The election success of the far-right British National Party (BNP) does not signal a major shift to the right in UK politics, according to former British Labour MEP Richard Corbett, who lost his seat to the BNP in last weekend’s European election.
Finishing third behind the Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the elections to the EU assembly, the Labour party’s poor performance has piled more pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s leadership.
One notable feature of the election results was the strong performance of right-wing parties in the UK. In the Yorkshire and Humber constituency where Corbett lost his seat, the far-right BNP celebrated the election of the party’s first ever MEP.
Corbett noted that the BNP had actually only increased its vote “in absolute terms” by about 1% due to low turnout. This gave a greater weight to the BNP vote, whose supporters were more consistent in going to the polls. As a consequence, the BNP’s electoral success owed more to the “decline” in the Labour vote than a “big surge” in support for the far-right party, Corbett said.
Labour’s failure, and the success of small parties, has more to do with the recent Westminster expenses scandal than European issues, argued Corbett. The former MEP reported that the expenses scandal was the issue that voters had wanted to talk about “on the doorsteps,” noting widespread interest in the scandal.
He expressed regret that this issue, which related “to a completely different parliament”, took the focus away from European issues at election time. It was in the news “day-in, day-out,” he added, suggesting that if the campaign had focused on European rather than national issues, he would have done “much better”.
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