stop anarchic immigration and free movement of Romas and criminals, opposed austerity policies (the tax increases and destruction of social services), relaunching growth and jobs by abandoning the Euro for the Franc, reindustrializing France through protectionism, ‘refounding’ democracy by ‘returning to the people its legislative sovereignty’, protecting the labour market (by abolishing the EU directive on posted workers which allows, the FN said, for the mass immigration of cheap foreign labour), defending French agriculture and industry, opposing the FTA with the US, defending public services and defending identity and traditions. The FN’s slogan was straightforward stuff: NON à Bruxelles / OUI à la France (also the official registered name of all FN lists).
An oddity in the French electoral system: the individual lists are responsible for the costs of printing their own ballots, which are sent to the city halls (for distribution at the polling station) and by mail to all voters (alongside their campaign literature, or profession de foi, which they must also print and cover the costs thereof). The government (often subcontracted out) is responsible for distributing ballots and campaign lit it has received from the lists to all voters, by mail. Parties with lists in five of the eight constituencies, however, have access to free campaign ads on TV. Lists which have received over 3% of the vote will have the costs of printing ballots, campaign ads and campaign lit refunded. Given that it is very easy to run in EP elections provided you have a complete list with an equal number of men and women, a huge number of small lists sign up to run. Given the costs of actually printing ballots and campaign material, a lot of these small makeshift lists or parties usually decide to either call on their voters to print out their ballot, distribute ballots in public the day before the vote or send a limited number of ballots to polling stations on election day. Therefore, in the mailers sent out by the government to voters, only the major lists and ‘major minor’ lists actually have included their ballot and/or campaign lit.
The picture shows sample ballots in the Île-de-France constituency – PS-PRG, FN, Force Vie and DLR.
Turnout: 42.43% (+1.8%)
Seats: 74 (nc, +2 on 2009 EP election)
Electoral system: Closed list proportional representation in 8 inter-regional constituencies, 5% threshold at the constituency level, highest averages method
The results were calculated by Laurent de Boissieu on his website france-politique.fr, because the Interior Ministry are totally incompetent nincompoops when it comes to accurately representing nationwide results. Seat changes compared to the 74 French MEPs as they stood at the end of the term.
FN (EAF) 24.86% (+18.52%) winning 24 seats (+21)
UMP (EPP) 20.81% (-7.07%) winning 20 seats (-5)
PS-PRG (S&D) 13.98% (-2.5%) winning 13 seats (+1) [12 PS, 1 PRG]
UDI-MoDem (ALDE) 9.94% (+1.48%) winning 7 seats (-3) [4 MoDem, 1 UDI-NC, 1 UDI-RAD, 1 UDI-AC]
EELV (G-EFA) 8.95% (-7.33%) winning 6 seats (-6)
FG (GUE-NGL) 6.61% (+0.13%) winning 4 seats (-1) [1 FG-PCF, 1 FG-PG, 1 FG-Ind., 1 UOM-PCR]
DLR (EUDemocrats) 3.82% (+2.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nouvelle Donne 2.9% (+2.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Nous Citoyens 1.41% (+1.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LO 1.17% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
AEI 1.12% (-2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Force Vie – PCD 0.74% (+0.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europe Citoyenne 0.67% (+0.67%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Citoyens du Vote Blanc 0.58% (+0.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nous te ferons Europe! – MBP – PB/SB 0.44% (+0.25%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPR 0.41% (+0.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPA (EACL) 0.39% (-4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
R&PS (G-EFA) 0.34% (+0.34%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Pirate 0.21% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.61% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-1)
The French results made headlines across Europe and much of the world, and it was the election – out of the ’28 elections’ – which retained the most attention, and became the main basis for (often flawed) media analysis of ‘pan-European’ trends in the results especially as it relates to the surge of (some) Eurosceptic/populist parties. The far-right FN topped the poll – a first for the party in any nationwide election in France – with its best percentage of the vote in its history. With 24 MEPs, the FN will not only be the single largest French party in France’s delegation to the EP (the second-largest) but it will also be one of the biggest individual national political parties in the new EP. It is a huge caucus for the FN, which will now have all their national leaders and several prominent local/regional leaders serving as European parliamentarians.
It is worth keeping in mind, before jumping to conclusions, that this was a low turnout election: 42.4%, although for the first time since 1994, turnout was actually slightly higher than in the last EP election – something which most people did not expect. The FN won about 25% of those who voted, but that’s only equivalent to 10.1% of the electorate. The FN lists won 4,712,461 votes – which is less votes than Marine Le Pen won in April 2012 (6,421,426) with 17.9% of the vote. This is not to say, however, that if turnout had been at presidential-levels the FN would not have done strikingly as well. An Ifop pre-election poll asked those who planned not to vote who they would vote for if they did actually vote showed the FN leading with 24% against 22% for the UMP, with the PS performing just as poorly (14%) and EELV quite a bit better (11%). The overall results were strikingly similar to the voting intentions of those who intended to vote and the final results. Therefore, if turnout had been considerably higher, it is likely that the FN would have performed as well as it actually did – likely with 23-25% of the vote.
Differential turnout played a key role in the FN’s success, but it is not the only factor explaining its victory. According to Ifop’s exit poll, 51% of Marine Le Pen’s 2012 voters turned out on May 25, compared to 42% of the wider electorate, 56% of Sarkozy’s first round voters, 57% of Bayrou’s voters but only 42% of Hollande’s first round voters and 34% of Mélenchon’s voters. Ipsos reported very similar numbers (except for Bayrou’s voters), with about half of Marine’s 2012 voters showing up but about 42% of Hollande’s first round voters doing likewise. An Ifop publication on the FN’s performance, based on analysis of the actual results, found that turnout increased the most in those places where the FN gained the most between 2009 and 2014.
It is quite a remarkable feat for the FN to achieve, however, considering how structurally ‘abstentionist’ its electorate is – manual workers (35% turnout per Ipsos), those without the Bac (41% turnout), low income households (30% turnout) and the anti-EU voters (according to OpinionWay, 66% of those who want to abandon the Euro and 72% of those who say that the EU should be abandoned did not vote) are all FN-leaning demographics which have below average turnout. In 2009, admittedly a low-point for the FN, about two-thirds of FN sympathizers had not voted. The FN overcame these major obstacles and motivated a core group of supporters to turn out. In a low turnout election decided by who turns out and mobilizes their base best, the FN did a significantly better job than the left. As in the municipal elections in March, most left-wing voters unhappy with the government or the partisan offer on the left largely stayed home rather than vote for another party.
However, it is important to point out that this result did not come as a surprise (although one could have assumed that it was a major surprise given the media’s usual sensationalism on election night). Polls since April 2014 have almost all had the FN in first place, stable between 21% and 24% of voting intentions since at least March, with the UMP in a consistent second with 21% to 23.5% of voting intentions. The PS, as in 2009, saw its support decline during the campaign from about 19-20% in April and declining to 16% by the end of the campaign. EELV increased its support, unsurprising given that it is a party which benefits from greater attention during an election campaign. From 7-8% at the outset, it increased to 9-10% at the end of the campaign. The FG, however, declined somewhat. Ifop had a daily tracking poll with Paris Match, and it last had the UMP ahead of the FN in late April.
The current political and socioeconomic situation in France has created a perfect storm for the FN, which has been the only major political party to benefit from the situation. It is useful to refer to Ipsos’ very informative study on French society from January 2014. According to that study, the main issues in France are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Ipsos’ exit poll found that immigration (31%), purchasing power (30%), the Eurozone crisis (27%), unemployment (27%) and peacekeeping in Europe (21%) were the most important issues on voters’ minds; for FN voters, immigration was one of the two main issues for 64% of them.
Immigration, unsurprisingly, has been the top issue for FN voters throughout the party’s history – one of the very few constants in the demographics of the FN’s electorate since 1984. Although a majority of voters still do not agree with the FN on immigration, a rising proportion do (42% according to an Ipsos study on the FN late last year). President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric on tough immigration, beginning in the 2007 campaign and reaching a climax with his (in)famous discours de Grenoble and the 2012 campaign (heavily influenced by Patrick Buisson, a political strategist with old ties to the far-right), arguably legitimized the FN’s positions on immigration and served to blur the differences between the FN and the ‘respectable’ parliamentary right. For years now, French voters have expressed support for tough policies against immigration and a large majority agree with the view that ‘there are too many foreigners in France’ (66% in Ipsos’ aforecited January 2014 poll). Manuel Valls was so popular as interior minister largely because he took hard stances against illegal immigration and Roma squatter camps, and his controversial measures (the Leonarda expulsion) and statements sparked an outcry on the left with a minority of pro-immigration activists and voters, but the electorate largely endorsed him on those statements and issues.
Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived according to data from Ipsos: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). Pessimism is widespread: 90% say France’s economic power has declined in the past ten years although 65% still think that decline is not irreversible. There remains a strong demand for the notion of ‘authority’, with 87% feeling that authority is too often criticized and 84% saying that France needs a ‘real leader’ to ‘restore order’. A majority (about 60%) expressed protectionist views. A large majority expressed dissatisfaction with politics: 65% feeling that most politicians are corrupt, 78% saying that the democratic system is not working well, 84% who think politicians act primarily for their own interests and 88% decrying that politicians don’t preoccupy themselves with what people like them think.
Opinions are split on the EU depending on the kind of question asked, but there is a general slant towards more Eurosceptic opinions. According to Ipsos’ exit poll, 41% feel that membership in the EU is a good thing while only 23% explicitly say that it is a bad thing (the rest saying that is neither good nor bad), and a large majority continue to reject the FN’s pet idea of returning to the Franc – that idea was supported by only 28% of respondents in Ipsos’ exit poll. At the same time, however, 64% said that national powers should be strengthened and 51% said that the EU worsened the impact of the economic crisis in France.
Politically, the government is – as explained above – extremely unpopular, and even if Valls remains popular at this early stage, there is little optimism that his polices will succeed. Obviously, given such a situation, the PS as the governing party has become terribly unpopular. Besides the unending succession of policy failures and bad results, the several major promises broken and the direction of the government’s policies have alienated, disappointed or angered a good number of voters on the left. The PS, like Hollande, lacks any credibility. However, neither the FG or EELV have been able to profit from the PS’ unpopularity. As in many other European countries, the crisis and the sad state of social democracy have not significantly strengthened the radical left. In France, the FG has been totally unable to benefit from Hollande’s unpopularity. The coalition has been divided, unable to overcome the strategical contradictions between its numerically dominant party (the PCF) and its charismatic heavyweight and public figure (Mélenchon); the latter has a clear interest in the FG being an independent force with a clear and coherent stance against the PS and the government, while the latter is still mostly concerned about saving its ass. Yet, for all his charisma and appeal to certain left-wing voters, Mélenchon is a terrible spokesperson for the radical left. He is unpleasant, abrasive, rude, condescending and retains public attention only for his latest tirade against a journalist or Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, in contrast, is a far smarter political strategist: while the FN dislikes journalists and hates them questioning their policies or actions, Marine Le Pen appears calmer, measured, polished and relatively polite to the general public. The FG has received mostly negative coverage in the media for the last few months, stemming from the extremely public divisions between the PCF and PG factions and speculation about the ‘upcoming’ (?) death/explosion of the FG. FG supporters were worn down by these internal squabbles (in addition to squabbles within some of the parties making up the FG, like Gauche unitaire), general pessimism about the state of the FG/left and the direction of the country.
The UMP is in no better shape than the PS, and its performance as the largest opposition party to the government has been horrendous by most standards. In Ipsos’ exit poll, only 21% of voters said that the UMP-UDI would manage the economy better than the government (the same percentage thought the FN would manage the economy better). In a recent OpinionWay poll on the opposition, only 14% of voters – and 32% of Sarkozy’s first round voters from 2012 – identified the UMP as the party which was the best opposition to the government, against 40% who answered ‘none of the above’ and 34% who said that the FN was the strongest opposition. The UMP was badly hurt by the crisis which followed the 2012 congress, and the ensuing protracted factional conflict reduced the popularity of both Fillon and Copé. To make matters worse, Copé is one of the most unpopular politicians in France, and his stint as president of the UMP did not nothing to shake off the image of Copé as an opportunistic, double-faced, insincere, morally bankrupt and corrupt career politician. Copé’s hold on the party was not only weakened by the smoldering and lingering factional conflicts between copéistes and fillonistes, but also – especially in the past few months – by a series of scandals, most recent the Bygmalion scandal. Nicolas Sarkozy also continues to cast a long shadow over his party, and the constant speculation over his imminent (or not) ‘return’ to active politics has further weakened the hold of the leadership on the party and confirmed depictions of the UMP as being rudderless and leaderless in Sarkozy’s absence. The bulk of the UMP’s rank-and-file are praying for Sarkozy’s return, and the UMP base remains heavily sarkozyste; on the other hand, the fillonistes and juppéistes oppose Sarkozy’s return and there remains strong resistance from ambitious politicians in the UMP to the prospect of Sarkozy ‘usurping’ their spot in 2017. However, Sarkozy’s popularity with the broader electorate has not improved all that much: he remains very unpopular on the left – even with Hollande’s massive unpopularity, there is little convincing sign of buyer’s remorse. Ipsos’ exit poll found that only 38% of voters want Sarkozy to ‘return’ (86% of UMP sympathizers) and, on another question, 54% judge that he would not be a good candidate.
The UMP, since its defeat in 2012 and the rising strength of the FN, has been divided over which political direction it should move towards – to the right, to become a clearer direct competitor to the FN; or the centre, to reassure centrist voters about the UMP and build a winning coalition in 2017 by a ‘traditional’ moderate and pragmatic appeal to the centre (Mitterrand 1988, Chirac 2002). As a result, the UMP’s ‘policy’ direction has been totally incoherent and it has largely failed to appear as a credible alternative to the government on a good number of issues. As noted above, the UMP’s strategy to mitigate the internal incoherence and discordance over the policy line has been to virulently oppose the government at nearly every turn and latch on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues. This strategy, however, has often appeared to be desperate and unconvincing to most voters. In the EP elections, the UMP further proved its internal dissonance, in this case over its views on the EU. The party includes a broad range of views on the EU, from committed federalists to actual Eurosceptics and those pretending to be Eurosceptic if that’s what cool kids do. The PS is, of course, in a similar position, but this year the most public dissonances over the EU came from the UMP.
The UMP won the municipal elections because local dynamics are more favourable (even in the context of a national wave) to the UMP. It has a strong existing base (unlike the FN), with popular incumbent mayors or strong locally-implanted candidates (former mayors, parliamentarians, local star candidates) which parties such as the FN generally lack at the local level. In the second round, especially in closely-fought left-right battles in duels (two-way) or triangulaires (three-way, generally with the FN), there was a consolidation of the far-right vote behind the candidate of the parliamentary right to defeat the left. However, despite a strong numerical result in March, the UMP won the municipal elections ‘by default’. In contrast, in an EP elections, those local dynamics are no longer relevant and EP elections are, of all elections, the ones in which voters are the most likely to use their vote to ‘let off steam’ and punish the largest parties.
The end result was that the FN topped the poll with nearly 25% of the vote and elected 24 MEPs (23 – one of them, Joëlle Bergeron, a random nobody, got into trouble when they found out that she supports voting rights for foreigners, and faced leadership pressures to not take her seat – she will be taking it, but will sit in the EFD group alongside UKIP) – up from only three in the last session of the EP. The UMP, with 20.8% of the vote, saw its support fall by about 7.1% from the last EP election in 2009. The UMP – which ran in alliance with the NC and GM (which are now part of the UDI) at the time – had a fairly ‘good’ result for a governing in the 2009 election, although 27.9% against a combined 39.2% for the left (FG-PS-EELV) at the time was not a particularly stellar result. Nevertheless, the then-governing UMP’s fairly decent performance was the result of a minor uptick in Sarkozy’s popularity around the time of the election and differential turnout, with the participation of a slightly more right-leaning and pro-EU electorate than is usual.
The PS had its worst result in a EP election – falling below not only its 2009 results (16.5%) but also the record low of 1994 (14.5%). The PS lists received only 2,650,357 votes against over 10.2 million votes for Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. According to Ifop, of the minority of Hollande’s first round electorate which actually voted on May 25, only 53% of those voters backed the PS (in contrast, of the first round Sarkozy 2012 voters who voted in the EP election, the UMP retained 62% of them; the FN won 86% of Marine’s 2012 supporters who turned out). Compared to 2012, the PS not only bled a whole ton of voters to abstention, a substantial percentage of those who did turn out voted for other parties on the left – EELV (14%), the FG (7%) and Nouvelle Donne (5%) while another 6% backed the FN. Ipsos and OpinionWay reported quasi-identical figures. Basically, only a small quarter of Hollande’s first round voters from 2012 remained loyal to the PS. Of course, given the very different nature of presidential and EP elections, it’s not a perfect comparison: even if the government was very popular, fairly substantial loses to abstention and other small parties of the left (such as EELV) would be expected. But it can serve to underline how horrible the PS’ performance was.
In contrast to 2009 and 1994, the two other EP elections in which the PS did terribly, there was no strong left-wing competition to the PS in this election. In 2009, a lot of the PS-leaning base – especially well-educated, white-collar and middle-class urban and suburban dwellers – switched to EE, which benefited from a perfect storm of favourable tailwinds in 2009. In 1994, the PS list led by Michel Rocard faced the quasi-public enmity of the Élysée Palace and President Mitterrand, who supported Bernard Tapie’s anti-establishment and anti-system Énergie Radicale list, which ended up with 12% of the vote. Although with EELV (9%), FG (6.6%) and Nouvelle Donne (2.9%) there was some left-wing competition to the PS, it was rather weak and amounted to only 32.5% of the vote.
The UDI-MoDem alliance, with 9.9%, slightly improved on the MoDem’s performance alone in 2009. The parties, to put it simply, largely retained a centrist and Christian democratic electorate which had largely voted for Bayrou in April 2012. There were, according to the several exit polls, significant voter ‘flows’ between 2012 and 2014: depending on the pollster you trust, the UDI-MoDem held between 48% and 59% of the Bayrou 2012 vote which turned out on May 25, with the rest going to the right (UMP) and some to the left (EELV); of the UDI and MoDem sympathizers which voted, about three-fifths to two-thirds of them backed their parties’ common lists, with the rest going to the UMP or other parties in smaller numbers.
Compared to its 2009 high, EELV suffered major loses – over 7% of its vote and a caucus cut down by over half from where it stood in 2009. A significant decline in support from its 2009 heights was to be expected, because 16.5% represents an abnormally high level of support for the green movement in France even in a European election. As explained above, EE(LV) in 2009 had cashed in on a perfect storm: a very rare moment of unity in green ranks, a unique cohesion between the political and non-political/civil society actors in the green movement, the candidacy of a popular and charismatic leader (Cohn-Bendit), a divided and weakened PS (very similar to the state in which the UMP is in today) and even the Home effect (although that theory has always appeared, personally, to be post hoc confabulation by a clueless media). In 2014, EELV lost most of that: the new party, although meant to unite old Greens with new members from social movements and civil society has largely turned out to be Les Verts 2.0 (a party of professional politicians out of touch or disconnected with the green movement in society), the absence of a leader like Cohn-Bendit and the loss of any particular advantage over the PS. On that last point, EELV has clearly been weakened by its participation in the unpopular Ayrault government and the perception that it compromised on a lot of its values and generally performed very poorly in cabinet. At the same time, however, 9% (or 8.95% to be exact) is not a bad result for EELV – it is a bit below the Green records of 1989 and 1999, but it is higher than the Greens’ result in 2004 (7.4%).
The FG, however, as mentioned briefly, performed poorly – with 6.6%, its support was basically equal to 2009, while the FG (PCF) lost one MEP (Jacky Hénin, a longtime incumbent, lost his seat in the Northwest constituency). The FG’s clear under-performance is a another hit for the very fragile alliance. Given Hollande’s unpopularity, the parallel unpopularity of the PS, the growing left-wing opposition to Valls and the government’s moderate policies and EELV’s weaknesses, the FG could stand to benefit from the current situation. But instead of gaining support from the left, it has been drawn down by its internal divisions and a very ‘clan’-like behaviour which has kept the FG from presenting a strong, credible and coherent left-wing alternative to the PS. This is not all that surprising, however, if you look at the history of the radical left and the PCF in France. The PCF since the 1980s is often ridiculed by critics as being the stupidest communist party in Europe, which is often not far from the truth given the PCF’s electoral strategies. The French radical left has and always will be an exploded nebula – a complex array of factions, movements, parties, social organizations and warring politicians who spend most of their time fighting one another. Mélenchon’s strength in 2012 came from his one-off ability to unite the radical left and part of the PS left behind a single candidate, drawing a diverse electorate which had supported the far-left or the PS in 2007 (but at the same time, not all those who backed far-left candidates in 2007 voted for Mélenchon in 2012, whose hold on the 2007 radical left (LO+LCR+PCF) base was very imperfect); that ability, which owed a lot to the particular dynamics of the campaign (Hollande’s persistent image, on the left of the left, as weak, indecisive and with questionable left-wing credentials; Mélenchon’s successful campaign and his personal charisma), was a one-off thing and it has since not transferred on the FG. The 2012 legislative election was the first cold shower for the FG, which unexpectedly suffered substantial loses to the PS. As long as France’s radical left remains so caught up in its arcane and silly squabbles and divided over what strategy to adapt, it cannot expect much success at the polls.
The smaller parties had mixed performances, although their cumulative result was, as would be expected in an EP election, very strong. DLR did very well for a party with relatively low notoriety and no clearly-defined base of support; it won 3.8% of the vote (but did not come close to a seat anywhere), up from an already fairly decent (for the times) result of 1.8% in the 2009 election. Nouvelle Donne, for a new party lacking strong leadership and resources, did well although it obviously failed in its wet dream of surpassing the PS. It won 2.9% of the vote, largely appealing to an urban, young, well-educated progressive electorate which had voted EELV, PS or FG in 2009. It remains to be seen if the party will go the way of so many other similar projects on the left or if it could manage to establish a tiny base for itself. Nous Citoyens won 1.4% of the vote – with the ideologically fluffiness and the vague slogans, it likely won protest votes and ‘NOTA votes’. The Independent Ecologist Alliance (AEI) first ran in 2009 as a coalition of three parties: Antoine Waechter’s MEI (founded as by Green dissidents in 1994 who rejected the Greens’ turn to the left and alliance with the PS-led left), Génération écologie (originally Brice Lalonde’s party, which lost all relevance and shifted right in the mid-1990s) and La France en action (a very vague and shady ‘green party’, allegedly used by religious sects such as the Scientologists and Raëlians to make money). It won 3.6% of the vote – thanks in good part to various star candidates in the regions including Antoine Waechter, former weather presenter Patrice Drevet and singer Francis Lalanne). However, it fell apart in 2010 as the MEI and GE left the AEI to pursue their own alliances (Waechter has finally made up with his old enemies and the MEI now regularly allies itself to EELV; GE briefly allied with the PRG in 2011-2012 and then dropped out of view again), leaving the AEI as La France en action. Given the loss of star candidates and support, the AEI ran only five lists and dropped to 1.1%.
Christine Boutin’s Force Vie did poorly, as expected; the market for a socially conservative and in-your-face religious right party in France is tiny (and the Catholic traditionalist minority was historically aligned with other parties, such as the FN) and Boutin is mostly known because she’s the target of so much parody and ridicule. Boutin’s list won 1.2% in Île-de-France, its second best result after the West (1.45%). Corinne Lepage lost reelection in her terribly ill-advised bid to run independently on her own platform. Europe Citoyenne‘s best result, by a mile, came in Île-de-France, where Lepage herself won 2.3%.
The Breton regionalist list (Nous te ferons Europe!) led by Christian Troadec in the West did surprisingly well – winning 3.05% in the region as a whole, 7.2% in the region of Brittany and 11.5% in Finistère. In Brittany, Troadec’s list easily outperformed the other regionalist list – led by the old UDB, which won only 2% of the vote in the region. In Corsica, nationalist MEP François Alfonsi’s list – which received only 0.75% in the Southeast region, won a solid third with 21.5% of the vote and placed second with 22.9% in Haute-Corse. In the Southwest, the Basque regionalist list won only 0.25%, but managed 3.3% in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (which also includes non-Basque regions).
On the far-left, the NPA did horrendously. Granted, the NPA managed to put up against five lists while its fraternal enemy, LO, put up lists everywhere and held its vote share from 2009. In Île-de-France, where LO leader Nathalie Arthaud went up against Olivier Besancenot, the old face of the NPA, the LO list narrowly beat the NPA 0.85% to 0.84%. Even led by Besancenot, who in the past carried a personal vote, the NPA’s poor result shows how moribund the outfit really is and how totally irrelevant Besancenot has become. The French far-left is at its weakest level in years.
Demographic and geographic analysis
The trends in the ‘Marine era’ spatial and sociodemographic distribution of support for the FN noted in 2012 were confirmed this year. These trends included a ‘proletarianization’ of the party’s electorate, a strengthening of the ni-ni (alienated and dissatisfied voters identifying with neither the left or right) component of the FN at the expense of the ideologically far-right base, very high levels of support in the old industrial regions of the north, a slight fall-off (compared to 2002) in the southern bases, a stark urban-suburban/rural divide, very strong support in distant exurban areas (périurbain), a very strong negative correlation with higher levels of education, a reduced gender gap and finally a ‘nationalization’ of FN support with some strong gains (compared to 2002) in traditionally weak regions west of the famous Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis. The novelty of 2014 would be the nationwide gains made by the FN, which won incredible results in its strongholds and strong results in traditionally weak regions. However, the low turnout means that these gains are slightly less impressive in reality than on paper, but still…
Exit polls all confirmed that the FN won excellent results with voters in the lower social categories (CSP-) – employees and manual workers (ouvriers).
From the three main exit polls (Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay), the FN received 43 to 46% of the vote with ouvriers – well, the minority of them which actually voted. With employees, a largely feminine but broad sociological category (which has been generalized to lower-echelon employees and so forth; consisting of lower-level public servants, clerks, secretaries, administrative employees, cashiers, clerks, salesmen but also personal service workers), the FN won between 34% and 38% depending on the pollster. The UMP performed very poorly with ouvriers (10-11%, with Ipsos reporting a likely exaggerated 17%), and the PS support collapsed (8-12%). The FG won about 9% of ouvriers which turned out on May 25. EELV won about 6-9%, depending on the pollster, which is below average but a comparatively decent result for a party whose electorate is largely white-collar. With employees, the PS did slightly better, with support at 12% (Ifop) 0r 15-16% (Ipsos/OpinionWay); EELV and FG both did fairly well, with 8-10% and 7-10% respectively. The UMP won only 12% or 15% of employees.
Délits d’opinion averaged the numbers from all exit polls, and found the FN won about 45% with ouvriers against 13% for the UMP, 9% apiece for the FG and PS, 8% for EELV and only 5% for the centre. With employees, it averaged to 36% for the FN against 14% apiece for the UMP and PS, 9% for EELV, 8% for the FG and 6% for the centre. The strength of the FN with employees, three-quarters of which are women, shows the absence of a gender gap in the FN’s vote: Ifop did show a 5-point gap (but it was largely due to older women being significantly less FN than older men), OpinionWay and Ipsos both reported a statistically insignificant or nonexistent gender gap. In the past, the FN’s electorate had been a fairly significant gender gap and masculine bias in the FN electorate, which is the norm for a far-right party, but it has been reduced or eliminated with Marine Le Pen. The FN’s figures with workers and employees are both major gains on the FN’s 2012 results with these groups, but making comparisons is silly given the major differences in turnout between the two elections.
In the FN’s support, there remains a difference between those in the private and public sectors. Those employed in the private sector have a strong right-wing lean, and it’s with those in the private sector that the FN performed better. The private sector is marked by greater job insecurity, lower unionization rates, less generous social conditions and more concerns about unemployment, purchasing power and cost of living pressures (but with tough times befalling the public sector, the FN has been pulling strong numbers with public employees as well – likely expanding from its base with military personnel and policemen). In the sphere of workers and employees, the FN’s traditional demographics are cashiers, vendors, those employed in small industries/firms and construction sector workers. The left does far better with public employees. Additionally, the FN does better with non-unionized workers (34% vs 25% according to Ifop), but the FN support has increased with unionized workers – Ifop reported that, in the EP election, the FN won 33% with those close to Workers’ Force (FO), 27% with those close to Sud-Solidaires and 22% with those close to the largest union, the historically communist CGT (the FG won 30% support with those aligned with the CGT). Its support was lower, 17%, with those close to the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), a moderate union with roots in the 1960s New Left and Christian left tradition.
FN support tends to be middle-aged, and weakest with older voters (retirees were one of the FN’s weakest groups, with 18-19% support). According to OpinionWay and Ifop, which had detailed age breakdowns, the FN did best (32% average) with those 35 to 39 but did almost as well with those 18 to 24 (29% average), 50 to 64 (26%) and 25 to 34 (24%). With those over 65, the FN won 16% against 31% for the UMP. Worryingly for the PS, its support, like the UMP, increased with age (9% for the PS with those 18-24 and 17% with those 65+). Younger left-wing voters, like in other countries in the EU (Austria, most significantly) preferred the Greens (14-15% with those 18 to 34).
Traditionally and historically, ouvriers formed the backbone of the French left, which, in the glory days of the 50s and late 70s used to command the support of about seven in ten workers. A strong tradition of socialization in a Communist milieu in the immediate post-war era maintained strong familial links of left-wing (and oftentimes, Communist) political orientation. However, since Mitterrand’s election in 1981 and especially since the 1990s, the left has been alarmed at the pace at which their old backbone have been deserting them and flirting for anti-system options, be it the unconventional far-left of Arlette and Olivier or the far-right of Jean-Marie and his daughter. There is a feeling that the left has abandoned its working-class roots and has shifted its style, rhetoric and strategy towards gentrified middle-classes, salaried public employees and the bobos. Indeed, the PS’ style since 1983 has been edging towards either feel-good consensual, moderated toned-down centre-leftism or New Left rhetoric about social justice, equality or tolerance. The Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the proletariat and even the mitterrandien creed of changer la vie was left on the side of the road, ready to be picked up by parties to the left or right of the PS. That being said, unlike the PCF, the PS was never a ‘worker’s party’ (parti ouvrier) – even in the 1970s. The share of manual workers in the PS membership has always been very low – significantly lower than in the PCF; today, the vast majority of PS members are from the new middle-classes (teachers, public servants, intermediate-grade public/parastatal sector, social workers and white-collar professionals) and workers made up only 3% of the PS membership according to a 2011 study (down from 10% in 1985). The PCF, which had a real working-class membership in the better years, has seen a similar decline of its working-class component and a concomitant increase in the number of cadres and middle-classes; at the same time, most of the PCF’s remaining working-class members are unionized and work in the public sector or parastatals. The PS, meanwhile, has grown further disconnected from social movements and the unions.
Since the 1980s, the working-classes in Western Europe have suffered acute social dislocation. The working-classes have suffered from deindustrialization (factory closures), the fall of large industrial interests (shipbuilding, mining), a significant increase in unemployment, a marginalization of the secondary sector by the tertiarization of western economies and the loss of working-class identities and class consciousness as the ouvrier ceased to be the vanguard of societies. Simultaneously, the nature of French society – particularly the working-class and industry – was altered by a major increase in North African immigration. With the recent economic crisis (and yet more unemployment and even lower incomes), many have felt that yet another psychological ‘threshold’ of working-class resentment and alienation has been broken. Cautious optimism has been replaced by pessimism – pondering whether the crisis will ever end, feeling that politics is controlled by an international financial oligarchy. Recent studies have found that there was a deep-seated feeling of insecurity (physical but also economic and social) and injustice.
Naturally, immigration – and the ethnocentric sentiments it creates – is quite inseparable from socioeconomic explanations aforementioned. In situations of social dislocation, the victims seek a scapegoat who can be held responsible – either entirely or in large part – for their situation. The immigrant, who settled in the same industrial urban regions as the original working-class, is seen as responsible for the lack of jobs (since they took the jobs), the loss of social welfare protections (the immigrants and their often large families seen as leeching off welfare) and increased criminality. For such voters, the FN, which offers a simple solution to the ‘immigrant problem’ and quick fixes to their socioeconomic woes, is a very attractive option. The FN speaks directly to their feelings of exclusion, marginalization, alienation and demands for a ‘strong’ response to their problems. Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique convincingly showed, however, that the working-class vote for the FN only becomes significant on the condition that voters express authoritarian sentiments and hostility towards immigrants – regardless of socioeconomic anxiety, sense of insecurity or rejection of the political system. There is a strong correlation between ethnocentric attitudes and a high FN vote; but unlike with the left or the far-left, there’s no correlation between the FN and negative views towards economic liberalism and globalization. However, Michelat and Simon’s numbers did show that the FN vote still increased alongside the degree of identification with the working-class. While voters supportive of immigration will not vote for the FN regardless of socioeconomic woes or working-class ties, working-class voters opposed to immigration are more likely to vote for the far-right than non-working-class voters with similar views on immigration.
Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique also established that the connection between the PCF’s loses with workers and the FN’s gains, which both began at the same time (1980s), was extremely tenuous and a fairly minor occurrence. There was very little direct transfers from the PCF to the FN – the PCF’s working-class electorate grew old and retired, voted to the far-left or joined the very large numbers of non-voters election after election. The FN’s gains with working-class voters came primarily from those who had voted for the right or the PS. The existence of a fairly substantial number of blue-collar voters who tend to support the FN in the first round but the left (PS) in a second round against the right, which first became a major phenomenon in 1995, has created an engaging academic debate on whether this should be called gaucho-lepénisme (PS-leaning voters who vote FN in the first round) or ninisme. The latter, to which I admittedly lean towards, argues that what is called gaucho-lepénisme should instead be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of political disengagement and working-class alienation from the traditional left. Nonna Mayer (Ces français qui votent Le Pen) claimed that while the FN’s working-class supporters have left-wing roots through their parents and may vote for the left against the moderate right in a two-way runoff scenario, they no longer identify with the left and exhibit signs of profound political apathy and general pessimism towards politics and partisanship in general. In short, while voters of left-wing tradition do make up a significant part of the FN vote, it is simplistic to assume that it’s as easy as PCF/PS voters just deciding to vote FN now.
Mayer’s arguments underline the common idea that there are two major ‘blocs’ of FN voters – to put it crudely, one is ideologically far-right and less blue-collar while the other is a traditional protest vote which is more blue-collar and not ideologically far-right. The idea has recently been picked up by the media, which has decided to dumb the picture down further (as usual), and linked the idea of these two blocs (which have become somewhat geographically defined) to the animosity between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen/Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. In 2013, Ifop had an interesting study on the ‘FN du nord’ and the ‘FN du sud’ which found similarities and differences between the FN core geographic bases in the northeast (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Haute-Normandie) and the south (PACA, Languedoc-Roussillon). They share isolationist/protectionist views, quasi-universal hostility to immigration and foreigners, feelings of insecurity but also fairly ‘hard’ stances on unemployment (agreement with the idea that unemployed people could find work ‘if they really wanted’); although the intensity of anti-immigrant sentiment is highest with the southern ‘ideological’ FN. There were more important differences of opinion regarding same-sex marriage (the south being about 10% more opposed, although all segments of FN voters rejected it by wide margins); but the widest differences of opinion came on economic issues – the south expressing right-wing views and the northeast more statist views. For example, Ifop’s study found that 60% of FN voters in the south said taxes were too high, compared with only 37% of FN voters in the northeast. Unsurprisingly, the southern and northeastern FN also reflected sociological differences: 50% of the FN voters in the northeast were workers/employees against 36% of those in the south. Retirees made up 24% of the southern electorate but only 16% of the northeastern one; CSP+ groups and self-employed made up 14% of the southern electorate and 7% of the northeastern one. Finally, the FN’s southern base, according to Ifop, split 59% to 15% in Sarkozy’s favour in the 2012 runoff (with the other 26% not voting or spoiling their vote) while those in the northeast only split 42-20 in Sarkozy’s favour with 38% not voting or spoiling their votes.
Exit polling on the vote by ideological self-definition in 2012 also confirmed the dual nature of the FN’s vote: Marine won 71% of those who were ‘very right-wing’ and 18% of those who were ‘right-wing, but took first place with 36% with the voters who identified as ni-ni (neither left nor right). Marine Le Pen won only 4% support with those who identified as left-wing, although that was a bit better than Sarkozy+NDA (1%). There was no such exit polling question this year, but the usual breakdown by partisan self-identification is still quite telling: Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay showed that the FN topped the poll with those who declared no partisan affiliation (although estimates of FN support ranged from 24% to 35%…); in addition to taking nearly every single voter who identified with the FN. In addition, the FN lists in 2014 also pulled a substantial number of support from voters who identified with the UMP/UDI: 11-16% of UMP supporters, 5-10% of UDI supporters. 4% of those identifying with the left voted for the FN, although the FN won up to 8% of Hollande’s first round voters (those who actually did vote) and, according to OpinionWay, 12% of his runoff electorate (only 32% of the minority of his 2012 runoff electorate which actually voted stayed with the PS). The FN also won 32% of the Sarkozy runoff electorate which turned out, against 45% for the UMP and 12% for the centre.
The FN’s strong numbers with working-class voters was seen geographically by the astronomical FN results in the northeast, especially departments in Picardie – Aisne (40%), Somme (37.2%), Oise (38.2%) – and the Pas-de-Calais (38.9%). These results were even higher than the equally as excellent FN numbers in its southern strongholds: Vaucluse (36.4%), Pyrénées-Orientales (35.2%), Gard (32.9%), Var (35%), Alpes-Maritimes (33.2%) and the Bouches-du-Rhône (32.5%). The FN also did well in other parts of the northeast – Ardennes (33.5%), Meuse (33.7%), Haute-Marne (33%) and Haute-Saône (34.2%). The FN’s huge numbers in Picardie and the Pas-de-Calais owe partly to a personal factor: Marine Le Pen led the FN list in those regions, and like in 2009, the FN did comparatively better in the Northwest constituency (as a whole: FN 33.6% and UMP 18.8%) thanks to Marine than in other strongholds (Southeast with daddy: 28.2%; East with Philippot: 29%; Southwest with the Prince Consort: 24.7%).
In the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine Le Pen and friends have made the old left-wing mining basin their top stronghold (expanding out of Hénin-Beaumont, as noted with some very strong FN local results in some other towns in the mining basin in March 2014), the FN utterly dominated the mining basin (despite generally lower-than-average turnout) – 53.5% in Hénin-Beaumont, 43.3% in Liévin (vs. 17.5% for the PS), 39.6% in Lens (18.1% PS), 42.2% in Carvin (15.2% PS), 43.3% in Bully-les-Mines (15.2% PS), 43% in Nœux-les-Mines (15.2% PS) and 43% in Bruay-la-Buissière (15.9% PS). It did equally as well in the few towns in the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, a Socialist stronghold, which were historically dominated by Communists – Auchel (45%, 12.9% FG), Divion (44.8%, 17% FG), Avion (40.7%, 27.9% FG) and Méricourt (45.3%, 19.7% FG). In the department, the FN also did very well in other traditionally solidly left-wing old industrial and working-class cities and towns – Arques (41.1%), Isbergues (36.5%), Lumbres (39.9%), Guînes (44.4%) and Marquise (34.7%) – or the industrial waterfront cities of Calais (31.8%, with a strong 22% for the FG list led by the former mayor, defeated in 2008 and 2014), Boulogne-sur-Mer (33.4%), Le Portel (42.6%) and Outreau (39.5%). Although the FN’s best results came from the old industrialized regions, it also posted strong results – over 30% – in the rural and historically conservative and religious Artois. Its worst results were in the affluent resort town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (18.3%, the UMP won 42.8%) and Arras, a more white-collar and middle-class city (23.5% vs 17.1% for the UDI-MoDem).
In the Nord, the FN’s strength extended into the mining basin, which in the Nord had historically been thoroughly dominated by the PCF. The FN won 43.5% in the canton of Denain (15.8% for the FG), 39.9% in the canton of Marchiennes, 37.2% in Douai-Sud, 41.2% in Anzin (where some of the earliest coal mines began operating in the 19th century) and 45% in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. The city of Valenciennes (the political stronghold of Jean-Louis Borloo), a city in the mining basin which has managed its post-industrial re-conversion better than most, the UDI-MoDem list led by Dominique Riquet, the former mayor of the city between 2002 and 2012, topped the poll with 35.5% against 24.2% for the FN. In the south of the department, a poor and economically depressed region formerly dominated by heavy industries (metallurgy in the Sambre valley) or small industrial towns, the FN also did strikingly well. In the metallurgical Sambre valley, centered around Maubeuge, the FN received 40.1% in Maubeuge-Sud, 40.2% in Berlaimont, 42.6% in Bavay and 43.1% in Hautmont. In the other old industrial centres in the south of the department, the FN won over 40% in the cantons of Clary, Carnières and Marcoing and about 39% in the cantons of Trelon and Solesmes. In the industrial waterfront areas along the English Channel, the FN won over 40% of the vote in the cantons of Graveline, Grande-Synthe and Dunkerque-Ouest. Once again, it was a matter of differential turnout – in the very poor industrial town of Grande-Synthe, a PS stronghold, turnout was as low as 28.3% – allowing the FN to win 40% over 17.9% for the PS.
In the Lille metropolis, the FN dominated – for different reasons and with different levels of support. It did very well in some old textile towns such as Haubourdin (37.9%), Seclin (31.2%), Armentières (30.5%), Halluin (36.7%, Tourcoing (30%) and Wattrelos (42.7%) – where turnout was low but still not extremely low; thanks to low turnout – likely especially pronounced in immigrant neighborhoods, which are strongly left-wing and anti-FN, the FN won 26.1% in Roubaix (the PS placed third with 14.1%!) but turnout there was 24.7%. On higher turnout (38%) in Lille, the FN won 18.9% against 18.2% for the PS and 16.3% for EELV; at the cantonal level, there was a clear divide between the city’s poor white proletarian faubourgs which went strongly for the far-right on low turnout (30.1% in Lomme, 24.7% in Lille-Est [Hellemmes]) and the poor immigrant neighborhoods (which narrowly went to the PS), the gentrified bobo/hip/artsy Wazemmes and downtown area (EELV narrowly won Lille-Centre) and the wealthy right-leaning neighborhoods (the UMP won Lille-Nord and suburban Lille-Ouest). In Lille’s most affluent suburbs – the canton of Marcq-en-Barœul – the UMP won 33.9% against only 14.9% for the FN. The far-right also won the most votes in the left-wing university new town of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, albeit with only 19%.
The Aisne, Oise and Somme are three historically industrial departments (with industry traditionally concentrated in smaller towns, although some of the cities were industrial centres too) which have seen industry decline, unemployment increase and the economic situation worsen considerably. Outside the Paris exurbia in the Oise and southern Aisne and the suburbs of the cities, which are more affluent, it is a very poor region with many old industrial cities suffering from high unemployment and demographic decline. When there are jobs for people in the ‘rural’ areas, they need to commute a long distance to reach them; geographically isolated and marginalized semi-rural areas of this type are top FN strongholds. The FN did very well in depressed ex-industrial/working-class towns – Flixecourt (Somme, 49%), Corbie (Somme, 39.4%), Friville-Escarbotin (Somme, 39.8%), Doullens (Somme, 41.9%), Gamaches (Somme, 32.9%), Ribécourt-Dreslincourt (Oise, 41%), Thourotte (Oise, 40.6%), Chauny (Aisne, 38.2%), Hirson (Aisne, 35.7%), Guise (Aisne, 39.5%) and Bohain-en-Vermandois (Aisne, 46.9%). It also performed strikingly well in the cités cheminotes (PCF strongholds) of Tergnier (Aisne, 41.1%) and Montataire (Oise, 36.4%). In the Creil-Montataire-Nogent urban area – an old industrial area (with a metallurgical industry in Creil) which is now one of the poorest urban areas in France and has a large immigrant population from North Africa – the FN did very well, perhaps due to very low turnout on the left and from immigrants (Creil 32.8%, Nogent-sur-Oise 35.8%; the PS won only 18.9% in Creil, where it usually does very well).
Bernard Schwengler, a specialist of the FN vote in Alsace, coined the term ouvrier caché to explain the strong FN vote in rural areas of Alsace, Lorraine and indeed most of the east. Although these very small villages and towns are rural, they are not agricultural but rather traditionally industrial (without precluding local workers also working their own fields as farmers), with a dense network of small businesses and local industries although with industrial decline, a lot of residents are forced to commute long distances to urban areas (or to Germany, in some regions). In regions such as l’Alsace bossue, southeastern Moselle and most of the Vosges and Haute-Marne, the rural blue-collar areas where the FN is doing very well have been hit the hardest by rural desertification (population decline, local shops closing, public services moving to larger towns) and they are marginalized and ‘enclaved’ areas with poor connections to major urban centres and they fall outside the wider urban areas of the cities (Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy etc).
While this region has a very low immigrant/foreign population, workers come in contact with immigrants at their place of work. Schwengler described how these voters felt that their work was no longer valued or recognized, and lamented the loss of reference points – the left no longer defends the working-classes, the lack of job opportunities and so forth. Sentiments of working-class alienation went hand in hand with an ethnocentric rejection of the immigrant as a scapegoat – the interviewees said that the foreigners did not want to work, and complained how they allegedly received undue material advantages (social benefits despite ‘never having worked’) and the sentiment that their advantages came on the back of the hard-working locals who had no social assistance and low wages. It is, in effect, a local version of the so-called ‘halo effect’, whereby the FN does best in areas located close to areas with a large immigrant population rather than in the area with the high immigrant population. In Alsace and Moselle, the FN’s working-class support came from the right.
The Bas-Rhin confirmed Schwengler’s theses – in the department, the FN and UMP were divided by only a handful of votes (25.2% to 24.9%) – and the map showed a rather neat polarization, like in 2009, between areas in the Strasbourg sphere of influence and those remote areas outside of it. The PS narrowly won Strasbourg proper (23.4% to 19.2% for the UMP, 14.6% for the FN and 12.8% for EELV), likely due to the presence of the former PS mayor and incumbent MEP Catherine Trautmann on the PS list in second place (she failed to be reelected, the PS taking only one seat in the East), while the UMP won the city’s affluent suburban cantons by solid margins – in the canton of Truchtersheim, for example, the UMP won 30.7% against only 21.8% for the FN. The FN’s results were lower (under 30%) and the UMP stronger in the fairly wealthy cantons of the Alsace viticole in the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. The FN also did poorly in cantons near the German and Swiss borders (Wissembourg and Lauterbourg in the Bas-Rhin, Huningue in the Haut-Rhin) where a large percentage commute to work in Germany or Switzerland.
On the other hand, the FN won over 35% in Sarre-Union and Drulingen, two cantons in the Alsace bossue and won 34% in the cantons of Saales and Schirmeck, culturally French cantons in the Vosges mountain with an old mining industry. In the Haut-Rhin, where the FN won 30.1% against 23.4% for the UMP, the FN’s best result came from the canton of Saint-Amarin (38%), an old small industrial centre iin the Vosges mountains. It also did very well in the potash basin to the north of Mulhouse (35.5% in the canton of Cernay, 34.9% in Wittenheim, 36.3% in Einsisheim) and in the Val d’Argent (an old silver mining area in the Haut-Rhin and Vosges) with 34.9% in the canton of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and 41.6% in the canton of Fraize (Vosges). These old industrial regions in Alsace, where the FN has always performed very well, are almost all economically depressed regions which have suffered from deindustrialization and a continued demographic decline which began in the 1970s or before.
In Moselle, the FN won 31.1% against 19.7% for the UMP. The FN performed very well in the former coal mining basin, with 35% in the canton of Forbach, 39.3% in the canton of Stiring-Wendel, 41.2% in Saint-Avold-2 and 40.7% in the canton of Freyming-Merlebach; it also swept the Fensch valley – a region of old iron works or defunct iron ore mines – with 35.5% in the canton of Hayange (the city of Hayange, where the FN won 37.7%, has a FN mayor now), 36.9% in the canton of Rombas, 33% in Marange-Silvange, 31% in the canton of Florange (in the depressed town of Florange, famous for the controversies surrounding the closure of the ArcelorMittal plant, the FN won 31.2%) and 35.4% in Moyeuvre-Grande. Across the border, in the Pays-Haut of Meurthe-et-Moselle, the FN still struggled in this region of the iron country dominated by the PCF. The FN won only 25% or so of the vote in the cantons of Villerupt and Herserange, 24% in Longwy, (and, in Moselle, it won only 26.8% in the canton of Fontoy); the FG still topped the polls in a few towns in the Pays-Haut including Villerupt and Hussigny-Godbrange. I speculate that the tradition and presence of Italian and Polish immigrants in this industrial region of Lorraine – in addition to the continued local strength of the PCF in the region – serves to weaken the FN in a region which would be assumed to be as solid for them as the Fensch valley or the coal mining basin of Moselle.
Another general region where the FN did quite well was the greater Paris basin – the far-right won some very strong numbers on the exurban outskirts of the Parisian metropolis, in the outer reaches of the Seine-et-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Essonne and extending into the Oise, Aisne, Eure, Yonne and Loiret. These are right-leaning lower middle-class exurban/outer suburban communities, which have grown rapidly in recent years as high property prices in the urban cores, urban decay in the old suburbs, white flight have forced people to live further and further away from their workplaces in the downtown cores. Those who have been ‘forced’ to move away from the downtown cores did not do so by choice, their low incomes and lower-paying jobs (there are, obviously, few young professionals or cadres sups in these exurbs, but lots of middle-aged employees) meant that they could not afford to live in increasingly costly downtowns and inner suburbs. Clearly, white flight and security concerns motivated some to ‘escape’ the old proletarian suburbs of the Seine-Saint-Denis, but they probably did not particularly wish to live where they may live today. The expression périurbain galère (the French idiom la galère refers to a particularly tough or unfavourable siutation) is a good expression of their lifestyle. By their lower education levels (most have the Bac or a trades certificate) they can only rarely aspire to higher paying jobs. They are forced to a long commute to work, and suffer from public transit strikes or traffic jams. A lot those who suffer the périurbain galère struggle to make ends meet: mortgage payments on their houses or car(s) and rising gas prices. These regions, where the left is weak, have tended to become the FN’s new strongholds in Île-de-France.
There is an important contrast between what can be described as the périurbain choisi and périurbain subi (basically, “chosen” exurbia and “suffered” exurbia). The first denotes more comfortable upper middle-class exurban areas, accessible and connected to large business and educational cities, populated by professionals and higher-income earners who have chosen to live in the suburbs. The latter denotes lower-income, though not “poor” people who have been compelled to move to less desirable, less accessible and semi-rural exurban municipalities because of rising property prices in the old inner city and the inner suburbs. In this case, the FN vote can express concerns about security and opposition to immigration – because despite living in “lily-white” areas, these inhabitants work and socialize alongside immigrants in more ethnically diverse urban conglomerations – but it also expresses the concerns of a lower middle-class electorate which is considered about social marginalization, their wages, their purchasing power and their economic future. Similar to the Poujadist vote in 1956, there is a certain fear of ‘proletarianization’ or déclassement (falling down the social ladder). Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the “invisible” rural and exurban France likely struck a chord and hit all the right notes for these voters. Their vote for the FN does not necessarily represent racism but rather fears about the future and frustration at their marginalization in the “invisible” peripheral regions of France.
The FN received over 30% of the vote in the exurban cantons of the Seine-et-Marne and Val-d’Oise, and reached over 40% of the vote in most of the Oise, a department which combines several favourable demographics for the far-right (a declining, depressed and aging old working-class/industrial base in small centres and marginalized semi-rural cantons; the périurbain subi exurban vote. The pattern can also be observed in the Eure and the Yonne (the regions of these departments closest to Paris).
Ifop has been looking at the FN’s vote share across France in relation to distance from urban centres for a few years now, and analyzed the EP results from that fascinating angle again this year. As in 2012, the FN’s support was weakest (19.5%) in communes which are located 0 to 10km from a urban centre of over 200,000 inhabitants and peaked at about 29% of the vote in communes falling between 30 and 60km of a large urban centre, before slowly declining as distance from the urban core increased further. As these numbers show, the exurban support for the FN is not only confined to the Parisian basin. It’s also a factor in Lyon (Rhône department), with the strong support for the FN in lower middle-class outer suburbs to the east of the city (canton of Meyzieu 31% FN, canton of Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon 29.7% FN, canton of Décines-Charpieu 27.1% FN) contrasting with low support in the affluent suburbs (canton of Limonest 16.9% FN, canton of Caluire-et-Cuire 15% FN). Around Toulouse, the FN won about 28% in the cantons of Fronton and Grenade, which are exurban areas of the city, while it won only 15.3% in the affluent suburban canton of Castanet-Tolosan
In the 1995 presidential election, the FN’s support was highest (16-16.5%) in communes falling between 10 and 30km of a large centre, while in 2002, Le Pen’s support had been highest – at 18% – in areas between 20 and 50km of a large centre. Since 1984, there has been a particularly pronounced decline in the FN’s support in the urban cores – Paris being perhaps the best example (although many other large cities, notably Lyon, are also good examples); this has been compensated by a significant increase in the FN’s support in outer suburban, exurban and semi-rural areas. Compared to 2012, however, the FN gained in all communes, although the smallest gains (+5.2%) came in the urban cores and the strongest gains (+8%) from the strongholds 30-60km from them. Nevertheless, with the major differences in turnout level, it is unwise to compare both elections directly unless turnout is taken into account.
One of the strongest predictors of voting for the FN is the level of education. According to the average of four exit polls, the FN vote ranged from 36% to 10% depending on an individual’s education. With voters who had no diploma or certification lower than the Bac, the FN won 36% against a distant 19% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With voters who had the Bac, the FN won 28% against 22% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With those voters who had the Bac and two years of post-secondary education (Bac +2), the UMP defeated the FN by 3 points (23% to 20%), with the PS increasing its support to 15% and EELV taking 13% of the vote. With the most educated voters – those with a Bac +3 or more (a Bac +3 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, anything above that would be a masters or doctorate) – the FN was fifth (10%) behind the UMP (21%), PS (18%), UDI-MoDem (16%) and EELV (12%). In socioprofessional categories, the most educated voters tend to be cadres (managerial and professional positions, including lawyers, academics, doctors, journalists, artists). In this CSP+ category, the FN won only 12% (average) against 21% for the UMP, 16% for the UDI-MoDem, 16% for the PS, 12% for EELV and 6% for the FG. Therefore, the FN’s support decreased with higher levels of education, a higher socioprofessional status and higher incomes (Ipsos and OpinionWay asked for income, and found the lowest support for the FN and the highest support for the UMP, centre and PS [!] in the top income brackets; with the FN’s strongest results from the lowest income brackets, although still pulling a strong vote at or above national average in middle-income categories). In an enlightening tale of who stuck with the PS in 2014, the Socialists had their best result with the higher income, education and socioprofessional groups. As you could infer from the above results in industrial regions, not only did many of the left’s voters in those regions abstain, the voters who turned out punished the PS.
The strong link between education and FN support can be seen in the divide between some urban centres and the ‘rest of the country’. The so-called idéopôles – a term coined by researchers Fabien Escalona and Mathieu Vieria – are large urban centres with a strong, globalized economy and a strong cultural activity (often through the presence of universities or well-educated bobos (American readers will be familiar with the idea, given that it originated in the US). The term can be dangerously reductive in that it tends to assume that each idéopôle is just that, obscuring the social diversity within these cities. For example, while Lille is counted as an idéopôle, the city has a very large low-income population made up of immigrants and ‘poor whites’; other idéopôles such as Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Strasbourg all have significant low-income population living in zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS – the equivalent of ‘inner city neighborhoods’ in the US – although in France they tend to be geographically concentrated on the peripheries of cities). Yet, the term is still a useful notion. In this election, the FN performed below average in all the idéopôles identified by Escalona and Vieria: 9.3% in Paris, 13.6% in Lyon, 14.1% in Toulouse, 18% in Montpellier (first place, but only a few votes ahead of EELV – 17.7%), 14.6% in Strasbourg, 13.3% in Grenoble (where EELV won the most votes – 20.4% – ahead of 18.6% for the PS), 10.1% in Nantes, 18.9% in Lille (as noted above, due to a division of the left, and the FN was very weak in those areas of the city which really are idéopôles) and 20.5% in Aix-en-Provence. In the secondary ‘ideopoli’ of Bordeaux and Rennes, the FN won 11.5% and 9.4% respectively. In all idéopôles besides Aix, the PS and EELV vote was above average. In cities such as Rennes and Nantes, PS and EELV placed first and second, ahead of the UMP.
It is not quite a urban-rural divide, however, because the FN did very well in cities such as Marseille (30.3%), which are poorer and include very large concentrations of low-income areas, immigrant-heavy cités, lower middle-class banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and formerly working-class communities. In Marseille, the results were quite interesting: the FN, as expected, did best in the 13th and 14th arrondissements (the 7th sector, where it won the local sectoral city hall in March) with 39.3% and 42% respectively with some very strong results in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (37.7% and 38.9%). The UMP won the affluent neighborhoods and coastal suburbs (5th, 7th and 8th arrdt with over 35% in the 8th) and the PS was shut out. EELV topped the poll in the 1st arrdt, a very poor and immigrant-heavy downtown ‘inner city’ area, taking 18.7% against 17.8% for the PS. Amusingly, the PS did better in the affluent UMP stronghold of the 8th (11.2%) than the 15th, a very poor and immigrant-heavy area of the quartiers nords (10.9%, but turnout was only 25.6%) which has usually been a PS stronghold. Even in the very poor and solidly left-wing 2nd and 3rd arrdts, the PS won only 16% or so. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the FN won shocking numbers in its strongholds – 49.3% in Marignane, 40.4% in Vitrolles, 46.1% in Berre-l’Étang, 43% in Miramas and 47.4% in Miramas.
The FN won its best southern results in the Rhône valley – 46.3% in the canton of Beaucaire (Gard), 44.6% in the canton of Saint-Gilles (Gard), 40.6% in the canton of Vauvert, 42.3% in Carpentras-Nord (Vaucluse), 40.9% in Carpentras-Sud (Vaucluse), 40.4% in the canton of Cavaillon (Vaucluse), 46.3% in the canton of Bédarrides (Vaucluse), 42.8% in Orange-Ouest (Vaucluse), 41.7% in Orange-Est (Vaucluse), 44.8% in Bollène (Vaucluse) and 40.2% in Pierrelatte (Drôme). This is a largely urbanized region, and the far-right has been present in one form or another since the 1960s in most of the area. It is often pinned down to the large population of pieds noirs – French settlers in Algeria who were resettled in chaotic and controversial conditions in France in 1962, largely settling in PACA and Languedoc-Roussillon – and an associated tradition of reactionary-nationalist/conservative politics with support for the OAS during the Algerian conflict. But it is not the only factor, and is merely a contributory factor. Agriculture is of lesser importance today, but the region’s strong fruit and vegetable industry has always required a large seasonal workforce. While these roles were often filled by Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese in the 1960s and 1970s, they were progressively replaced by Moroccan and other North African immigrants. By and large, this urbanized region is fairly poor – low incomes, low education levels and most jobs falling in the CSP- category – but not proletarian or working-class, rather predominantly lower middle-class and petit bourgeois (shopkeepers, small employees). This population (sometimes called petites gens) suffer or feel, directly or indirectly, problems such as high unemployment, poverty, cost of living pressures, immigration (there are large immigrant concentrations in cities or neighborhoods nearby) and criminality. The cities where the FN does very well – Béziers, Perpignan, Carpentras and Avignon (among others) – were not industrial centres, but they all have high levels of poverty and unemployment. In cities such as Béziers, Perpignan, Fréjus or many smaller towns inland in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, the downtown cores have suffered from pauperization and desertification (shops closing down, poverty, criminality); these factors ranked high on the list of FN priorities in the municipal elections back in March, where they won city halls including that of Béziers, Beaucaire, Fréjus and Camaret-sur-Aigues.
The map above shows the results by canton, with the FN in a purple shade (please click the image for the full-size splendor). The map was coloured by Stéphane Guillerez, who kindly shared the data and maps with me. It can complete my commentary on the FN’s results and the showings of the other parties across France. In addition to the FN strongholds noted above, strong levels of support (above 30%) can be seen in the Nord-Isère, much of the Ain, the Garonne valley extending to the coastal regions of the Charente-Maritime, wide swathes of the Franche-Comté and Bourgogne and even many regions in the Basse-Normandie. Although we should keep in mind the matter of turnout and the nature of the EP election, the FN’s support has nationalized. The far-right party won cantons from Alsace all the way to the Finistère in Brittany; although the FN’s strongholds remained east of the imaginary Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis, it won very strong results in its weaker regions. Simplifying matters, across France, the FN’s support is highest outside of major urban areas in outer suburban, exurban or semi-rural areas – regions with lower incomes, lower educational levels and a population largely made up of CSP- workers and employees. In the Garonne valley (and adjacent regions such as the Blayais and l’Entre-Deux-Mers in the Gironde), the outline of which can be seen in the 30%-shaded FN cantons running from the Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) to Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), there are a lot of low-income groups including shopkeepers, blue-collar workers in small industries (construction, small metal factories, agro-industry), lower middle-classes, pieds noirs, fruits and vegetable producers and less affluent small winemakers (whose wine is less prestigious than Saint-Émilion, Sauternes or Médoc).
The FN polled well in Nord-Isère, a region which has been favourable to the far-right for decades now. A predominantly urban and historically industrial region (with various industries in towns such as Vienne, Roussillon and Bourgoin-Jallieu, the Nord-Isère is now largely under the exurban influences of Lyon and Grenoble, and the decline of traditional industries in the major cities has led to urban decay and rising criminality. The FN polled up to 41% in the canton of Pont-de-Chéruy, an exurban canton of Lyon. In the south of the department, however, the far-right did quite poorly: in the very affluent suburban cantons of Meylan and Saint-Ismier (outside Grenoble), the FN polled only 17.2% and 12.3% respectively.
The FN performed well in the old industrial (predominantly mining, with smaller metallurgical and textile industries) valleys of the Gier and Ondaine in the south of the Loire department, from Firminy to Rive-de-Gier/Givors (Rhône); a region which was badly hit by deindustrialization in the 1980s and which – in parts – retains high levels of unemployment, pockets of severe deprivation and a largely blue-collar population. The FN won 22.2% in Saint-Étienne as a whole, 29.5% in the old mining basin canton of Firminy (traditionally favourable to the PCF), 30.1% in the old industrial (but right-leaning) city of Saint-Chamond, 30.8% in the canton of Rive-de-Gier, 32.7% in the canton of La-Grand-Croix and a peak at 36.6% in the old mining basin of Le-Chambon-Feugerolles. In the Rhône department, the FN won 30.9% against 19.5% to the FG in the old working-class Communist stronghold of Givors, although turnout was below 30%.
Some other old industrial basins – regions which tend to be more economically depressed, and retain a lower-income and less education population – offered strong results for the FN – in the Alpes-Maritimes, the FN’s strongest results came from the old industrial Vallée du Paillon (a former PCF stronghold, incidentally), where the party took 44% in the canton of L’Escarène and 41.4% in the canton of Contes. In the Haute-Savoie, the FN’s strongest results came from the industrial basin of Cluses-Scionzier with 36.3% in the canton of Scionzier and 31% in the canton of Cluses (in contrast, in the affluent lakeside suburban canton of Annecy-le-Vieux, the FN won 16.3% and in the affluent Geneva suburbs of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, the far-right polled 19.3%). In the Haute-Loire, the FN won over 30% of the vote in the old industrial cantons of Aurec-sur-Loire and Sainte-Sigolène (a Catholic working-class region which has always leaned to the right), but it won only 23.5% in the canton of Auzon, part of an old mining basin which is strongly left-wing. In the Tarn, the FN won 27.3% in the city of Mazamet, an old fellmongering industrial centre (which has, however, always leaned to the right) and narrowly topped the poll over the PS in Carmaux (24.6%), the old solidly left-wing mining town of Jean Jaurès. In the textile town of Lavelanet (Ariège), the FN won 33.4% against 19.4% for the PS. The FN did quite well in the industrial suburbs of Rouen in the Seine valley (topping the poll in nearly all of them), with 31.7% in the Communist cité cheminote of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 32.3% in Le Grand-Quevilly, 33.5% in Petit-Couronne, 30.3% in Grand-Couronne and 33.3% in Elbeuf. However, the pattern is not universal: in other old industrial or mining basins, the FN did not do so well – for example, in the old coal mining town of Decazeville (Aveyron), the FG topped the poll with 22.1% and the FN was third with 17.7%. The FN performed below its national average in other old working-class/industrial towns such as Lacq (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique) and Decize (Nièvre).
The UMP was the largest party in three of the eight EP constituencies: Île-de-France, West and the Overseas.
Although the FN did quite well in Île-de-France, a region where the general trends in the past few elections have generally been unfavourable to the FN, the UMP managed to retain first place thanks to the FN’s very weak support in Paris itself and the UMP’s dominance of its core clientele – the affluent suburban communities in the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines, two departments where the UMP topped the poll. In the Yvelines, a rather clear divide is visible between regions where the UMP did best and those where the FN did better. In the very affluent canton of Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, the UMP polled 31.7% (in similarly affluent cantons such as Le Vésinet, Poissy-Sud and Le Chesnay, the UMP won over 30% of the vote). In the canton of Bonnières-sur-Seine, the most distant and exurban canton in the northwest of the department, the UMP’s support fell to 20% while the FN won 33.2%. In the canton of Mantes-la-Ville, a low-income area whose chef-lieu is now ruled by the FN, the far-right polled over 30%. Similarly, in the Essonne, which the FN won, the UMP dominated the affluent suburbs of Bièvres and Limours (as well as Gif-sur-Yvette, an affluent community and major research centre; the PS won the affluent and highly-educated scientific research centre of Orsay (with 19.3%) but also the low-income banlieues of Les Ulis and Manuel Valls’ town of Évry. The FN did best in the exurban and distant southern half of the department, winning 36.4% in the canton of Méréville. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR dominated around his political stronghold of Yerres, where the DLR list won 36.1% of the vote.
The FN won 20.7% in the Seine-Saint-Denis, a result largely due to the low turnout (31.2%), especially from the left. The FN has done quite poorly in the ’93’ in recent elections, even in low-income working-poor suburbs where the far-right had done quite well in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to low turnout and a division of the vote, however, the FN topped the poll, especially in the less inner suburban communes. The FG won Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers and Bobigny (among others), while EELV narrowly topped the poll in Montreuil (with 20.2% against 17.9% for the FG) and placed second behind the PS in Pantin, Les Lilas and Le Pré-Saint-Gervais. The UMP won its best result, 26.6%, in the affluent town of Le Raincy. The FN was strongest in the canton of Montfermeil, where it won over 30% (it does best in white middle-income banlieues pavillonnaires).
In the West, the UMP won a large bloc of cantons, clearly visible on the map above, straddling the departments of Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Vendée and the Deux-Sèvres. With the exceptions of the urban cantons of La Roche-sur-Yon and the suburban cantons in the vignobles nantais, this corresponds to the traditionally conservative areas of the deeply Catholic inner west – the bocage vendéen and the Choletais. The FN has never broken through in these areas, which despite a major decline in religiosity and the active influence of the Church, remain steeped in a ‘zombie Catholic’ or Christian democratic tradition which is traditionally pro-European and humanist. OpinionWay polled by religion, and found only 10% support for the FN with regular church-goers compared to 34% with non-practicing Catholics. The UMP (38%) and centre (23%) heavily dominated the small devoutly Catholic minority vote. It’s interesting how the ‘zombie Catholic’ effect is clearly visible in the Maine-et-Loire – the UMP topped the poll in the choletais and bocage angevin, historically the most Catholic, clerical and conservative regions, while the FN was the largest party in most of the Beaugeois and Saumurois, where religiosity has always been lesser and social structures traditionally different (in the days of the great André Siegfried, the choletais and bocage angevin were the realms of powerful nobles and large landholdings while the Beaugeois was a region of poorer smallholdings, with an anti-clerical and republican tradition; the Saumurois had a ‘Bonapartist temperament’ because of the dominance of wealthier smallholders in vineyards). In the Mayenne, there was a very powerful favourite son effect for Jean Arthuis, the UDI-MoDem top candidate who as (ex-)senator and president of the general council is a powerful and influential political boss in the department. Arthuis’ list won 32.2% in Mayenne against 18.4% for the FN. In Château-Gontier, where Arthuis was mayor from 1971 to 2001, he won 48% of the vote. Some of this vote spilled over in the Segréen (Maine-et-Loire) and the very conservative and Catholic/clerical eastern half of Ille-et-Vilaine (although I suppose this is another favourite daughter effect, for Laurence Méhaignerie, second on the list and the daughter of the longtime Christian democratic-UDI mayor of Vitré Pierre Méhaignerie).
The UDI-MoDem’s support was quite odd: the vague outlines of the traditional Christian democratic map (which is that of historical religiosity/clericalism) are there, with the centre’s strength in the West, Alsace-Moselle, the southern Massif Central and the weakness in the Limousin and along the southern seaboard. But, in the details, there are several exceptions to that pattern and ‘oddities’ – in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the centre’s support came from Béarn rather than the Basque Country, the traditional Christian democratic/Catholic stronghold; support was weak and patchy in Lozère, Haute-Loire and Cantal, even the Catholic plateaus; support in the Nord was strong in Catholic Flanders but extended throughout most of the department, into the Valenciennois; and support in Moselle was strongest around the Metz-Thionville agglomeration rather than the Plateau Lorrain. Additionally, there were strong results in traditionally less religious regions: the Loir-et-Cher, the Eure-et-Loir, the Marne, the Puy-de-Dôme, the Artois (Pas-de-Calais), parts of the Somme, the Valenciennois (Nord) and the Hautes-Alpes.
Explaining the oddities, one notices the obvious favourite sons/daughters factors (Dominique Riquet in the Valenciennois, Nathalie Griesbeck in the Metz-Thionville area, Arthuis in the Mayenne) but also the clear influence of local UDI (less so MoDem) local barons (deputies, mayors). In the Loir-et-Cher, the strong centrist support in the west of the department (Vendôme) corresponds quasi-perfectly with the constituency of UDI deputy (and president of the general council) Maurice Leroy, while there was also solid numbers for the list in the Blois constituency, held until 2012 by Nicolas Perruchot (ex-NC, now UMP). In the Eure-et-Loir, the strongest numbers came from the constituency of UDI deputy Philippe Vigier. In the Somme, the list did well in the canton of Albert (14.3%) because the mayor of Albert is UDI deputy Stéphane Demilly and in Amiens (14.4%), governed by Brigitte Fouré (UDI) since March. In the Pas-de-Calais, the list did well in Arras, which is governed by the UDI. In the Drôme, the centrists did well in Montélimar (20.2%), whose mayor is UDI deputy Franck Reynier. In the Meurthe-et-Moselle, the centrists won 16.6% in Nancy, whose mayor is now former Radical deputy Laurent Hénart. In the Seine-et-Marne, the centrist list topped the poll in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, the city of UDI deputy Yves Jégo. In the Puy-de-Dôme, the centrist list won 21.4% (second place) in Chamalières, an affluent suburb of Clermont-Ferrand and stronghold of the Giscard dynasty (the current mayor is Louis Giscard d’Estaing, a former deputy and son of the former President) and the support extended in the surrounding area in a way which looks awfully similar to the pre-redistricting shape of Giscard’s old constituency. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the centrists did very well in Drancy (22.1%), governed by UDI deputy Jean-Christophe Lagarde, and also did quite well in Bobigny and Le Bourget, both of which have UDI mayors.
Therefore, the ‘added value’ of the UDI to the MoDem was in the form of local barons who brought along their regional strongholds/constituencies, which is very unsurprising considering that the UDI is very much a parti de notables in the long tradition of the non-Gaullist centre-right.
In Brittany, there was a particularly interesting favourite son and regionalist protest vote in the centre of the Armorican peninsula. Christian Troadec, the regionalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) led a Breton regionalist list which won over 11% of the vote in the Finistère and spilled over into the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan. Troadec is less of a politician than a ‘political entrepreneur’ who pays a lot of attention to Breton identity and culture (he famously created the popular music Festival des Vieilles Charrues in CarhaixOn the cantonal and communal map, an impressive bloc of support for Troadec’s list is visible in the centre-west of Brittany, expanding out of the canton of Carhaix-Plouguer, where Troadec won 39.7%. He won most communes in the Monts-d’Arée region of Finistère and the inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor. Troadec’s vote clearly has a strong favourite son tinge to it, given that a generic regionalist list does not perform that well (that being said, with its concentration in the Bretagne bretonnante, it superficially matches the traditional base of Breton nationalism). However, Troadec had run in the 2010 regionals and peaked at 6.8% in the Finistère, so his personal vote is not the only factor. A major reason for his strong result is likely due to his role as one of the major leaders of the bonnets rouges protest movement in Brittany, which began last fall out of opposition to an ‘ecotax’ on heavy goods transport vehicles, protesting the crisis in the agro-industry and expressing regionalist demands including the reunification of Brittany and increased decision-making powers for the region. The movement is led by the local left, but has been controversial because of how some sectors of the far-right and the employers in the polluting agro-industry have latched on to the movement. Troadec’s support corresponds to the poorest and socioeconomically depressed region of Brittany, isolated and distant from the well-off urban and suburban centres driving growth in a region usually seen as more well-off than most. It has an aging, blue-collar and less educated population with fewer job opportunities; but the FN has always performed very poorly in this region. It is also a solidly left-wing region – the Monts-d’Arée were described by Siegfried as a ‘radical democracy’ and have been the most left-wing region in Brittany for over a hundred years. The inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor is also a solidly left-wing region (a poor region of smallholdings, lesser religiosity and a tradition of radical democratic and anti-nobility sentiments), historically dominated by the PS and (less so nowadays) the PCF. Troadec likely won a lot of left-wing protest votes, from voters severely turned off from the government because of national and local issues (the ecotax/bonnets rouges issues, and perhaps its lip-service to regionalist demands such as reunification and the ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).
Troadec’s support interested Ifop, which has produced an interesting analysis, showing the very localized friends-and-neighbors vote for his list, whose support declines as one gets further away from Carhaix. It also links his vote to support for the 1675 anti-tax révolte des bonnets rouges in western Brittany, the leftist tradition of the Monts-d’Arée/Haute-Cornouaille and the post-war rural communist tradition born out of the PCF-led resistance to the Nazi occupation. Ifop’s study also found that Troadec largely ate into PS support from 2009, but also dragged down EELV and UMP support and limited FN gains.
In the Ille-et-Vilaine, the FN’s strong support in exurban and remote ‘fragile’ regions is clearly visible. The left dominated Rennes (a ‘semi-idéopôle‘) and its middle-income suburbs (the right won the most affluent suburbs of Cesson-Sévigné, Saint-Grégoire and Pacé), the UMP won the affluent coastal towns of the Côte-d’Émeraude (Saint-Malo, Dinard, Cancale) while the right and centre were both strong in the solidly conservative and clerical regions of eastern Ille-et-Vilaine. The FN won a large swathes of communes lying to the southwest of Rennes – semi-rural and growing exurban areas within commuting distance of Rennes, but with a slightly less affluent population than the inner suburbs. It also did well in the Baie-du-Mont-Saint-Michel, a remote (it is not exurban) ‘socially fragile’ and low-income region. This Insée study on the social makeups of regions in the department can be compared to the map of the results – the high-income regions around Rennes and on the coast had low support for the FN, the low and middle-income regions had significantly higher results for the FN.
The UMP also dominated another very Catholic region – the southern Massif Central (Cantal, Lozère, Aveyron; especially the mountainous regions of the Aubrac, Margeride and Plateau of Saint-Flour). The UMP won over 30% – even 40% in some cantons – in these very rural, agricultural (herding) and deeply Catholic/clerical regions. In the Aveyron, EELV – led by local icon José Bové – was quite successful around Millau and in the Larzac while the three left-wing parties – EELV, FG and PS won the Protestant and solidly left-wing communes in the Cévennes (Gard/Lozère).
The PS won only two departments in metro France – the Corrèze (Hollande’s political stronghold) and the Haute-Vienne, both of them traditional strongholds of the left (ignoring the favourite son love affair for Jacques Chirac in the Corrèze from the 1980s to 2007). The PS won 33.7% in Hollande’s city of Tulle (Corrèze) and was also victorious in Limoges and Saint-Junien (Haute-Vienne). The Limousin’s socialist-communist tradition, a fascinating issue, owes to a wide variety of complex factors – to cite a few: smallholders, sharecroppers, rural poverty, strong anti-clericalism, workers’ activism, heavy toll of World War I and very active left-wing resistance to the Nazis. Traditions have not died out in this region: the FG still topped the poll in the canton of Bugeat (Corrèze), which had already been a PCF stronghold in the interwar era. Laird Boswell’s Rural Communism in France, 1920-1939 is an excellent read for anybody interested by the full roots of rural communism in this part of the world.
In urban areas, due to very low turnout from the Socialist base in low-income and multiethnic neighborhoods and cités, the PS largely held an older, more educated, more white-collar electorate (one which turns out in greater numbers structurally and may be expected to be slightly less anti-government). In the Hauts-de-Seine, for example, the PS only topped the poll in Clichy and Nanterre, two old working-class cities which while still fairly low-income have seen some significant social changes with the growth of a new middle-class with higher education and white-collar jobs (only 16% of the active labour force in Nanterre, for example, are ouvriers today); the FG won in Gennevilliers and Bagneux, which remain more heavily low-income and working-poor to this day, with the PS placing a terrible third behind the FN. In the Val-de-Marne, the FG and the FN won the poorest suburbs (28.1% for the FN in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the FG won Valenton, Ivry-sur-Seine, Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Champigny-sur-Marne etc) while the PS did better in the old working-class suburbs which are now more socially diverse and somewhat gentrified (to a much lesser extent than other high-points of gentrification such as Montreuil) – Créteil, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Cachan and Fresnes. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the FN – mostly due to turnout being so absurdly low – narrowly won the grimmest banlieues such as Clichy-sous-Bois (one of the poorest major towns in France, infamous since the 2005 riots; turnout was barely over 20%), La Courneuve, Stains (with 22% turnout), Sevran and Villepinte. The FG won the old Communist heartlands of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Saint-Ouen, Bobigny and Bagnolet; the PS and EELV did best in the communes closest to Paris which have seen real gentrification (Montreuil, Les Lilas, Pantin to a much lesser extent). In the Val-d’Oise, the PS did win the tough low-income banlieue of Sarcelles, but it lost low-income suburbs such as Argenteuil, Gonesse, Villiers-le-Bel, Goussainville and Persan to the FN. The PS won Cergy, a predominantly administrative and academic middle-class ville nouvelle. In the Grande Couronne of Paris, the pattern was much the same: in the Essonne, although the PS saved faced by winning the Manuel Valls stronghold of Évry and also won the low-income suburb of Les Ulis, but the FN won Corbeil-Essonnes, Épinay-sous-Sénart, Fleury-Mérogis and Ris-Orangis (the FG won the Communist stronghold of Grigny, a very poor and multiethnic suburb home to the huge ZUS of La Grande Borne, a famous and disastrous post-war social housing project of huge proportions). The PS had more success in the highly-educated ‘knowledge corridor’ centered around the research town of Orsay, and was also victorious in Massy, a socially mixed but generally more middle-income academic and administrative suburban town. In the Yvelines, finally, the FN won the low-income banlieues of Trappes, Les Mureaux, Chanteloup-les-Vignes and Limay (with sub-30% turnout everywhere but Limay) while the UMP won the low-income and multiethnic banlieue of Mantes-la-Jolie (28% vs 19.2% for the FN) – although the city is solidly on the left nationally, the right is dominant in local politics since 1995 (with Pierre Bédier, a corrupt politician sentenced to a suspended jail sentence and political ineligibility for a kickback scandal, serving as mayor for most of the time from 1995 to 2005 and president of the general council from 2005 to 2009, who has since triumphantly returned to politics as president of the CG since April 2014) and the FN has done poorly in Mantes-la-Jolie from its heyday in 1995-7.
Outside of Paris, the same pattern repeated itself in Marseille (see above), Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Rouen (see above) and Lille (see above). In Lyon, the PS remained the largest party in Villeurbanne – a longtime Socialist stronghold and historically working-class suburb of Lyon, which has seen significant gentrification and the growth of a middle-income population in recent years (while still retaining a large low-income and immigrant population). The PS won 19.8% in the city (where turnout was healthier, at 36.9%) against 18.8% for the FN. The FN, however, “swept” the low-income suburbs – the old PCF strongholds of Vaulx-en-Velin (28% vs. 19.4% for the PS and 13.2% for the FG on 21% turnout), Vénissieux (27.1% vs. 15.8% PS and 14.4% FG, on 28% turnout) and Pierre-Bénite (25.4%, the PS and FG in third and fourth), the lower-income blue-collar suburbs of Saint-Fons (29.8% FN on 25.7% turnout) and Feyzin (31.8% FN on 35.7% turnout). In suburban Grenoble, the FN won (but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) the three major ‘Red Belt’ proletarian suburbs of Fontaine, Échirolles and Saint-Martin-d’Hères, as well as the poor suburban town of Pont-de-Claix (with a more substantial result of 29.2%, but on 31.1% turnout). In Bordeaux, the FN won its best results in the poorer suburbs of the Rive Droite of the Gironde (victorious in Floirac with 21.6%, second to the PS in Cenon with 21.5%, first in Lormont with 24.9% and strong first in Bassens with 27.7%); in the wealthier left-wing middle-income suburbs of Mérignac, Pessac and Talence the FN’s support ranged from 12.6% in Talence to 16.4% in Mérignac (and the PS won all of these three communes). Four parties were closely in Bègles, an old industrial and proletarian suburb just south of Bordeaux – which has been ruled by ex-EELV deputy Noël Mamère since 1989, but has a Communist tradition: EELV won 17.9%, followed by the PS (17.7%) and FG (17.4%) and the FN in fourth (16%).
The FG did quite poorly in some traditional PCF strongholds. In the NPDC mining basin, the FG’s results fell from 22.9% to 15.8% in the canton of Denain, 22.1% to 14.1% in Marchiennes, 36.5% to 20.8% in Rouvroy and 31.9% to 18.4% in Divion. In the industrial Vimeu region of the Somme, the FG’s support fell from 16.4% to 13.3% in the canton of Friville-Escarbotin. In Tergnier (Aisne), FG support fell from 18.4% to 13.6%; FG support also fell in Tergnier (Aisne), the cité cheminote of Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), the old PCF stronghold of Vierzon (Cher, an old industrial city), the rural communist country of the Bourbonnais (Allier) and Limousin, the Cévennes mining basin (Alès/La Grand-Combe/Bessèges), the Vallée du Paillon (Alpes-Maritimes), Marseille’s industrial hinterland (Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône – from 37.3% to 29.5%, Port-de-Bouc – from 45.6% to 37.2%, Martigues – from 21.6% to 20.5%) and the communist region in Basse-Bretagne. However, the FG made gains in much of the Pays-Haut iron and steel basin in Meurthe-et-Moselle, increasing support from 18.8% to 21.2% in the canton of Herserange, 17.4% to 18.9% in Villerupt, 17.7% to 19.2% in Homécourt and 11.9% to 13.2% in Fontoy (Moselle). The FG also made gains in the Decazeville-Aubin mining basin (Aveyron), Carmaux (Tarn) and the solidly left-wing rural and mountainous regions of the Southwest (12.2% in Hautes-Pyrénées – the FG’s best result; 11.9% in the Ariège; 9.1% in the Pyrénées-Orientales and even 8.4% in Lozère – where the FG did extremely well in the Protestant cantons of the Cévennes, with 20.4% in Saint-Germain-de-Calberte). I had already noted, in 2012, that Mélenchon’s support was comparatively poor in traditional industrial Communist strongholds (compared to the results of Robert Hue in 1995, who had nevertheless won less support than Mélenchon did) but unusually strong in rural regions, both of communist and socialist tradition. I am hesitant to state that this was the result of a direct transfer of PCF voters to the FN in working-class areas (notably the coal mining basin of the NPDC); while this was likely a small factor, I would tend to suppose that this is more the result of an erosion of Communist traditions as a result of generational change (the traditional cohorts of the working-class, which was raised and lived in a different era of relations between working-class identity and Communism, dying off) and the transformation of the meaning of ‘working-class’ (more non-unionized jobs, atomization, unemployment, low-paying jobs in industry and services requiring longer commutes) in these regions over 20 years after the last mine closed.
The FG also had some poor performances in its urban strongholds: Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre-et-Loire), where the FG topped the poll with only 21% (down from 43%); Allonnes (Sarthe), where FG support declined from 23.1% to 18.5% and the FN won nearly 30%; Dieppe (Seine-Maritime), Le Tréport (Seine-Maritime) and Gonfreville-l’Orcher (Seine-Maritime). The FG’s support showed greater resistance in the Parisian region.
EELV’s support was unusually rural in this election: its best departments were Aveyron (16.7% – holding its 2009 levels) and Drôme (14.4%), with Paris only in third (13.8%). EELV also did well in the Lot (13.7%), Haute-Garonne (13.4%), Loire-Atlantique (13%), Ille-et-Vilaine (12.6%), Hautes-Alpes (12.6%), Hérault (12.6%), Lozère (12.5%) and Isère (12.3%). While EELV won strong results in its traditional urban strongholds – Paris, Grenoble (20.4%), Rennes (18.9%), Nantes (17.7%), Montpellier (17.7%), Toulouse (16.9%), Lille (16.3%), Bordeaux (15.6%) and Lyon (13.3%, with 21.9% and first place in the bob0 1st arrondisement), Strasbourg (12.8%), it also did very well in rural cantons – particularly in the Larzac and Grands-Causses regions of the Aveyron and the Diois and Baronnies regions of the Drôme. The Greens have usually performed well in these regions, especially in the Drôme. The Diois and Baronnies are both old rural communist strongholds, a tradition built by the historic presence of Protestants in the region, the republican-leftist traditions of smallholders, poverty and active resistance in World War II; the region is now a popular tourist destination, and it has attracted a small influx of ‘neo-rural’ left-wing/countercultural (‘soixante-huitards‘) urban transplants seeking the mythical calm and quaintness of the unspoiled country. In these rural regions and others, EELV may also have attracted a left-wing, anti-PS protest vote.
In EELV’s results, the very marked cutoff between the Limousin/Auvergne regions and the Midi-Pyrénées/Languedoc-Roussillon lets me suppose that there may have been a personal vote of sorts for José Bové in his Southwest constituency, or that EELV’s vote in the Massif-Centre constituency may have been drawn down by its little-known top candidate (Clarisse Heusquin, a young lawyer who does not seem to hold any elected office).
Favourite sons and local political dynamics (notably the mayor’s partisan affiliation) were important in several regions. Some of the favourite son effects and local political dynamics have been noted above – Valenciennes for the UDI, Mayenne, Troadec in central Brittany and the comparatively stronger performance by Marine Le Pen in the Northwest and specifically in Hénin-Beaumont. Others include a likely a favourite daughter vote for Michèle Alliot-Marie in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, strong support for the UDI-MoDem in and around François Bayrou’s base in Pau and a bizarre favourite son for incumbent UMP MEP Arnaud Danjean in his native Louhans (Saône-et-Loire) with 43.6% for the UMP list (an oddity given that Danjean has no local political mandate and was only second on the UMP list).
Favourite sons and friends-and-neighbors are the main voting determinants in the Overseas constituency, where turnout is low (17.1%) and often results in very weird results. The prize for weirdest result is for French Guiana, with EELV taking 41% of the vote (as I figure, José Gaillou, second on the EELV list was from Guiana) on 10% turnout. The UOM-FG list won in La Réunion and Martinique, the two regions where it had local support (from the PCR in La Réunion and the PPM in Martinique); the PS won Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Polynesia, the UMP won wealthy Saint-Barthélemy/Saint-Martin, Wallis-et-Futuna, Mayotte and New Caledonia (the PS and UOM-FG won most of the Kanak communes).
The FN’s remarkable victory, although predictable and unsurprising, still came a shock both in France and across the EU; the FN’s French success, even if it was not ‘replicated’ in the other EU member-states, became the main takeaway of the EP election in most initial media analyses and was used to feed the narrative of a generalized swing to Eurosceptic/far-right parties across the EU.
Despite the low turnout and the nature of an EP election, it remains a fantastic result for the FN and little indicates that the FN would not be able to replicate its EP results (23-25%) in a national, high-stakes election with much higher turnout. The FN has, by the looks of it, an increasingly loyal partisan base which is less ‘ashamed’ of admitting their support for the far-right party than in the past. Given the socioeconomic condition of France, an economic crisis which has only widened and deepened existing gaps in French society (between the minority who have ‘won’ from globalization and the new economy, and the increasingly invisible masses who felt as if they have ‘lost’ from globalization and economic transformations), the unpopularity of the left-wing government, the absence of a credible ‘radical’ alternative on the left (like in many EU countries…) and the pitiful state of the UMP torn apart by a continued low-scale civil war and waves of corruption scandals, it can appear ‘natural’ that the FN would be on such a strong footing today. As long as the economy does not show a major improvement, that the right unites around a leader who is popular (but it is doubtful whether Sarkozy fits that role) and that the government regains all its lost credibility, we can only presume that the FN will remain as strong. Even if the economy does improve, it will not change the roots of the FN’s success – which, unlike with that of the Greek or Hungarian far-right, predates the current economic crisis. Since the 1980s, Western society has been transformed by major economic transformations, changes in traditional value structures, the erosion of traditional ‘pillars’ of society, immigration, new technologies, increased education, new conceptions of gender roles and new attitudes which come into conflict with traditional ‘values’ and attitudes. Those who feel alienated, insecure, angry, concerned and worried as a result of these transformations – those less-educated individuals ‘left behind’ by the increased levels in educational achievement; groups of lower socioeconomic status who face unemployment, job insecurity and low wages as a result of the economic transformations; those forced to live outside the ‘cores’ in the ‘peripheries’ because of higher property prices, immigration-related fears and socioeconomic status – provide the FN with its base of support, although not all those who fit this ‘profile’ have shifted to the FN.
Unfortunately for the FN, there was little time to celebrate as the party soon ran into another major controversy which has divided the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen has a weekly Journal de bord (a sort of video blog) on the FN website, where he comments on current events in an ‘interview’ format with a FN member (usually, the one starring alongside the former leader of the FN is a little-known member from the party’s radical wing, but who is married to Frédéric Chatillon, a former member of the extremist far-right students union GUD who has the lucrative contract of printing FN materials and campaign lit). His weekly video blog episodes In an episode after the EP election, Le Pen was commenting on some left-wing/anti-FN celebrities and artists refusing to put on shows in FN municipalities and more particularly on the anti-FN comments of Patrick Bruel, a Jewish (Algerian-born) singer/poker player who has been a staunch opponent of the FN for decades (in 1995, he had cancelled his shows in municipalities such as Toulon which elected a FN mayor in the June 1995 municipal elections). In yet another case of Jean-Marie letting the inner racist and anti-Semite get the better of him, he commented on the topic of Bruel that “we’ll include him in the next batch” (fournée – batch of bread to be baked). It is not Jean-Marie’s first run-in with anti-Semitism: in 1987 he famously stated that he thought that gas chambers were a ‘detail’ of World War II (officially, he continues to claim, because the war is made up of a series of ‘details’ – even the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he claims, are ‘details’) and in 1988 he made a wordplay on the name of Michel Durafour, a centrist politician who had joined Michel Rocard’s PS-led gouvernement d’ouverture, calling him ‘Durafour-crématoire‘ (four crématoire means crematory oven in French).
Given that the comment went against Marine Le Pen’s smokescreen strategy and much-vaunted dédiabolisation, the comments became the centre of a firestorm within the FN. Louis Aliot said that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s comment was dismaying and politically stupid. Florian Philippot said that while the FN had no lessons to take from a wealthy guy like Bruel and, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen should have known what he was saying (but Philippot said the comments were not anti-Semitic). FN deputy Gilbert Collard, who is not from the FN per se and is a bit more FN-lite uncomfortable with racist/anti-Semitic throwbacks (he’s mostly a colourful and slightly insane guy), went as far to suggest that Jean-Marie Le Pen should retire (he is currently ‘honourary president’ of the FN) because his comments hurt the FN and RBM. And finally, Marine herself said that her father made a political mistake and seemed quite naturally peeved at her father’s latest outburst. However, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who prizes his ‘liberty’ (which he interprets as the right to mouth off what he wants) and is, as noted previously, not the biggest fan of his daughter’s leadership, young clique and the process of dédiabolisation, is quite angry at how other FN leaders ‘ganged up’ on him. He said that those who misinterpreted his comments (Aliot) were ‘imbeciles’, disingenuously claimed that he didn’t know Bruel was Jewish (but admitted that he would have said what he said even if he ‘knew’), suggested that his daughter was being influenced by her young clique, that she was losing sight of the party’s history/specificity by cleaning it up and insinuated that Collard was just a random loser who should bugger off.
A civil war is unlikely, given that the FN is not stupid – it certainly knows that all splinter parties from the FN have ended up in the ditch, with only the FN remaining a major force. However, a cold war-like situation may arise, and Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a liability for Marine Le Pen as long as he’s alive. It remains to be seen, however, if this latest controversy will actually hurt the FN or if its base will remain resilient.
The UMP, after a bad result on May 25, went from bad to worse the next day, when MEP-elect Jérôme Lavrilleux, a close ally of Copé, reluctantly admitted cost overruns and that a share of the costs of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign had been billed to the UMP rather than the Sarkozy campaign to cover up the costs which were exceeding legal campaign spending limits. This was the latest twist in the Bygmalion affair: originally, we thought that the story was that the UMP had been overcharged by Bygmalion, owned by close friends of Copé, to the price of €8-12.7 million. The UMP was apparently charged for events which never actually took place. Now, the UMP is the one accused of forcing Bygmalion to issue false invoices addressed to the party rather than the campaign (about €11 million). Lavrilleux admitted this after Bygmalion’s lawyer had came out, hours earlier, with the claims of false invoices being demanded by the UMP to the event planning company. Lavrilleux, however, claimed that neither Copé nor Sarkozy were aware of the issue. Overall, Sarkozy’s campaign may have spent up to €39 million in 2012, far surpassing the legal spending limit of €22.5 million.
The pressure mounted on Copé, whose weak leadership had been weakened further by the first revelation of the Bygmalion affair in March and the defeat in the EP election, and he had no choice but to resign as UMP president after a political bureau met on May 27. According to official statements and leaked details, the meeting was quite heated – François Fillon, Copé’s sworn enemy, called on Copé to resign because the UMP was headed to disaster and that he had lost all confidence in Copé. Fillon’s demands were supported by the fillonistes and the ‘neutrals’ or ‘soft’ fillonistes – Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Xavier Bertrand. Copé resigned officially on June 15, handed power over to a ‘triumvirate’ (+ one) and a new congress to elect a president will be held in October 2014. The new triumvirate of the UMP is made up of Fillon (declared candidate for 2017), Alain Juppé (neutral in 2012, anti-Copé in 2014, likely has presidential ambitions in 2017) and Jean-Pierre Raffarin (copéiste in 2012, long-time poor relationship with Fillon) – three former Prime Ministers. On June 10, faced with pressure from the sarkozystes (mostly ex-copéistes), the leadership was widened to include Luc Chatel, a party vice-president and senior copéiste in 2012, who became secretary-general to support the three-man leadership. The copéistes-sarkozystes worried that the makeshift filloniste-juppéiste alliance of convenience was trying to sideline them and block Sarkozy from returning in 2017.
This hasn’t solved the mess: while everybody is claiming that all is well and that the focus is now on ‘unity’, the reality is one of deep disunity and cacophony. Every potential leader of the UMP is eager to make a mark for himself, either by publicizing their ambitions for the leadership in 2014 or presidency in 2017, or by calling for major ‘renovation’ of the party (NKM, for example, has proposed that the UMP should change its name). Two candidates have officially announced their candidacies for the congress: Hervé Mariton (a former villepiniste despite his pro-Iraq War and pro-NATO views in the past, who became a copéiste for 2012 and most recently led the UMP’s charge against same-sex marriage/adoption) and Bruno Le Maire (a young former villepiniste and fairly decent agriculture minister under Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012, who was neutral in 2012 and is a likely presidential hopeful for 2017). Christian Estrosi, a longtime sarkozyste-turned-senior filloniste in 2012 who has since left Fillon’s clan, is now officially a candidate for the presidency in 2017. For the 2014 congress, Fillon may yet run, while other ambitious leaders with eyes on 2017 – Xavier Bertrand (a soft filloniste in 2012, with a small group of allies), Laurent Wauquiez (a filloniste in 2012 and leader of the ‘social right’) – may also run. Juppé is widely seen as the only UMP leader who could potentially upset Sarkozy in 2017, and polls of UMP sympathizers always place him a distant second behind Sarkozy for a potential UMP primary in 2016. He has said that the new president elected in 2014 shouldn’t run in 2017, and he has a small group of loyal allies behind him. The old copéiste group is divided between a small circle still loyal to Copé and a larger clan of neo-sarkozystes (Nadine Morano, Brice Hortefeux, Guillaume Peltier, Claude Guéant, Henri Guiano, Patrick Balkany); it is unclear what they will do in 2014.
The left is in poor shape as well. The government will not be changing courses as a result of the EP election, largely because it already changed courses in March after the municipal elections and because Valls remains relatively popular (but carrying no impact on the government’s general perception, which is largely negative and tied to Hollande’s extreme unpopularity). The PS knew it would do horribly in the EP election, so the thumping came as less of a hit for them, although it doesn’t change the very dire state of the PS and the government.
Additional maps of interest
Nouvelle Donne support by canton
A predominantly urban and suburban party in affluent, white-collar and highly educated urban areas. The outlines of some urban areas are clear (Rennes, Nantes, Caen, Angers, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Lille, Grenoble, Dijon, Niort) on the map; the extensions outside of urban/suburban areas is close, in many regions, to traditional Green support (Rhône-Alpes). There is a relatively strong R² relationship between the ND and EELV vote in this election (0.42).
Change in FN support from 2012 to 2014
There was, as indicated in the analysis, a very clear personal vote for Marine Le Pen in her EP constituency (the Northwest), with a substantial increase (turnout decreases notwithstanding) in all departments of the Northwest EP constituency. In other regions, patterns were more patchy and difficult to generalize, although the FN’s support also increased (again, turnout decreases notwithstanding) from 2012 in the coastal departments of PACA (where Jean-Marie Le Pen was the FN’s top candidate). Around Perpignan, there may have been a larger increase due to Louis Aliot, the FN’s top candidate in the Southwest whose local base is Perpignan.
The FN’s support decreased from 2012 in Corsica: this is likely due to Corsican nationalist voters who had backed Marine Le Pen in 2012 (the support of some nationalist voters for the FN/her candidacy is documented and proven by local results), who instead voted for incumbent MEP François Alfonsi’s moderate nationalist list this year.
Change in UDI-MoDem support from 2012 (Bayrou) to 2014
A map showing the local factors and local barons (often UDI) who provided a boost (‘added value’) to the centrist vote in some regions.
Some odd and interesting patterns…
Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the Newark by-election in the UK, held on June 5. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Following very quickly on from the European and local elections on the 22nd of May, the 5th of June saw a UK parliamentary by-election in the seat of Newark. For those who wish to read the wider UK political context, might I recommend my recent blog post about the local and European elections.
Newark covers part of rural Nottinghamshire, in the East Midlands. The largest settlement is the eponymous Newark-on-Trent, a market town in Nottinghamshire, with a population of around 26,000. Historically a local centre for the wool and cloth trade, Newark has transformed into a commuter belt town predominantly for Nottingham but also partially for urban behemoth London (which is a little more than an hour away by train). It is a prosperous town, and overwhelmingly white British town. The only other town in the constituency is Southwell, with a population of almost 7,000. The rest of the seat is very rural, with villages, farms and forest covering the bulk of the constituency. Sherwood Forest, of Robin Food fame, is in the neighbouring Sherwood constituency.
Newark is a safe Conservative constituency. The seat was Labour held between 1950 (one of the few Labour gains that year) and 1979, but never with particularly sizeable majorities. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments the seat became a Tory safe seat and they won more than 50% of the vote between 1983 and 1992. The seat was lost to Labour, however, in the landslide defeat of 1997, a demonstration of the massive Labour wave of that year.
The new MP, Fiona Jones, became the first MP in British history to be disqualified from the House of Commons under the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, after allegations of electoral fraud, her conviction was quickly overturned, but Newark was one of the nine Conservative gains in 2001, a generally appalling year for the party as it failed to unwind the Blair landslide of ’97. Jones later attempted to sue Nottinghamshire Police but her case failed, leaving her with legal bills of £45,000. She later claimed that a government minister had offered her sex in exchange for a promotion. Whatever the truth of these claims she was shunned by colleagues after her return to parliament and fell into alcoholism. She lost her seat in 2001. She was found dead in her home by her husband surrounded by 15 vodka bottles in 2007.
Since 2001, Newark’s MP had been Patrick Mercer, a former Army colonel who was given an OBE for his tour of duty in Yugoslavia. He briefly turned his hand to journalism after he left the military. Upon his election Mercer had experienced an initially dizzying rise through the Conservative Party ranks, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Defence Secretary and, then, as Shadow Minister for Homeland Security soon after his election. Mercer was on the right of the Conservative Party, he backed right-wing candidates Iain Duncan Smith (who won in 2001) and David Davis (who lost in 2005) for leader of his party.
Mercer’s politics and brash style meant that he was not a particularly good match for the modernising wing of the party which took control under David Cameron from 2005. However he was allowed to keep his post in the Shadow frontbench until 2007 when he made public comments about ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers who he said were using racism as a ‘cover’. While Cameron tries to run a party which includes those from across its length and breadth he is noticeably less forgiving to those outside his own modernising faction if he perceives that they have failed him, and Mercer was permanently relegated to the backbenches.
Relations no doubt soured further when, in November 2011, Mercer was taped making disparaging remarks about Cameron including referring to him as the “worst politician in British history since William Gladstone” and predicting that Cameron would be ousted by his own MPs in 2012.
Mercer was implicated in a scandal in May 2013. Mercer was investigated by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s Panorama series who demonstrated that he took payment of £4,000 from undercover reporters supposedly lobbying on behalf of the military regime of Fiji. He subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party and sat as an Independent. His motor mouth once again got him in trouble as he told a story about meeting a young Israeli soldier to whom he supposedly said “You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew.” His behaviour was investigated by the Commons Standards Committee.
The Standards Committee reported on the 1st of May this year. It found that he had deliberately avoided the rules, and failed to declare a relevant interest. Suspension from the Commons was recommended but with less than a year to an election which he was not planning on contesting anyway, Mercer decided to resign his seat, taking the position as Crown Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds (technically MPs cannot resign from the Commons, but a legal incompatibility exists between royal positions and being a member of parliament, hence giving meaningless royal positions to MPs is a time honoured way of facilitating resignation).
The by-election was scheduled too late for it to be held alongside Britain’s local and European elections, and so was scheduled for June the 5th, two weeks later.
The result in 2010 was:
Patrick Mercer (Conservative) 53.9%
Ian Campbell (Labour) 22.3%
Pauline Jenkins (Liberal Democrat) 20.0%
Rev Major Tom Irvine (UKIP) 3.8%
The Conservative majority was 16,152 (31.5%) and turnout was 71.4%, much higher than the nationwide turnout of 65.1%.
Under Mercer, the seat had become one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, the 55th safest seat for the party.
As has often been the case in recent by-elections in the UK, the big question of the campaign, nonetheless, was how UKIP would do. Despite conclusive evidence that UKIP’s base is predominantly made up of poorer ‘left behind’ voters which draws support from both Labour and the Conservatives, parts of the media insist on viewing it as the right-wing of the Conservative Party in rebellion. The announcement of the by-election resulted in a frenzy of speculation that the party’s leader, Nigel Farage would stand, with Farage quickly denying he had any plans to.
The party instead selected Roger Helmer, one of its East Midland MEPs. Helmer, a former business executive, was actually elected as a Conservative MEP at the 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections. Helmer had always been an outspoken Tory even as the party was at its most right-wing during its wilderness years between 1997 and 2005. In 2005 he was suspended from the Conservative group and the EPP-ED in the European Parliament after voting to censure the European Commission and criticising the party’s lead MEP, Timothy Kirkhope. He rejoined the Tories in 2006 but remained outside the EPP-ED group.
Helmer, is, naturally, extremely Eurosceptic, but also holds views extremely critical of anthropocentric climate change, which he refers to as ‘climate-alarmism’. He has also previously suggested that women had some responsibility if they were date raped and that homophobia “is merely a propaganda device” and does not exist. He opposed same-sex marriage, labelling it a “grotesque subversion of a universal human right”. However, Farage claims that Helmer has since “relaxed” his views about homosexuality.
Helmer has always claimed that his views are simply those of a typical Conservative Party activist.
Helmer announced his resignation from the European Parliament in 2011, citing disillusionment with the direction of his party under Cameron. Helmer expected to be succeeded by Rupert Matthews, who was next in line for a seat, but media reports about Matthews led to Helmer delaying his resignation. Media reports focused on Matthews career as an expert on the paranormal. He claims to have written over 200 books on the paranormal. Another book published by his company on political correctness appeared to feature golliwog dolls on the cover, widely considered to be racist in the UK. The party thus seemed to desire to avoid Matthews. Hence, Helmer defected to UKIP instead.
UKIP’s campaign was, as is becoming the norm, fairly professional. The party has very quickly gained a fairly complex understanding of the ground campaign. During the by-election an interview with Helmer was printed in the Mail on Sunday which purportedly stated that Helmer endorsed providing ‘gay cures’ on the NHS. Helmer accused the MoS of “deliberate, defamatory lies”, stating that he never said such things.
Speculation grew about UKIP’s chances when UKIP topped the poll in the Newark and Sherwood council area in the European elections, beating the Tories by almost 500 votes. Yet it should be remembered both that Newark and Sherwood covers a much wider area than just the Newark constituency and that there are different factors of a European Parliament election which tend to favour UKIP (higher turnout amongst UKIP’s base and strategic ‘single-issue’ defectors who vote for UKIP solely in European elections to register their opposition to the EU).
The Conservatives selected Robert Jenrick, a 32 year old former solicitor who was a manager at the world famous Christie’s auction house. He had contested Newcastle-under-Lyme for the Conservatives in 2010. Jenrick was attacked by Helmer on the campaign trail as an out of touch millionaire with multiple homes. Jenrick stated that having three homes “doesn’t mean that I don’t know about life on the breadline”, and the Conservatives sought to present Jenrick as a ‘self-made man’. Jenrick had no prior connection to the seat before his selection, though he is from the Midlands, coming from Wolverhampton. It should be noted that Helmer is not a Newark native either, though he lives nearby.
The Conservatives poured resources into Newark with cabinet ministers making frequent trips to the constituency and the party making the most of its new ‘Team 2015’ infrastructure. Losing Newark would be a great blow to the party especially coming off a respectable local and European election performance.
Labour selected Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor based in Gedling, to the West of Newark. While the party has held the seat before no one seriously expected Labour to win it this time around. Labour’s win of the seat in 1997 represents a high watermark of Labour Party fortunes, and even the most optimistic Labour supporter would agree that a 1997 election landslide is far from on the cards. Labour’s aim was predominantly to maintain a sense of momentum, therefore.
Former by-election masters, the Lib Dems, nominated David Watts, a councillor for Broxtowe on the other side of Nottinghamshire. While the party won 20% of the vote in 2010 this represents their height in the seat since 1983. The party has little infrastructure on the ground and only holds 3 councillors in the seat. Its aim, if any, was to hold its deposit (a party’s £500 deposit is returned if it wins more than 5% of the vote).
The Greens nominated David Kirwan. Two independents stood, Paul Baggaley, standing on a highly localist ‘save Newark hospital’ platform, and Andy Hayes, standing on a disabled rights platform. Reverend Dick Rodgers of the tiny Christian party The Common Good stood with the ballot descriptor ‘Stop Commercial Banks Owning Britain’s Money’. The final serious candidate was Lee Woods of the ‘Patriotic Socialist Party’.
Two joke candidates stood. Nick the Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party is their Treasurer and their Shadow Minister for the Abolition of Gravity. His policies include making fishing a spectator sport by introducing piranhas into the local river, developing Newark castle into an intergalactic space port, and, naturally, abolition of the laws of gravity. Nick claims to have a ‘vendetta’ against gravity due to injury in a paragliding accident which he says was caused by gravity.
The other joke candidate was David Bishop, standing as ‘Bus Pass Elvis’. Bishop’s manifesto included a mix of joke and serious policies, including legalisation of brothels, with a discount for OAPs, students and the disabled, sending foreign pets back to their original country and environmentalist/animal rights policies such as stopping the importing of endangered species. Bus Pass Elvis also promised to “save the Antarctic, save the penguins and save Roger Helmer from being eaten by a polar bear”. Bishop has been a perennial candidate in British elections since standing against the disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton in 1997 under the name ‘Lord Biro vs. the Scallywag Tories’ but has received recent attention after he beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election.
Three polls were taken during the campaign, two by Survation, and one by former Tory treasurer turned quasi-professional psephologist, Lord Ashcroft. The first Survation poll was taken on the 27th-28th of May and showed Conservatives 36%, UKIP 28%, Labour 27% and Lib Dems 5%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll was taken between the 27th and the 1st of June. It had a larger sample (1,000 vs. 600) and showed Conservatives 42%, UKIP 27%, Labour 20%, Lib Dems 6%. The second Survation, and final poll full stop, was taken between the 2nd and 3rd of June, and showed 42% Conservative, 27% UKIP, 22% Labour, 4% Lib Dem.
Robert Jenrick (Conservative) 45.0% (-8.9%)
Roger Helmer (UKIP) 25.9% (+22.1%)
Michael Payne (Labour) 17.7% (-4.7%)
Paul Baggaley (Independent) 4.9%
David Kirwan (Green Party) 2.7%
David Watts (Liberal Democrats) 2.6% (-17.4%)
Nick the Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony) 0.4%
Andy Hayes (Independent) 0.3%
David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis) 0.2%
Reverend Dick Rodgers (Common Good) 0.2%
Lee Waters (Patriotic Socialist Party) 0.0%
The Conservative majority is 7,403 (19.1%) and turnout was a very high 52.8%, strong for a by-election, especially one held so close to the May election.
The by-election was a solid result for the Conservatives. Their candidate won a sizeable majority. While this is one of the party’s safest seats it is good for them to be seen to have performed strongly against UKIP in a straight fight.
The party has traditionally been very bad at by-election campaigns, and by-elections in the UK tend to be sombre affairs for governing parties. As the Conservatives point out, this is the first time they have won a by-election in government in 25 years. In fairness, that is largely out of luck. The party had been out of government for 13 years before 2010, and the period prior to 1997 had seen a long and drawn out series of by-election losses as the former Conservative government was extremely unpopular.
On the other hand, the party has had the fortune of seeing only one of its seats fall to a by-election since 2010 – Corby, a marginal seat which has tended to lean more Labour than Conservative and which had a thin majority of less than 2,000.
Nonetheless, the party was widely expected to lose more of the vote than it did, and a high turnout and a suggestion from the polls that it gained support closer to the election suggest that it ran a solid campaign.
UKIP performed less well than they hoped. The party did not appear to seriously expect to win Newark but it did expect to beat the record it set in Eastleigh in terms of a by-election performance. Instead, it will have to make do with second best at 25.9%. This has led some to conclude that UKIP has reached is ceiling, at least for the time being. Yet Newark is profoundly unfriendly ground for UKIP. Right-wing it may be, but it is very prosperous and does not have particularly high inward migration. Newark is not natural ground for UKIP, unlike the string of seats along the East Coast that UKIP ‘won’ in the local elections in 2013 and 2014 local elections.
It is hard to know whether the candidature of Helmer helped or hindered the party, in a sense it showed the public its most easily caricatured face. Yet, Helmer, as one of the more identifiably ‘Tory’ components of the UKIP machine may retain something of an appeal in the Conservative safe seat. In the absence of an exit poll it really is difficult to impossible to know.
Labour suffered a stinging rebuke. To lose support at this time is not something that should be happening to the party. The party ran a low-level campaign; understandably, as this was a seat it was unlikely to win. There may be an element of strategic voting at play (Labour/UKIP swing voters voting UKIP to keep the Tories out, and Labour/Tory vice versa?). Certainly the party’s stronger result in polls may suggest that the party was squeezed at the last minute. The party certainly cannot blame low turnout!
While the party never expected to win the seat, and almost everyone expected it to come third, no one really expected it to lose support from 2010. Still, it is difficult to translate a single by-election into national results and this may just be a freak occurrence. A negative sign it may be, but it is important not to over-read such things.
The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing rebuke at the ballot box. Winning just 2.6% of the vote the party went from third to sixth. It not only lost its deposit, but lost to an independent and the Greens (who did not stand a candidate in 2010!). 2.6% of the vote represents a record low for the Lib Dems in a post-war by-election. What must really hurt is that the party is not utterly without infrastructure and support in the seat, unlike, say, Barnsley Central or other constituencies where it has lost its deposit since 2010. The party has blamed tactical voting for its failure.
Anecdotal evidence from the ground does seem to suggest that some Lib Dem voters did indeed vote Conservative just to keep UKIP out. One of the effects of UKIP’s rise has been to make it more visible. Many voters see in UKIP a radical new saviour, and the party’s support has grown, but polls also show that UKIP has never been seen as negatively before. Around 40% of Brits see UKIP as racist. In addition to support, exposure has brought visceral dislike, and this may be the first sign of a UKIP backlash with liberally minded voters seeing the Tories as preferable and voting accordingly to keep them out.
For the Lib Dems it is also worth remembering that the party is polling around 10% at the moment. If it is collapsing from 20% to less than 3% in seats like Newark, that lays extra credibility to the claim that the party can rely on core areas to return MPs in 2015. That 10% of the vote must be somewhere and if it is geographically concentrated then hope remains for the party under Britain’s First Past the Post system.
In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.
These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.
These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.
In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.
Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)
ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook. There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.
Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy); and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.
The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.
EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.
The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.
The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).
SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.
Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.
The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.
Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.
NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.
The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.
On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.
Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.
Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.
Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)
GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)
In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.
The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.
Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.
A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.
The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.
The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.
The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.
Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats
Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.
Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.
In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.
The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.
The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.
To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.
On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).
The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.
This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.
Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)
DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)
Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.
Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.
The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.
With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.
The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.
DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.
Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform). The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.
The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.
Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.
ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.
The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.
Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.
Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)
O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.
The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.
The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.
In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).
In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).
In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.
A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.
In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).
DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.
DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.
The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.
SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.
The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.
The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.
The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.
Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.
Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold
Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)
The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).
Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.
KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.
The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.
Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)
KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.
Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.
In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.
The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.
Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).
In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.
Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.
KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.
KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).
The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).
The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.
The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.
YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.
Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy
Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the recent local and European elections in Great Britain. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held local elections on the 22nd of May. As Northern Ireland has an entirely separate party and electoral system, it shall be dealt with separately.
Since 2010 the UK has been ruled by its first coalition government since the end of World War II between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The 2010 election put an end to thirteen years of Labour governance following the landslide of 1997. Thirteen years in government had taken their toll on the party, as had the financial crisis and strategic mistakes by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had taken over from Tony Blair in 2007.
However, the Conservative Party suffered from image as an out of touch party for the rich which did not understand the lives of ordinary Britons and toxicity amongst multiple demographics including ethnic minorities, public sector workers, the Scottish and the young. The party also suffered from the cruel effects of Britain’s First Past the Post system due to its highly inefficient vote spread.
The election had been seemingly blown open by the performance of the unknown leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, in the first Prime Ministerial debate in UK history. This unleashed ‘Cleggmania’ as the Lib Dems climbed to first in some polls. In reality Cleggmania was overblown and overstated, and mostly based on a large pool of don’t knows drifting into being very soft Lib Dems in polls. It began to dissipate by polling day and though the Lib Dems achieved 23.0% a vote, their best popular vote since 1983, they lost six seats.
The Conservatives gained almost 100 seats, but their 306 left them sort of the 326 needed for a majority in the UK. Britain was thus treated to the sight of coalition negotiations. While most of Britain’s European cousins view this as a norm post-election, this was entirely new to the British and journalists, politicians and academics rushed around trying to explain the phenomenon.
The final deal saw Clegg become Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron, an Eton educated former PR man and Treasury special adviser with aristocratic connections who many Brits view as the very personification of the British elite.
The new government had to deal with a yawning budget deficit of more than 10% of GDP, though Britain did not face the same problems as other Western nations regarding its ability to pay its debts. Nonetheless the government implemented an austerity agenda.
This pushed the Liberal Democrats into agreeing to some policies which they had specifically campaigned against in the 2010 election. Most infamously the party agreed to the trebling of the cap for university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year (the system acts something like a tax, however, with no payback before you earn above £21,000 pa, very low interest rates and debts written off 30 years after they are taken out if not fully repaid). Abolition of university tuition fees had long been one of the Lib Dems’ most recognisable policies, and the party’s MPs and candidates had signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to vote against any rise in tuition fees.
During Labour’s years in opposition the Lib Dems had cultivated a young, academic, left-liberal base based on their opposition to the war in Iraq and left-leaning policies under Charles Kennedy. While Clegg had always intended to take the party to the centre, the party retained a strong left-leaning vote which had, in many cases, rejected Labour on the basis of insufficient leftism. To such voters, the party’s coalition with the Conservatives was anathema.
The party also found its traditional campaign strategy somewhat blunted. Since the 1960s move to ‘community politics’ the Lib Dems have focused on a localist form of politics, with individual Lib Dem MPs pointing left or right depending on the constituency and adopting strongly localist campaigns. The Lib Dem mantra ‘where we work we win’ attests to a traditional belief in the party that there is no obstacle which can stop a determined local party as long as it pounds the pavements, leaflets relentlessly and provides excellent constituency service. Yet the party’s national exposure in government gave it a national profile and not a positive one, with Clegg moving from the most popular politician in the country to the least in less than a month.
The Lib Dems have been devastated in successive waves of poor election results, though the signs are that the party performs much better in areas where they have incumbent MPs, where the party’s traditional strengths of solid constituency representatives work in their favour.
Labour followed the election with a leadership race, which pitted two former ministers and brothers, David Miliband, the former foreign minister, and Ed Miliband, the former Energy and Climate Change minister against one another. The fight took on extra potency as David had been a key aide and ally of Tony Blair, and Ed had been one of a pair of Gordon Brown’s most trusted advisors with Ed Balls, another prominent minister. Hence the two had been on opposite sides in the often extremely volatile relationship between the two former Prime Ministers.
To the surprise of many, Ed narrowly won the leadership race albeit on the votes of the trade union section of Labour’s complex leadership election electoral college (with David winning MPs and party members).
Ed represented a clearer break with the past, wanting to take the party in a more clearly left-leaning direction. He almost immediately apologised for the Iraq War, for instance. The Conservatives quickly attempted to brand Ed as ‘Red Ed’. However research found that voters found Miliband not to be so much a scary 1970s socialist, as the Conservatives had hoped, but just rather ‘weird’, due to poor presentation on his part.
Ed, is the son of a famed Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband, and who therefore, grew up in a home which was at the very nexus of the British intellectual leftist elite, with frequent visitors such as the academic Tariq Aziz and the famed radical left Labour MP Tony Benn (who sadly passed away earlier this year). He took a sabbatical from politics to teach at Harvard in the early 2000s. He thus affects an academic, some critics say ‘geeky’ persona. He is unusually interested in ideas for a modern day politician, and is known for his series of ‘gurus’, often academics such as the American philosopher Michael Sandel, or the sociologist Maurice Glasman.
Miliband’s instincts tend towards a metropolitan kind of leftism, but he has also taken on some of the issues of Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ ideas which posits a more socially conservative Labourism which rejects the managerialism of traditional British Fabian socialism. Blue Labour embraces a more conservative stance on immigration, crime and Europe, but prefers a more continental style of corporatist economics to markets. It is localist and vaguely anti-statist.
Realising that his party would be forced into austerity measures in government, Miliband has come to embrace more state interference in markets, with policies such as the introduction of rent controls and a forced price freeze on energy prices to undercut what Miliband consistently refers to as a ‘cost of living crisis’.
Conditions since 2010 have provided perfect ground for the unleashing of a quietly rising tendency in Britain – right-wing populism. Right-wing populism and anti-immigration politics has been present in the UK for a while, but has been divided between multiple parties, predominantly the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the far-right British National Party (BNP). In many constituencies in 2010, especially in the North, these two parties and other minor right-of-conservative parties together won over 10% of the vote. This was largely unnoticed because it was split between multiple parties. After 2010 the BNP went into meltdown. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, specifically targeted them by his own admission, saying that most BNP voters are decent people simply angry about immigration. He even claimed responsibility for destroying the party.
The party has traditionally performed best in European elections. The political scientists Rob Ford and Matthew Elliott have compared UKIP’s previous pattern to being like a hibernating bear which emerged from its cave once every five years for European elections, would frighten the villages and then retire to its cave to sleep. As an illustration the party came second in the 2009 European election with 16.5% of the vote. It then fell to 3.1% in 2010 as it won strategic defectors from the main parties who opposed the EU. UKIP now polls between 10% and 20% of the vote in general election voting intention. The party has also won a string of second place finishes in by-elections, most notably in Eastleigh last year, and won an incredible victory in the 2013 local elections.
UKIP also benefitted from the coalition. Britain’s three main parties have now all been in power in the last five years. None thus provides a clear oppositional role. The Conservative Party has been unable to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands as they promised a goal which always lacked credibility. In order to reduce immigration the Conservatives, unable to deal with ‘bad’ immigration, have restricted immigration which most Brits think is ‘good’ such as student visas.
The Lib Dems’ traditional role as a protest vote was also lost as the party entered government.
An additional boon to UKIP is that all three party leaders are from different wings of the British elite. Cameron originates in the traditional, aristocratic, upper class elite. Miliband originates in the academic, intellectual, left-wing elite. Clegg’s ancestry lies in the European aristocracy. A speaker of five languages he is a former MEP, and a former advisor to the ex-European Commissioner Leon Brittan. Clegg is thus of the Eurocrat elite. All three are around the same age (Cameron and Clegg are 47, Miliband is 44). Both Clegg and Cameron were privately educated, while Miliband went to a state school, it is known as the ‘Eton of the left’ due to the large number of prominent left-wingers educated there. Miliband and Cameron both went to Oxford University, and studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). Clegg went to Cambridge. All three later worked as political advisors and critics allege they have never had a ‘real job’. In this respect all three have lived elite lives out of step with the lives of average Britons, leading to the impression of a ‘political class’ dominated by an increasingly narrow group of identikit politicians.
The famed UK expenses scandal of 2008-9 has also damaged the reputation of British politicians, and the public increasingly distrusts politicians on the issue of immigration.
Farage is part of the elite as well, a privately educated former metals trader from the London financial centre who has served as a MEP since 1999. Yet he successfully affects an authentic style, almost always being filmed drinking real ale in pubs up and down the land, or smoking a cigar, he dresses in a colourful, rural style, appears to speak his mind and goes on tirades against the political class. Under his leadership UKIP’s traditional Euroscepticism has been expanded. In particular the party has increasingly conflated the EU and immigration, stoking fears of renewed immigration from Bulgaria and Romania when the need for Bulgarians and Romanians to get work permits to work in the UK was lifted at the start of 2014 (initial figures suggest that the number of both groups working in the country has actually fallen since the 1st of January).
Britain has a long tradition of Euroscepticism, but for UKIP’s voters the EU has come to represent everything they hate about politics: an out-of-touch bureaucratic, dull elite (in a foreign country no less!) forcing open borders onto Britain.
Analysis of UKIP’s support base suggests it is composed overwhelmingly of older, poorly educated, male working class voters. These voters are deeply pessimistic about the direction Britain has been going in for decades. While Westminster journalists have often stereotyped UKIP as simply taking support from the Conservatives, the party takes around the same amount of support from Labour. The party is increasingly target traditional Labour party supporters. The recent book Revolt on the Right provides fascinating reading for anyone interested in UKIP’s rise.
UKIP’s support is predominantly English, and it is much weaker in Scotland, though it has some strength in Wales, especially in the North.
Like other right-wing populist parties, UKIP has had its fair share of controversy. A UKIP councillor received national attention and widespread mockery earlier this year when he claimed that flooding in the South West of England was the result of the legalisation of gay marriage. UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was forced to resign from the party after he drew attention away from Farage at the party’s 2013 conference for suggesting that women who did not clean behind the fridge were “sluts”, and then, as a journalist who questioned why UKIP’s conference brochure did not feature a single ethnic minority face, hitting said journalist over the head with a copy of said brochure.
Farage himself has received criticism, for instance, for saying that he felt uncomfortable when people spoke languages other than English on trains, or by saying he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved next door to him.
Scotland has seen the rise of a different type of populist outsider, as the Scottish parliament saw the Scottish National Party win a majority in 2011, which wasn’t supposed to be possible. The UK and Scottish governments have agreed to a binding referendum on Scottish independence to be held on the 19th of September. The SNP has a strong base in Scotland, and has appeared to be newly dominant in Scotland since 2011 due to a perennially weak and incompetent Scottish Labour Party.
Other parties of note are Plaid Cymru, the much weaker Welsh nationalist party, and the Greens, who in Britain are of a rather eco-socialist variety. They hold only one MP at Westminster, in the radical left wing seaside city of Brighton, known for its gay community and liberalism, but have strength in some regions of the country and do well in PR elections.
The Structure of British local government
British local government has a complex structure which differs widely between different regions due to both repeated reform attempts from central government and different histories.
The UK has a highly centralised political system and is often described as one of the most centralised countries in the world. Most of the local councils’ money has traditionally come from central government grants. The only tax that local government can levy in the UK is council tax, a property tax based on house prices, which is widely disliked as it is the only tax that comes in the form of a bill, and is perceived as regressive, hitting poor pensioners the hardest. Many would like to see a more devolved tax system, but Britain suffers from yawning regional disparities in wealth and hence a more localised tax system would tend to result in essentially taking money from poorer regions without a system of equalisation payments.
British local government has often been treated as little more than a delivery mechanism for central government policies. In the Labour years, when money was good, there was a tendency to create extra funds of central government money for local government but to ruthlessly ‘ring-fence’ it (make sure that the money could only be spent on that one area). The coalition substantially reduced ring-fencing in government and introduced a general power of competence which vastly expanded what councils could theoretically do but also substantially cut central government funding to councils (which was cut by 30%) meaning that councils could rarely afford to be more than managers of core services. No other government funding has been cut so radically. The Local Government and Communities minister, Eric Pickles, has also been fond of occasional diktat from Whitehall, trying to force local government into keeping weekly waste collections (some had gone to fortnightly as a cost-saving measure) and freezing their council tax rates. Under the coalition’s localism act councils must hold referendums if they raise council tax by more than a certain percentage. In response some councils have instead raised their council tax by 0.01% less than the limit to avoid a referendum. In theory, councils receive extra funds from central government for freezing their council tax but councils fear this money will evaporate with time putting them into further financial strain.
As local government is so anaemic in the UK turnouts have historically been low in UK local elections. Concern has been quite strong about turnout in local elections for a while, but in truth turnouts bottomed out in the period between 1998 and 2002 with a string of sub-30% scores and have now stabilising in the mid-30s. This is low compared to local elections in other countries but historically turnouts were not much higher than this in the 1970s. Turnout is very down when compared to the 1980s, but this was a period of extreme political polarisation in the UK which boosted turnouts and political engagement across the board.
Another aspect for the anaemic quality of local government is that local elections are most often used to comment on the performance of central government rather than to vote on genuinely local issues. Local elections in the UK are rarely truly ‘local’ as a result. In the vast majority of council areas traditional political parties vie for control, though the Liberal Democrats have often pursued a strategy of running much more heavily localised campaigns.
Local elections, as a result, suffer from a notable differential turnout effect whereby supporters of the opposition tend to tend out much more than supporters of the government (as in other mid-term elections internationally such as US mid-terms).
There are different types of councils in different parts of the UK with differing responsibilities and different systems of election.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councils are single-tier and elected by the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation in all-at-once elections. The Scottish councils were last elected in 2012, whereas the Northern Irish councils are up for election this year (more on this in a forthcoming article).
In Wales, there is also a system of unitary councils elected all at once using a bloc voting system in multi-member wards.
In England the systems become much more complex.
By far and away Britain’s largest city, London is governed by 32 ‘borough councils’. London is a massive international city, with a population of 8.5 million – as much as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland put together. It represents 15% of the UK population. London’s boroughs are technically single-tier but since 2000 they share power with a directly elected Mayor of London, currently the Conservative Boris Johnson, famed for his eccentric, ‘upper class buffoon’ persona.
Nevertheless the vast majority of local services are provided by the boroughs, with the Mayoralty controlling economic structuring, transport and police across London.
The London Boroughs are all elected all-at-once on a four year cycle. The boroughs feature multi-member wards (the constituencies of local government) generally with 3 councillors each (though some 2 member wards have recently appeared).
18% of the population of the UK lives in the Metropolitan counties of the North of England. These six counties, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire are highly urbanised areas and essentially vast urban conurbations around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Sunderland, Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city and the largest municipality in Europe), and Leeds.
The Mets used to be two-tier authorities, with the Metropolitan counties having their own higher level. This was abolished in the 1980s though there is some joint working at the county level. This collaboration has recently been increased as a way of reducing costs, with the most notable being the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The Mets are elected by a system of election by thirds. All wards in the Metropolitan councils have three councillors. One of these is elected each year to a four year term with one ‘fallow’ year. This system is supposed to provide a regular injection of accountability and new blood, but is increasingly criticised as costly, reducing turnout due to electoral fatigue and causing poor governance as councillors are distracted by elections for multiple months most years.
The most common type of council in the UK is district councils. These are two-layer councils with a county council above them. District councils handle housing, planning, leisure and recreation, waste collection, collection of council tax and environmental health. County councils handle local education authorities, transport, fire, social services, libraries and waste disposal.
Counties are elected in a four year cycle in the traditional first past the post single-member style. They were last up for election in 2013. Districts are allowed to choose between election by thirds (hence some wards have a local election literally every year as county councils are elected in the ‘fallow’ year), election by halves and election all at once. Most of those elected all at once were last elected in 2011 and will be next up in 2015.
Most of the district councils are rather small and rural.
In recent years there has been an increasing move towards the creation of unitary authorities, merging the responsibilities of districts and counties to reduce duplication and to create clearer lines of accountability. Unitaries come in two types. The first covers large towns or small cities outside the metropolitan areas which have been deemed large enough to support the necessary tax base to support one, such as Plymouth, Bristol, Peterborough or Portsmouth.
The other fashion has been to merge districts in large rural areas into one massive county council with the powers of the district councils in areas where district councils are deemed too small to support themselves. This has happened in areas such as Cornwall, Wiltshire, Northumberland and County Durham. These areas are typically largely rural or covered by small towns.
Most councils in Britain are governed by a fairly typical cabinet model, but since 2000 councils may introduce a directly-elected mayor with wide-ranging executive powers, usually this is done by referendum. Only fifteen councils have introduced the elected mayor model, four of which are London boroughs, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. A fifth elected mayor, in Watford, was up for election this year as well. Elected mayors are elected using a preferential system known as the Supplementary Vote system. SV features ballots laid out like a traditional British ballot paper except with a second column for a second preference. Voters may thus cast two preferences. A mayoral candidate who wins 50%+1 in the first round is deemed elected, if this does not happen then all but the top two are eliminated and second preferences redistributed. The plurality winner then wins. The system thus guarantees a wider mandate than First Past the Post but does not guarantee a majority as in AV or a two round system. SV means that voters must strategically vote for one of the top two candidates with their second vote. There is evidence that voters do not properly understand the system, with a significant minority of voters casting two preferences for one candidate (which obviously cannot transfer).
However, elected mayors themselves are widely seen as a success, improving governance, transparency and visibility for their communities. Polling suggests that 50% of the public in councils with an elected mayor can name their mayor, whereas only 10% of the public in councils with the usual model can name their council leader. Central government has often tried to push the elected mayoral model, especially in councils seen as poorly run and in big cities. Local government has often pushed back against the model, however. Councillors often fear losing power to elected mayors. In 2012 the government held referendums on elected mayors in the 10 biggest cities in England outside London. In Liverpool and Salford the referendums were, in essence, pre-empted, but of the remaining 8 cities only Bristol chose the mayoral model.
Prior local elections held alongside EP elections have shown a noticeably stronger result for UKIP.
The seats up this year were last up in 2010 and held alongside the general election. This means that they represent the last set of good results for the Lib Dems since before coalition, but also that Labour performed well in 2010 due to the high turnout.
European Parliament Elections in the UK
Since 1999, European parliament elections in Great Britain take place in the framework of a closed-list proportional representation. Britain elects 70 MEPs (3 more are elected in Northern Ireland) in regions, with one region representing Scotland and one Wales, and England split into the nine regions of East of England, East Midlands London, North East England, North West England, South East England, South West England, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
The regions range from 3 seats (North East England) to 10 seats (South East England) in size creating effective thresholds between 7% and 20%. This makes the UK system fairly disproportionate, but it does also mean that the SNP and Plaid can win seats in their regions which a single constituency with a national threshold would stop (neither party would be capable of winning more than 3% nationally).
The PR system has allowed for the entry of smaller parties into the European Parliament, most notably UKIP, but the Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the far-right BNP also won seats in 2009.
Eurosceptic parties tend to perform better in EP elections. The prior success of UKIP in these elections is especially notable but the Conservatives also tend to perform better than in European elections on the same day.
The campaign was predominantly notable for an attempt by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to polarise the election for their own interests.
In March Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to a televised debate about whether to stay in or get out of the European Union, an eternal British political debate which practically predates UK accession itself. Clegg’s challenge was issued on his LBC radio show. By sheer coincidence, Nigel Farage decided to accept his challenge the next day, on his LBC radio show. It may not surprise readers to learn that one of the debates was hosted by LBC.
Both leaders sought to portray the other parties as scared of participating in a debate on this subject. Clegg sought to portray the Conservatives as taking a confused position on Europe (the Conservatives, who have a softly Eurosceptic stance re pledged to support a referendum on the EU in 2017 if they are re-elected), and to portray Labour as having no position at all (Labour’s campaign was noticeably silent on EU issues). Farage merely hoped to present all three leaders as in hoc to an EU elite which ‘truly’ made the laws in the UK.
The first debate was widely seen as a victory for Clegg by the press, until the instant polls came out and revealed that voters saw Farage as the winner, a reminder of just how unpopular Clegg was (and some might argue, how out of touch London-based journalists are with the population at large).
Clegg was also deemed to have lost the second debate, by a more convincing margin. Clegg’s hope had not been, in truth, to convince a majority of the British public of his view, however. While a majority of Brits are Eurosceptic, the Lib Dems’ potential vote is highly Europhile and he hoped to galvanise this support. There was also a sense that with the party in for a poor result that Clegg was attempting to demonstrate that the party at least lost by standing up for what it believes in.
In the end the effect of the debates on the polls seemed to be to help UKIP while the Lib Dems did not move.
Labour fought a campaign entirely on national issues. Using the campaign to mercilessly attack Nick Clegg, hoping to lock down the defectors from the Lib Dem left it has won since 2010 and to gain further votes from 2010 Lib Dems who are now ‘Don’t Knows’, which represents as much as a third of their 2010 vote.
One of their party election broadcasts was named the ‘uncredible shrinking man’ and portrayed Nick Clegg giving up all his policies in government before literally shrinking in size until he reaches the point that a tiny naked Nick Clegg is chased across the cabinet table by the Downing Street cat.
Labour knew that much of its base was in both the Eurosceptic and Europhile camps and so avoided talking about Europe for this reason.
Labour hoped to win the election through a low profile campaign focused on winning through the momentum of being in opposition.
The Conservative campaign predominantly focused on its European referendum pledge and on its promise of EU renegotiation. The Conservative campaign claimed that UKIP “can’t” give you a referendum, that Labour and the Lib Dems “won’t” give you a referendum and only the Conservatives could.
The Scottish National Party focused on Scotland’s current obsession, the Independence referendum, hoping to use evidence of a strong result as a way to parle into the referendum. The SNP party election broadcast was entirely focused on the independence referendum.
The Greens were perhaps the only party to run a campaign based upon what they’d actually done in the European Parliament, with a well-crafted party election broadcast. The party complained of poor media attention compared to UKIP.
Polls generally showed a tight battle between Labour and UKIP for first place, with UKIP gaining throughout the campaign, opening up a wide lead over Labour. The party then fell back at the last minute, but remained ahead in polling intention. Polls showed that UKIP voters were, ironically, the most interested and engaged in the European election campaign.
Most polls showed the Conservatives in third, and the Lib Dems and Greens battling for fourth place.
Local Election Results and Analysis
Note: Vote share in the below is ‘Projected National Vote’. Due to the fragmented nature of UK electoral administration, and the variances in electoral system, it is impossible to get a total vote count for the UK on Election Day and this measure is based on sampling key indicator wards across the country to produce a figure of what the popular vote would have been if every single part of the country was voting at the same time.
The measure is obviously not perfect. I am cynical that it deals well with the rise of UKIP as it has nothing to compare against from previous results. Hence take the below figures with a pinch of salt.
Projected national vote share compared against 2013. Seat change compared against the last time this swathe of seats was up: in 2010. Councils are change in control from the day.
Labour 31% (+2%) winning 2121 councillors (+324), and winning control of 82 councils (+6)
Conservatives 29% (+4%) winning 1364 councillors (-236) and winning control of 41 councils (-11)
Liberal Democrats 13% (-1%) winning 427 councillors (-310) and winning control of 6 councils (-2)
UK Independence Party 17% (-5%) winning 166 councillors (+163)
Independents winning 89 seats (+36)
Residents Associations (local alliances of independents similar to the Free Voters in Germany) winning 53 seats (+14)
Green Party winning 38 seats (+18)
Other parties winning 4 seats (-7)
32 councils (+8) now under No Overall Control.
This is a remarkable election result for UKIP, who, for the second year in a row, have made significant gains in the local elections. While the party’s PNV is down from 2013, I am cynical of PNV’s capability to properly measure UKIP as there is no previous record to go on with its support in local elections. This is also a very different set of councils to 2013. 2013 saw elections principally in the County Councils covering rural and small town England. 2014 sees elections predominantly in London and the metropolitan authorities of the North. In that regard UKIP’s success is all the more impressive.
UKIP won a decent number of seats for its strong popular vote, albeit not as many as other parties. UKIP suffers from a highly inefficient voter spread, spread across the country. Its principal demographics of the elderly, the working classes and the low educated rarely cluster together in a way which makes it the largest party, making the UK’s plurality voting systems a significant barrier to its electoral success.
Opponents of UKIP have pointed out that UKIP still does not control a single council. Yet due to the elections by thirds system used in almost every council outside London it is literally impossible to take control of councils. If a party wins every seat up in a council elected by thirds it will only control one third of seats on that council.
UKIP did, however, win the most seats and votes in Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and North East Lincolnshire. These are all depressed areas on the Eastern coast of England, which have recently experienced their first ever waves of immigration. They are white, working class and relatively elderly places. In winning these areas UKIP threw them into No Overall Control. Local politics is likely to be difficult in these areas – largely split between Labour, Conservatives and UKIP. These areas will undoubtedly form key UKIP target seats in 2015.
UKIP also won the most votes (but not the most seats) in Rotherham, an area of South Yorkshire which has been one of the most punished cities by the financial crisis and has one of the worst economies in the UK. UKIP performed well in a by-election there in 2012, winning what was then a record of 21.7% of the vote, due to a scandal hit Labour MP and another scandal regarding social workers removing three non-white children from the care of their foster parents on the basis that they were UKIP members and therefore they had ‘concerns’ about their views.
The party also won the popular vote in Dudley, a suburb of Birmingham.
The party did very well in Essex, the county directly East of London, long associated with the white working class. The party managed to surpass Labour on Basildon council, and now controls 12 seats to 17 for the Conservatives and 10 to Labour. The party took 5 seats from the Conservatives on Castle Point council, and is now looking to form a coalition with Castle Point’s only other party – the Canvey Island Independents Party. The party also threw Southend-on-Sea into NOC, taking 5 seats (though Labour also gained 3 to go to 9 and there is a big Independent group).
Essex is traditionally a very socially conservative white-working-class-done-good area, and ‘Essex Man’ was considered the key component of Margaret Thatcher’s winning coalition. Yet in areas like Rotherham and North East Lincolnshire, it demonstrated a capability to win in core Labour areas.
The exception to the UKIP surge was most noticeably London.
UKIP won 12 councillors in all of London in three boroughs, Bexley, Bromley and Havering. All three of these councils are located in the Eastern outskirts of the city. Bexley and Havering were formerly part of Essex, and Bromley was part of Kent. Havering, where UKIP won 7 seats, is often said to be ‘culturally Essex’, a predominantly white, upper working class area.
By contrast, Labour won its best successes in London. Probably its most vaunted success was taking Hammersmith and Fulham from the Tories. H&F has been nicknamed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and was seen as an austerity success story. It actively cut council tax, when most councils suffered serious budgetary pressures. Yet controversy over a local hospital closure, and local concerns over housing seriously hurt the Conservatives. H&F has historically been viewed as a strongly Conservative area, Fulham, in particularly, is identified with wealthy Conservatives and the borough is in London’s more affluent West. Labour also took control of the South London borough of Croydon from the Conservatives. While the party controlled Croydon between 1994 and 2006 this was actually because of the inequities of plurality voting. 2014 represents the first time Labour has ever won the most votes in Croydon.
Croydon has become more and more ethnically mixed in recent years, aiding Labour’s victory. During the election campaign, UKIP, suffering from accusations of racism, held a carnival in Croydon, hiring a steel drum band. The event was widely seen to be a disaster and ended with Nigel Farage apparently cancelling his planned visit to the carnival as the steel drummers refused to play on realising that it was for UKIP and protesters and UKIP activists hurled abuse at one another. Winston McKenzie, a black UKIP council candidate who attended the event described Croydon as “a dump”.
Labour also took South London’s Merton and North East London’s Redbridge from NOC. This is the first time Labour will have control of Redbridge, which, like Croydon has become more ethnically mixed.
Labour also took back control of Harrow after a damaging internal split which had seen Labour councillors break away and form a coalition with the Conservatives.
Labour narrowly failed to take North West London’s Barnet, where a local programme titled ‘One Barnet’ has run into controversy. One Barnet is an attempt to outsource almost all elements of the council, essentially transforming the council into a commissioner of services rather than a provider of them. Labour won 27 seats to 32 for the Tories and 1 for the Lib Dems.
In its heartlands in London, Labour ran away with the election. Labour once again won every single seat on the East End’s Barking and Dagenham and Newham councils.
In the North West councils of Islington and Haringey the party has long been opposed by the Lib Dems with hardly a Conservative to be seen. This was, in a sense, a battle of two lefts. Labour representing the working class and ethnic minorities and Lib Dems representing the left-liberal bohemian public sector professionals, academics, journalists and media types that live in that region of London. The Lib Dems had controlled Islington between 1998 and 2006 and ran a minority administration until 2010. The Lib Dems have now been totally wiped out on Islington council. Labour’s sole opposition will be a single Green Party councillor.
The Liberal Democrats managed to retain 9 seats on Haringey council however. Haringey has something of a reputation as a poorly run council, but the seats were more likely saved by the association with a strong local MP – Lynne Featherstone, who is currently serving as a junior minister in the Department for International Development. Featherstone is a left-leaning Lib Dem who is known for her local campaigns.
Central London’s Lambeth and Lewisham in South East London also saw their sizeable Lib Dem groups, both serving as official oppositions, totally wiped out. Once again, the Greens benefitted, with the sole opposition member on Lewisham being a Green and Lambeth gaining a single Green councillor to act as the only opposition.
The Greens also won the second largest number of votes in North East London’s Hackney. Hackney, once a synonym for crime, deprivation and poor governance is highly diverse borough which has been utterly transformed in the last 10 years as it has become synonymous was gentrification and London’s ‘hipster’ community of young professional bohemians which is based around the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston areas of the borough. Hackney has benefitted from the leadership of its technocratic Labour mayor, Jules Pipe. Despite coming second in votes (as they did in the other boroughs already mentioned) the Greens failed to win any seats as they came second in almost every ward in the borough, as well as in the mayoral election.
The Green Party has long failed to do well in central London even though it would seem to be a perfect match for the area. This is probably because the Lib Dems, always successful at turning to face whichever direction is electorally convenient, have largely adopted the sort of green liberalism familiar to continental European Green parties. This has obviously been extremely mismatched with their participation in government with the Conservatives, however, causing left-liberals to flee to Labour and the Green Party.
The Green Party will now need to build on its high vote in this election and start targeting seats to build up a local infrastructure, but there is a lot of potential for the party in the North of London in particular, but also in central London and in Lewisham.
The biggest disappointment of the local elections for Labour was perhaps Tower Hamlets, an incredibly diverse borough which is 41.1% Asian (32% of which are Bangladeshi) to 45.2% White and 7.3% Black.
Tower Hamlets politics has long been strained by the importation of a certain style of tribal politics from the Indian subcontinent. The local branch of the Labour Party is under ‘special measures’, a 1980s invention designed to stop entryism by the Trotskyist grouping Militant Tendency. In Tower Hamlets Labour Party’s case special measures was imposed due to what is known in Australia as ‘branch stacking’ whereby members are recruited to a party for factional reasons. In Tower Hamlets selection meetings would often see the arrival of huge numbers of members who the party had never seen before. These members were, in reality, an attempt by Bengali community leaders of two rival factions to literally buy Labour Party selections. The party discovered that in many cases members did not even realise they were members of the party, or in fact admitted to usually voting for another party. The two factions are not ideologically different, in reality this is a battle along tribal lines.
Special measures essentially places the local party under the direct control of the central party, which has imposed its own selection of candidates upon the local party, balancing candidature along ethnic lines to stop any one group from gaining total control. The Labour Party is not the only party that has suffered from this in Tower Hamlets, but as the dominant party in the borough the party has perhaps suffered the most and perhaps has the most meaningful impact.
2005 saw the election of George Galloway, a former Labour MP who had opposed the Iraq War, on his far-left RESPECT ticket in one of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary constituencies. Galloway was accused of whipping up ethnic discord against his predecessor, Oona King, one of Britain’s few black woman MPs. Galloway had been elected almost entirely on votes from the Bengali community. While Galloway lost his seat in 2010, ethnic discord continued to build.
The elected mayoral model was adopted for Tower Hamlets in 2010. The elected mayoral was hoped to bring better governance to Tower Hamlets, which has been afflicted by serious amounts of infighting amongst the dominant Labour group. The elected mayoral model has, in neighbouring Labour dominated boroughs in Newham and Hackney served to unite the Labour group around the mayor.
The regional board decided that, for the mayoral election, the local Labour Party would be allowed to select its own candidate for the mayoralty rather than having one imposed.
The selection was won by Luftur Rahman, a Bengali former council leader who had been repeatedly judged unfit for selection for mayor by regional and national figures. Rahman was viewed as an ethnically divisive figure with low loyalty to the party (he failed to endorse the two Labour candidates for Westminster running in TH in 2010). Rahman had only gone through to selection after a series of legal challenges.
Post-selection other candidates complained of electoral fraud in the process, with evidence that very large numbers of people had voted who had not been resident in the borough. The party thus removed Rahman from the position and put into place Halal Abbas, another Bengali who had come third in the selection.
Rahman subsequently decided to run as an independent candidate. Despite the fact that Rahman had backed the ‘Blairite’ David Miliband for leadership of Labour Rahman received support from the left, gaining the endorsement of RESPECT and George Galloway, and support from left-wing factions of Labour such as the entryist Trotskyists of Socialist Action. Most damagingly, he received support from Ken Livingstone, the maverick former Mayor of London, and the candidate in 2012’s London mayoral race. Livingstone had formerly won the mayoralty as an independent himself after Blair had deemed him an unacceptable candidate in 2000. Livingstone later claimed he had only backed giving a second preference to Rahman.
Rahman won the mayoralty. As mayor of Tower Hamlets he has been deeply controversial. Rahman’s cabinet has been entirely made up of Bengalis. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan accused Rahman of links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, based in the East London mosque, which is itself accused of being a front for radical Islam. He has been accused of misusing public funds, and of consorting with criminals. In March 2014 the BBC documentary series Panorama alleged that the mayor had diverted £3.6m worth of grants to Bangladeshi and Somali community groups in exchange for political support. Tower Hamlets is now the only council in the country which publicly funds faith groups, with most money going to the Muslim community. Panorama also accused TH council of bribing journalists and Rahman of failing to answer questions at council meetings. In response, the Local Government and Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, sent fraud investigators to Tower Hamlets. Both TH and Rahman deny any wrongdoing. All in all, Rahman has been accused of basing his administration in the needs and desires of only one very narrow community.
Tower Hamlets politics has long been stained by accusations of electoral fraud. Fraud within the Labour Party has been covered above, but there are accusations of fraud in the electoral system itself.
Britain’s electoral system is surprisingly open to fraud. The electoral registration system is based upon a system of ‘household registration’ where a ‘head of household’ registers all names living in the house. No unique identifiers are required, and no ID is required at polling stations, it is possible to vote by just giving your name and address.
Since 2003 Britain also has postal voting on demand, an attempt to raise turnout. In 2005 in an electoral fraud case in Birmingham the presiding judge described the postal voting system as one which would disgrace a ‘banana republic’. The system has since been made much more secure, but allegations of fraud continue. Britain is a country which has long run on a culture of trust. In part this has been deserved. Britain has never had a written constitution, in part, because Britain has never truly needed a written constitution. Britain is moving to a system of individual electoral registration by the 2015 general election, and the Electoral Commission has proposed a system of voter ID.
Accusations of postal voting fraud are common in TH, with activists claiming that some houses are registered for far more postal votes than could possibly live in the homes in question.
This year, in response to fraud allegations, police officers were stationed at polling stations in Tower Hamlets. Since 2010 Rahman has formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, and the party was accused of fraud, voter intimidation and of illegally placing election posters in polling stations.
There have actually been very few investigations and arrests for fraud, and some argue that these allegations are overegged by political opponents seeking to delegitimise each other. In truth it is difficult to tell because Britain’s electoral system makes it difficult to detect and prove fraud.
The count in Tower Hamlets took 119 hours to count its ballots. No other council took more than a day to count its ballots. The extra level of security in Tower Hamlets was largely to blame. The count was widely derided as a ‘farce’, and the Electoral Commission is launching an inquiry into the count.
Rahman won 43.4% of the vote in the first round, largely believed to be almost entirely from the Bengali community. John Biggs, his Labour opponent, won 32.8% of the vote. In the second round Biggs won 6,500 second preferences compared to just 856 for Rahman, with Conservative and Lib Dem support flowing behind Biggs. However, despite receiving 88.4% of second preferences Biggs still lost to Rahman in the second round. Notably, 12,696 of the votes not cast for Rahman and Biggs in the first round did not contain a valid second preference, demonstrating the problems of the Supplementary Vote system.
Additionally, Labour lost control of TH council, winning just 20 seats to 18 for Tower Hamlets First and with 4 for the Conservatives. 3 seats lay vacant as in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward the election was delayed due to the sad death of a THF candidate the day before the election. Hence there will be a by-election for these seats. It is likely that the Conservatives will team up with Labour during the next four years in an attempt to weaken Rahman as much as possible. Tower Hamlet’s divisive, ethnically polarised politics are likely to continue however.
Labour’s success in London extended to the London commuter belt, to cities and towns such as Reading, Basingstoke, Crawley and Milton Keynes.
The Conservatives perform better in the outer ring of London and in the West. The party’s strongest result was in Kensington and Chelsea, a central London borough synonymous with wealth, today known as the home of Russian oligarchs who treat London as their personal playground. The Conservatives held a reduced majority in Wandsworth in South London, well known as the council in the UK with the lowest council tax due to a long history of radical conservative rule. As mentioned above they barely held North London’s Barnet.
The party’s biggest success of the night was taking Kingston upon Thames council from the Liberal Democrats, a suburban council on the outskirts of South West London. The Lib Dems had ruled the council for 12 years, and rule of the council was largely perceived to have become dysfunctional. Last year the council leader stepped down after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. The council was also criticised for having the highest council tax in London. The Lib Dems cannot just blame the national swing here, therefore.
The Conservatives broadly performed well with the exception of Havering on London’s East end extreme. Formerly part of Essex, Havering has a skilled working class, white and socially conservative area of the type Margaret Thatcher won for the party. Internal turmoil over selections within the Conservative group had seen defections to UKIP and to independents on the council and the local Residents Association, one of the few in London, won 24 councillors, gaining 12, largely from the Tories. UKIP also won 7 councillors, surpassing Labour who actually lost councillors, going from 4 to 1 as the Residents Association and UKIP tsunami weakened them. It is likely that the Residents Assocation will take minority control, switching between Conservative and UKIP support for their proposals.
The Lib Dems were wiped out from large parts of central London, and, as mentioned above, lost Kingston. In the incredibly wealthy suburban borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in South London, where the party has traditionally been very strong, the Lib Dems lost 9 seats to the Conservatives.
However, the party did hold the last of its suburban South West London strongholds, Sutton, even increasing its seats by 2, though they lost votes, due to the effects of the bloc voting system.
Elsewhere in the UK the Lib Dems generally suffered in areas where they lacked council control or a MP. The traditional Lib Dem strategy of highly localist campaigns has allowed it to keep a hold in areas of strength. Incumbent MPs often remain popular in their areas, with popular incumbents providing a visible presence that is not Nick Clegg.
In addition to Kingston, the Lib Dems also lost control of Portsmouth city council. Portsmouth is a major naval city and port in the Southern coast. As with Kingston there had been local causes. The Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, was suspended from the party in January. Hancock also served as a councillor and was the only MP in Britain to simultaneously serve as part of his council’s cabinet. Hancock had long been a controversial MP, with a reputation as a womaniser and activist on behalf of the Russian government, had been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting constituents. Hancock’s suspension from the party was strongly opposed by the local party. He was suspended as a councillor and became an independent but the local party essentially formed a coalition with him so that he could remain part of the council cabinet before being booted out by the national party.
Hancock ran as an independent for the council this year. The local Lib Dems ran no candidate in opposition to him de facto supporting his candidature. Hancock’s bid for re-election failed, however, as he was defeated by UKIP. The Lib Dems had broadly maintained their strength in 2011 and 2012 in Portsmouth, but in response to the local scandal the party was dealt a massive blow. The party lost 5 seats and lost control of the council to No Overall Control. While the party remains the largest on the council with 19 seats to 12 for the Conservatives, 6 for UKIP (all newly elected), 4 for Labour and 1 Independent it appears that they will lose control of the council as Labour and UKIP, disgusted with the local Lib Dem group, are preparing to support a minority Conservative cabinet.
The Lib Dems held up well with their areas with MPs, outside London. For instance, winning the most votes in the Sheffield Hallam part of Sheffield, held by the party leader, Nick Clegg. The party regained a seat lost to an independent defection in Eastleigh, its stronghold. The party lost only one seat in South Lakeland, its other stronghold, where Tim Farron, the party president widely believed to be a future leadership contender has his seat. However there were exceptions, such as left-leaning, student city Cambridge, and the party was reduced to only 3 seats in Norwich where it holds the more Southern of the 2 constituencies.
The party was wiped out in Metropolitan boroughs. Manchester Withington MP John Leech, elected in 2005 on a student and anti-war vote can pretty much write off his chances of holding his seat in 2015 as there is not a single Lib Dem left on Manchester City Council.
The Conservatives held up well throughout that part of England outside London, whereas Labour performed badly. In the key Labour target of the South Western town of Swindon, for instance, the Tories actually increased their majority from 1 to 2 as they took a seat from Labour. Embarrassingly for Labour, Ed Miliband was asked about the party’s leader on the council he revealed that he didn’t know who he was and then assumed he was already council leader.
Labour performed well in the Metropolitan boroughs. They now hold every single seat on Manchester City Council, bar one, held by an independent who has defected from Labour. ‘Half an opposition councillor’ as some have joked.
The Greens also performed well in the Mets. They won the second largest number of votes in Manchester and with 4 seats are now the opposition in Liverpool. They increased their seats to six in the unitary council of Bristol, and to 9 in Solihull, an affluent suburb of Birmingham, making them the joint second largest party with the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt is another MP likely to lose her seat (her majority is a razor thin 175).
The only other Conservative held Met is Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where they continue to hold a majority of 3. The Mets, are, however, Labour strongholds anyway, with the exceptions of Trafford and Solihull. It does not help Labour to make gains in Liverpool, where it currently holds all six of the MPs, the elected mayoralty and an overwhelming majority on the council.
Fans of maps should see the interactive one of London local election results in 2014, 2010 and 2006 here.
European Election Results
UKIP (EFD) 27.5% (+11.0%) winning 24 seats (+11)
Labour (S&D) 25.4% (+9.7%) winning 20 seats (+7)
Conservatives (ECR) 23.9% (-3.8%) winning 19 seats (-7)
Green Party (G-EFA) 7.9% (-0.8%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Liberal Democrats (ALDE) 6.9% (-6.9%) winning 1 seat (-10)
Scottish National Party (G-EFA) 2.5% (+0.3%) winning 2 seats (NC)
Plaid Cymru (G-EFA) 0.7% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (NC)
An Independence from Europe 1.5% (-) winning 0 seats (-)
British National Party (NI) 1.1% (-5.1%) winning 0 seats (-2)
The 2014 European Parliament election provided a huge success to UKIP, who became the first party to win a national election in the UK besides the Labour and the Conservatives since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s. For the first time, the Conservatives were pushed into third in a national election.
Regionally UKIP topped the poll in in the East Midlands, the East of England, South East England, South West England, the West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.
Labour topped the poll in London, North West and North East England, Scotland and Wales, its strongest regions.
UKIP’s strongest regions are the heavily Eurosceptic regions of the South West, South East and East, but the party gained strongly in the North of England, as a result of the party’s increasing inroads amongst Labour voters. The party’s biggest gains were in Wales (+17.1%) the North East (+17.0%), Yorkshire and Humber (+16.8), and the North West (+15.8%) all strongly Labour regions and it came second in North East England (by 7.3%), North West England (by 6.3%) and Wales (by an incredibly narrow 1.6% in the supposedly one party state.)
The exceptions to UKIP’s big gains were Scotland (where it gained just 3.8%) and London (where it gained just 4.6%). It also showed a weaker rise in the East Midlands (+6.8%) and the South West of England (+12.6%) largely because these areas were ‘early adopters’ of UKIP.
In Scotland UKIP succeeded in electing a MEP for the very first time, sending shockwaves through progressive opinion north of the border which had long claimed that Scotland was immune to UKIP. Nonetheless, UKIP only gained a single seat. David Coburn, the party’s new Scottish MEP is already a controversial figure in Scotland due to his being the London regional chair, with the widespread perception that he was ‘parachuted in’ into a divided Scottish party branch against its will.
Since being elected Coburn’s views on gay marriage (he is opposed, despite being gay himself) and on Scottish Independence (in the event of a yes vote he wants to hold another referendum to try and reverse the decision after the 2015 election) have also been controversial.
UKIP’s appeal in Scotland has been blunted by its English nationalism and the presence of the SNP as an alternative anti-establishment, nationalist (albeit left-wing nationalist) party.
The SNP had been aiming for a third seat, and its coming second to Labour is something of a blow to the party pre-referendum. Yet we should remember the low turnout and that Labour is both in opposition in the UK and Scottish parliaments to the SNP.
London was also an outlier from the UK wide trend. As in the local elections, Labour tore through London, winning half of London’s MEPs, 4, (an increase of 2) on 36.7% of the vote. UKIP managed only 16.9% of the vote and 1 seat, the only region of the country where it came third.
During the local elections count, UKIP’s communities spokeswoman commented that London was not good for UKIP because it is ‘young, cultured and educated’, leading to guffaws from UKIP’s opponents who derided her as saying that UKIP was the party of the old, the stupid and the backwards.
Yet, there is an element of truth to this. UKIP’s support is most strong amongst white, elderly, poorly educated voters. Multicultural, youthful, highly educated London is indeed bad ground for the party.
Labour’s performance around the rest of Britain was poorer, however, whereas the Conservative vote held up well. With Scotland and London removed, the Conservatives would have beaten Labour. This exposes the weak position Labour is now in less than a year from a general election.
The Greens fell back slightly, but increased their seats by 1 partially due to a Lib Dem collapse, winning an extra seat in the South West to go with their seat in the South East (where their stronghold of Brighton is and where there are the most seats and the lowest effective threshold) and in London. The Greens may perhaps have had only 1 seat had it not been for ‘An Independence from Europe’. AIE is a breakaway party from UKIP formed by former UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass who was deselected by UKIP. The party appears to have acted as a spoiler on UKIP, with it going to the top of the ballot as Britain’s ballots are alphabetically ordered (hence UKIP was near the bottom), winning on average 2% of the vote in the regions it stood in (it missed Wales and Scotland). We can assume that the vast majority of AIE voters would have voted UKIP had the party not existed. As such UKIP would have taken the Green seats in London and the South West.
The Lib Dems lost 10 seats, reduced to only a single MEP, Catherine Bearder, elected in the South East, which has the lowest effective threshold. In fairness to the party they always perform badly in European elections where the party’s pro-Europeanism is unpopular and where elected representatives are too distant to use the Lib Dems usual tactics of building a popular local representative. The regional system also means that in many regions the party had won one of the last seats in 2009, just clearing the effective threshold for representation. With the party’s collapse, the party fell below the effective thresholds and lost seats almost everywhere, including influential MEPs such as former ALDE leader Graham Watson in the South West, and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and key Tory defector Edward McMillan-Scott.
Excellent maps of the European election result can be found on the Election-Data blog here.
Overall, the elections expose a new division in the UK, between London and the rest of the country. Labour’s strength in London exposes an increasing divide between it and the rest of England. This is apparent in public opinion data. For instance, on immigration most of the country very much favours more stringent immigration policy, but London tends to slightly favour immigration. Labour policies on the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ predominantly appeal in London where prices are highest. For instance, rent controls have little resonance in rural areas and small towns where rents are relatively low and home ownership is more typically the norm. Labour’s London strength is also because it is younger and multicultural. We can also see the Greens beginning to break through in London.
Labour also has its best machines in London, with estimates suggesting that a quarter of Labour’s membership resides in the capital. Labour has become a party of urban England, but a majority is unlikely to be won on London and Northern cities alone.
UKIP poses the party a big threat in smaller towns. The elections have put paid to the often touted lie that UKIP’s voters are universally former Conservative voters disenchanted with the coalition. UKIP is the representative of a vast social shift in Britain. The party won more votes, but also has a much loyal base. While the party’s European result includes a large number of ‘strategic defectors’ using the EP elections to say ‘no three times’ – to Westminster, to immigration and to Brussels, there are less than in previous years. Polls suggest that around 60% of UKIP’s voters will support it at the general election.
The Conservatives are broadly happy with their performance. The party lost to Labour in both elections, but only thinly by a few points. Polls also suggest it is only slightly behind Labour. This is a year before a general election. Typically the last year before an election sees movement towards the governing party. Economic confidence is quickly rising as the recovery is under way. The party will aim to put a squeeze on UKIP voters, who tend to prefer Cameron as Prime Minister to Ed Miliband and who may be persuadable to voting Conservative strategically to stop Miliband becoming PM.
Yet the party retains significant weaknesses amongst key voting demographics and in key regions of the country.
The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing result. Yet, in the results is a glimmer of hope that it will outperform its national swing in 2015, holding the majority of its seats.
Nonetheless, the party experienced an attempted coup against Nick Clegg on beginning the weekend after the election. A shadowy group called ‘LibDems4Change’ launched an e-petition calling for a leadership contest, and on the Sunday an unnamed Lib Dem leaked a poll to The Observer newspaper supposedly demonstrating that key seats were in danger of being lost unless Nick Clegg was replaced by the more left-leaning Business Secretary Vince Cable. On being released publically it was demonstrated that the poll had methodological issues (a debunking by the pollster Survation can be read here which shows that under ICM’s usual methodology the seats would have been held.)
The poll was later revealed to have been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman from the early days of the Treasury who is known to be one of Cable’s closest friends. Cable rapidly distanced himself from Oakeshott, and Oakeshott resigned from the party and took a leave of absence from the Lords. Oakeshott’s coup attempt was widely viewed as incompetent and in a sense it may have strengthened Clegg by acting as a lightning rod for discontent before being defeated.
This is the last test of British public opinion before the 2015 general election, and the Scottish Independence referendum this September.
However, there is a by-election this Thursday, in the Conservative safe seat of Newark. UKIP is polling well.
General elections for the President, the National Assembly and local government were held in Malawi on May 20, 2013. The President, who is head of state and government, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once, by FPTP. The 194 members of the National Assembly are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies.
Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 170th out of 187 countries on the HDI index, just above Sudan and Zimbabwe; it has one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the world; and about 90% of the population survives on less than 2% per day. Although it is a fairly small country by land area, Malawi has a largely rural and very young population of 16.4 million.
Malawi is a ‘partly free’ country according to Freedom House’s 2014 report and a ‘flawed democracy’ according to The Economist, ranking close to Senegal and a bit above Ghana. Malawi is an electoral democracy, political pluralism is respected, most institutions function with an acceptable degree of independence from government, civil liberties and press freedom is usually respected. However, corruption, police brutality and discrimination against women and LGBT are major issues.
Malawi, formerly known as Nyasaland, gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. After having been directly ruled by the Colonial Office, Nyasaland was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, as the smallest component alongside Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Nyasaland had the smallest white population of the three entities, while its rapidly-growing African population was nearly as that in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Federation was strongly opposed by African nationalists, while the ‘Winds of Change’ provided a further impetus for the breakup of the Federation in 1963, and decolonization under majority rule. In 1961, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), led by foreign-educated Hastings Banda, swept elections to the colony’s legislative council. In July 1964, Malawi formally gained independence, and two years later it became a Republic outside the Commonwealth. Hastings Banda quickly consolidated power in his hands, sidelining rival cabinet ministers in 1964 and formally establishing a single-party (MCP) dictatorship in the 1966 constitution. In 1971, Banda was proclaimed as President-for-Life. Banda held total power over the entire government, and filled the National Assembly with hand-picked candidates as he saw fit.
In Malawi, Banda imposed a rigid and repressive authoritarian regime which imposed strict conservative dress codes, instilled a cult of personality in the president, censored all forms of media and literature, brutally and bloodily cracked down on any kind of opposition. The MCP’s youth wing, the Young Pioneers, acted as a paramilitary force which created a climate of fear in the country. Economically, the government handled the development of the economy, but economic development was characterized and undermined by severe corruption, favouritism and nepotism by government-controlled parastatals. Diplomatically, Banda, an Anglophile who disliked speaking his native tongue (Chichewa) followed a controversial foreign policy. He was widely seen as one of apartheid South Africa’s strongest black ally in southern Africa, because the Malawian government recognized and established diplomatic relations with South Africa. He also had ties with the Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique and opposed FRELIMO, although during the Mozambican civil war, Banda provided support to both the FRELIMO government and the guerrillas.
In 1993, bowing to foreign and domestic pressure, Banda allowed for a referendum on the introduction of multi-party democracy. The option for multi-party democracy triumphed with 64.7% of the vote. One year later, free elections held in May 1994 saw Banda’s defeat at the hands of Bakili Muluzi, the candidate of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), who won 47% against 33% for Banda. Muluzi’s term of office (1994-2004) saw greater civil and political freedoms, but it was marred by the government’s catastrophic handling of a famine in 2002, Muluzi’s attempts to get around the constitutional two-term limit and significant allegations of corruption which he personally benefited from. Nevertheless, in the 2004 elections, Muluzi managed to get his little-known handpicked successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, elected to the presidency although the MCP took a plurality of seats in the legislature.
Mutharika turned out to be more than a puppet, and quickly clashed with his predecessor, who remained the leader of the UDF. Within a year, Mutharika set up his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and had cut off Mulezi, who was promptly investigated on corruption-related charges unresolved to this day. Mutharika’s first term in office saw the country enjoy strong economic growth and his agricultural policy, although expensive, benefited poorer farmers. In 2009, Mutharika was reelected to a second term, winning 66% against 31% for John Tembo, a former close collaborator of Hastings Banda who was backed by the MCP and Muluzi’s UDF (Muluzi endorsed the MCP after he failed to receive clearance to run himself). Mutharika’s DPP won a parliamentary majority, with the MCP and UDF winning less seats than independent candidates put together.
Mutharika’s second term quickly took a turn for the worse. In 2010, Mutharika picked a fight with his Vice President, Joyce Banda, and tried to dismiss her from office (which is unconstitutional), allegedly to make way for his brother and anointed successor, Peter Mutharika. Banda refused to resign and was later expelled from the DPP, and create her own party, the People’s Party (PP). Mutharika’s government grew increasingly autocratic, corrupt and repressive and the country was set to descent into a spiral of corruption, nepotism, economic mismanagement and diplomatic isolation. Relations with the UK were strained after the publication of a British diplomatic cable which lamented that Mutharika was increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism. The economy, which had been Mutharika’s strong suit in the first term, took a turn for the worse because of inflation and fuel shortages. Public protests in July 2011 killed 19 people after the police shot at unarmed demonstrators. In the fall, as the President shuffled his cabinet to include his wife and brother, international donors suspended all aid and projects in Malawi. In March 2012, the President threatened journalists or organizations critical of him with arrest or fines. In April 2012, however, Mutharika died suddenly of a heart attack.
According to the constitution, Banda was his legal successor, but the DPP tried everything they could to stop or delay the handover of power, in a bid to install Mutharika’s brother instead. However, lacking support from the army, judiciary, civil society and the international community, Banda was formally sworn in as President.
Banda’s presidency received international support, and international donors returned to Malawi. She made tackling waste and corruption one of the key issues in her government, repealed restrictive media laws passed by her predecessor, restored academic freedom, respected freedom of assembly and she suspended application of Malawi’s controversial laws which ban homosexual activities. She implemented reforms demanded by the IMF, devaluing the currency by 49%, and in exchange the IMF restored a $157 million loan to Malawi, which relies on foreign donors for about 40% of its budget. The devaluation led to major inflation and popular unrest against skyrocketing prices. In October 2013, Banda’s standing ahead of this year’s election was damaged by the revelation that $250 million had been stolen from the government by mid-level officials and civil servants. Foreign donors, losing confidence in the government, withheld portions of a quarterly aid package. Banda faced protests and demands for her resignation, but she instead fired and later re-appointed her cabinet, although she fired two ministers held responsible for the scandal (and the justice minister was later arrested for the murder of a finance department official who had investigated corruption in the government). The opposition parties accused of her complicity in theft, while she later said the revelation of the scandal was ‘her greatest achievement’ because she told ‘bold’ actions afterwards and said that she had turned the economy around.
Candidates and results
Joyce Banda ran for reelection as the candidate of her People’s Party (PP), which she founded upon her 2010 expulsion from the DPP. The DPP nominated Peter Mutharika, the brother of the late President who had served as his brother’s foreign minister from 2011 to 2012. Mutharika remains controversial for his role in the 2011-2012 crackdown on demonstrators and an academic freedom standoff with a university lecturer (questioned by police and later fired) who linked Malawian grievances to the Arab Spring. In 2013, Mutharika and 11 other officials were arrested and charged with treason for their role in the aftermath of Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in April 2012, where they allegedly plotted to unconstitutionally take power. Released on bail, the defendants pleaded not guilty at a preliminary trial hearing in November 2013. The UDF nominated Atupele Muluzi, the son of former President Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi had served in Banda’s cabinet, after having been a vocal opponent of Mutharika’s government. The MCP nominated its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, a conservative evangelical pastor; he is the first MCP presidential candidate who has no history of involvement or working with former dictator Hastings Banda.
Voting took place on May 20, with some hiccups and areas delayed for up to two days; the elections were ruled to be generally free and fair despite many problems. Initial results made it clear that Banda would not win reelection, a prospect which she didn’t accept gracefully at first. Banda initially claimed, outlandishly, that the opposition had rigged the election. The electoral commission made it clear that they would not be rushed to release results. On May 24, Banda scrapped the elections and ordered a re-vote within 90 days, in which she would not take part. However, the High Court injuncted the electoral commission against following the order and the army sided with the electoral process over Banda. The electoral commission then decided to recount all the votes, giving themselves 30 days to do so. Two separate injunctions were issued to bar the electoral commission from holding a recount. It became a terrible mess as the commission itself was divided on the path to follow, and agreed with the DPP to limit the scope of the recount to problem areas. On May 30, the High Court ruled that one of the injunctions was invalid, but at the same time it ruled that the time to conduct the recounts has expired. The electoral commission said that they felt that they couldn’t release results, due to obvious anomalies in the data, but decided to abide by court orders. The MCP is set to challenge the results in court. On May 31, the electoral commission announced that Peter Mutharika was the president-elect. Joyce Banda congratulated him and conceded defeat.
Turnout was 70.8%
Peter Mutharika (DPP) 36.4%
Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) 27.8%
Joyce Banda (PP) 20.2%
Atupele Muluzi (UDF) 13.7%
Parliamentary results have yet to be released, but initial indications showed that the MCP would win a plurality with about 67 seats against 44 for the DPP, 35 for the UDF, 12 for Banda’s PP and 24 independents. With defections from independents and the PP, it is possible that the President-elect’s DPP will manage to built itself a legislative majority.
With the electoral kerfuffle now over, Mutharika takes the reins of power under the shadow of a treason charge. It is unclear what he intends to do as President, besides vague promises for bottom-up economics to reduce poverty. He may choose to turn the tables on his predecessor, who did everything she could to prevent her enemy from being elected. Having claimed that the millions stolen from government coffers were used to fund the PP’s election campaign, she may be the one who faces corruption charges courtesy of the new President. Meanwhile, since he now enjoys immunity from prosecution, the charges against him will likely be dismissed.
Banda did not expect such a humiliating defeat, placing third in the results. It was unclear how well she would do in the election, although some said that she was the candidate to beat in the race. Banda was likely hurt by the corruption scandal and unpopular austerity policies she put in place to comply with IMF demands, and perhaps by the weak local bases of her party. If regional results are released, they will shed further light on what her electoral base was, and may tell us why she lost.
Traditionally, Malawian elections have been divided along ethnic lines, similar to elections in other African countries. Alliances between parties, such as the MCP-UDF alliance in 2009, aim to merge two parties’ regional bases of support. The Mutharika family is from the southern district of Thyolo, where his brother received 91% of the vote in the 2009 election. Joyce Banda was born in Zomba district, which is also in the south; the Muluzi family is from Machinga district, a largely Muslim Yao (Muluzi is Muslim) district south of Lake Malawi, Muluzi won over 90% of the vote there in 1994 and 1999 and the MCP-UDF alliance took 60% of the vote against Mutharika in the 2009 presidential election. The MCP’s traditional strongholds are in central Malawi, including the very populated area around the political capital of Lilongwe. Central Malawi is the birthplace of most MCP leaders, including Hastings Banda and John Tembo. The region voted against democracy in the 1993 referendum and has backed MCP candidates with strong margins in all elections since then, although in 2009, Mutharika won Hastings Banda’s native district and drew strong results (30-54%) in most central Malawian districts. The north, sparsely populated, has tended to back its local candidates when they were in the race, but in the absence thereof, they have tended to support non-MCP candidates – Mutharika received over 90% in the northern districts in 2009 and it had overwhelmingly voted for democracy in 1993.
Posts on the results of the European elections in the 28 member-states will follow