Greens, Change UK misunderstand how Euro elections work as they reject calls for cooperation

One of the perils of political activism, or indeed sports team support, is the readiness with which you can slip into thinking that those outside your tribe are stupid.

It’s something I try to guard against – and one of the reasons, for example, I’m such a fan of the Not Enough Champagne podcast. It has just the right mix of ‘yes, of course, I agree with that and ‘no way! that’s completely wrong’ to help keep Lib Dems out of their comfort zones.

But oh my, it’s hard to keep to those good intentions when faced with these explanations from other parties for rebuffing Lib Dem moves towards some sort of united pro-Remain front for the European elections:

Change UK reject Euro election cooperation
Green Party rejects Euro election cooperation

The short version of how the European Parliament elections work in England, Scotland and Wales is that they use list PR with the d’Hondt system. Voters get to put one cross on the ballot paper against a party. There is no recording of different preferences.

The allocation of seats isn’t perfectly proportional, and in fact can’t be. For example, in Wales there are four seats so a party that polls, say, 17% either has to be under-represented (with 0 seats) or over represented (with 1 seat, i.e. 25% of the seats). D’Hondt works out which of these it is.

The point for inter-party cooperation, therefore, is that it means parties can run up lots of votes and still not get seats – or not win an extra seat.  Vote splitting amongst different parties increases the odds that those votes won’t turn into seats.

I’m usually a sceptic about formal party pacts over not putting up candidates – as the track-record of inter-party cooperation is that there are more effective ways of doing it. That said, in these European elections there is a real risk that the absence of such arrangements, formal or informal, will result in fewer Remain MEPs being elected and a weaker outcome for the Remain cause.

11 responses to “Greens, Change UK misunderstand how Euro elections work as they reject calls for cooperation”

  1. The Brexit party may well take votes from Leavers in the Conservative and Labour parties.
    There is no equivalent Remain party to accumulate votes from Remainers in other parties.
    It would not stop parties from producing party lists but would concentrate the Remainers.
    Tribal attitudes are going to fragment the Remain vote and let Brexit win a lot of seats.
    Farage has chosen his moment well to launch a base for all those disappointed Brexiteers.

  2. Ye gods, no wonder we (the UK) are in such a mess, our politicians really are numpties of the first order

  3. I agree it is possible that the Remain vote will be split, and I hope the same happens to the hard Brexit support of UKIP/Farage’s new vehicle.

    It is more extreme in Scotland, where we have LibDems, the SNP, Green and, probably, the new ChUK.

    I hope that analysis of the results focuses on the total Remain vote rather than individual seats won!

  4. You actually, Mark, exaggerate, quite massively actually, your argument by choosing in Wales the (second) smallest region. You might also as you point out but don’t make clear remain under-represented in a region. Plaid got 1 seat in Wales on 15%, Labour also got 1 on 28%. Suppose Plaid was in alliance with a party that got 13% – the combined list would still have got 1 seat.

    Clearly the bigger the region the easier it is to divide up the seats more closely to proportionality and you do need a certain threshold depending on how many votes are “wasted” to get at least one MEP elected. With the current opinion polls – Lib Dems and the Green each on 10% and Change UK on 4%, it is likely that the Lib Dems and Greens will each get roughly 6 each and Change none. For the Lib Dems and the Greens this is roughly proportional (7.3 would be), obviously for Change it isn’t but it is not clear that combining their votes with the Green and Lib Dems would increase the total number of MEPs elected.

    Interestingly if Labour do not back a second referendum in their manifesto, we go up to a three way tie with Labour and the Tories on 15% apiece with Greens and Change staying roughly where they are.

    I think there are two aspects where a joint list MIGHT have been useful. Firstly it looks as if the Brexit Party might get the largest number of votes and the media might say that it “won” the election although 70% will not have voted for them and this will need some serious spinning to counter this. And it MIGHT be that a bandwagon could have got behind a combined People’s Vote list asking people to back it to get it to top the polls. But as you point out there might have been some internecine inter-party squabbles on how to order the lists etc. which might have put people off. And it MIGHT also be that it would have turned off some voters that are supporters of the individual parties and have led to a lower combined vote.

    Unfortunately though Change UK were not playing ball – although they say they favour a new politics of co-operation!

    • Michael – I picked Wales as the maths is nice and clear (1 in 4, etc.). As you say, the exact figures vary across the different regions – though the overall point that with d’Hondt there’s still scope for ‘wasted votes’ is the important one and holds for all the regions/countries.

      • The argument looks more persuasive if you pick a small region. The point is if Plaid had gone into alliance with another small party those votes still would have been wasted.

        The bigger the region the easier it is to divide up seats proportionally. It is though very difficult to say whether an alliance would have led to any more MEPs elected combined in 2019.

        You would also have had the problem of ordering the closed list. Suppose the Lib Dems and Change UK had gone into alliance. Suppose Change was top of the list in the South East and Lib Dems top in London. The list wins enough to get one MEP in the South East but just not enough in London. The Lib Dems miss out on having an MEP.

        There are a number of scenarios where it is of benefit. Firstly you need to have a rough idea of the strength of the individual parties and in the different regions. But at the moment it is a very fluid situation with Change UK a very unknown quantity.

        I am not an expert on the French system having spent 5 minutes looking at it but I believe they have pretty much the same system for electing MEPs. They have more tradition of pacts between parties because of their systems in other elections and a more fluid party system. But looking at it on Wikipedia those that have formed pacts for the Euro elections form two classes. A very small party with a big one. The small party would get one MEP elected in one region that they wouldn’t otherwise, the bigger more votes in other regions. The other is an alliance of several parties such as the Left Front, a pact of three parties who get about 5% each and get over the de facto threshold by combining.

        Clearly there is a possibility that the Greens, Change UK and the Lib Dems could get around 7%-9% each and get say 5 MEPs between them which would be a very poor return proportionally. And this is quite a real fear on the current polls but I actually think it unlikely (I don’t think that will be the percentages and I think it will lead to more MEPs if it does).

  5. the biggest rogue in our system is the interference of the media backed with their spurious polls which always tell the ‘story’ that their clients asks of them.
    The reason that the Liberal Democrats are not bursting forth on a winning streak is because the media have studiously ignored us.
    The reason that Farridge is doing so well is that he is constantly being reported.
    And, as for your original point, Mark, yes, people who vote leave and vote for Farridge are stupid/selfish/myopic lemmings.
    When we are over the cliff they will be looking round for someone to blame, and Gove and BJ will be long gone. That is when we need to take the opportunity to overhaul our constitution, and establish a democracy in place of this dog’s breakfast of a system we currently have..

  6. Mark, You are spot on as yesterday’s front page headline “Farage Party set to win European election” shows. The last March in London saw over a million people unite to travel miles in many case and marrch for Europe. My small Wiltshire town saw 20 people there – Lib Dems, Greens and many progressive people of no political affiliation Several have since asked me why are you, the Greens and Change UK not standing together in these elections as you did on that march? If we are to win the battle for Europe then unity is paramount. D’Hondt was picked to protect the “two party” system when PR had been agreed by Blair. Little did Labour know that UKIP/Brexit would be one of the two. They show that a clear message offers the chance to beat the system. Well done to Vince for proposing that clear symbolic message of People’s Vote unity and so foolish of others to reject it. So now we will all spend time, effort and money fighting each other and arguing how our fragmented vote should be viewed when together we would almost certainly have beaten Farage’s outfit.

  7. I’m noticing a general issue with the campaign that LD seems to be focused on criticism of other “remain” parties than trying to build a positive argument why they should have my vote rather than parties with sitting MEPs (Labour and Green here on London)

    • The first reason is Labour are NOT a remain party – its stated policy is to leave the EU but as part of a customs union.

      The second is that according to the most recent Opinium poll, the Lib Dems are leading the Greens and Change UK on voting intention for the European Parliament in London with more than double the Green vote and with Labour down 15%. The Lib Dems have also recently had some very strong local election results in the capital. Going from 10% to 41% in Lambeth recently and coming within a whisker of beating Labour and had a strong showing in the Lewisham East by-election last year.

      I think (and hope!) that it will be a positive campaign by the Lib Dems in the Euros and indeed by all the Remain parties.

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