How Remain can win the EU elections

The EU elections are coming up on Thursday 23 May, and a lot of Remainers seem to be feeling dejected. The current polling has Nigel Farage’s Brexit party doing really well at 28% of the vote, and the LibDems, TIG, and the Greens splitting the Remain vote. Under these circumstances, it seems unfair to view the EU elections as a pseudo-referendum on Brexit, but there’s no doubt that people will do exactly that. But how the hell can Remain have any sort of impact on the vote given that the deck is stacked against us?

Well, good news first: The numbers are actually on our side.

The last EU elections were held in 2014, and the turnout was risible: 16,545,762 people, or just 35.6% of the electorate. Compare this to the Remain vote in the EU referendum, which was 16,141,241, just 404,521 fewer people than the entire turnout in 2014.

Looking at the results of the 2014 EU elections, a quick count of parties that are now explicitly or implicitly (ie Labour) pro-Brexit shows that there were about 13 million people willing to vote for parties that now support leaving the EU, and about 3 million people for Remain. Basically, the anti-EU parties have always been really, really good at getting out their vote.

But there are now a lot of Remain voters who are energised and passionate about the EU, and we need all of them to get out and vote, so every one of the 16.1 million who voted for Remain in the EU referendum, everyone who’s come of age since 2016, everyone who signed the Revoke petition, everyone who went on the People’s Vote March. Everyone who cares about our future needs to make sure they are registered, make sure they know where your polling station is, and get out and vote.

Traditionally, we British haven’t given a fuck about the EU elections, but this election is one of the most important of our time. We must show the EU that we value it, and that means getting out and voting en masse. We have the numbers, we can really do this.

If we don’t, then it’s not going to be good for the Remain parties. I have heard a lot of people saying something along the lines on “the Remain vote can’t be split because EU elections have proportional representation”. But that’s not really true.

The EU election in the UK, except for Northern Ireland, is run using the d’Hondt System, which is like the bastard child of First Past The Post and Single Transferrable Vote. Northern Ireland actually has STV.

Under d’Hondt, each party puts forward a list of candidates in order of preference, and each voter votes for a single party’s list. The party with the most votes gets the first seat, which goes to the first candidate on their list. Their votes are then divided by the number of seats they’ve got plus one, in this case two. The party that then has the highest number of votes gets the next seat, and that goes to that party’s first candidate (or the first party’s second candidate).

The UK is split into regions with varying numbers of candidates, from 3 to 10:

East Midlands: 5
East of England: 7
London: 8
North East England: 3
North West England: 8
South East England: 10
South West England: 6
West Midlands: 7
Yorkshire and the Humber: 6
Wales: 4
Scotland: 6
Northern Ireland: 3

So if you’re in a region with only 3 seats, then your party is going to need to get a lot of votes in order to win a seat.

Let’s illustrate this with the latest polling date from YouGov, which won’t provide an accurate picture of the eventual vote because it won’t take regional variations into account, nor will it take smaller parties into account either. But, still, it will illustrate the impact of a split Remain vote.

So, the full list of voting intention percentages is:

Conservative: 13%
Labour: 22%
Liberal Democrats: 7%
UKIP: 5%
Green: 10%
Change UK TIG: 10%
Brexit: 28%
Other: 1%

And under the d’Hondt system, the seats won from this would shake out as:

Conservative: 10
Labour: 22
Liberal Democrats: 0 or 1
Green: 8
Change UK TIG: 5
Brexit: 27 or 28
Other: 0

Because, with these numbers, in the final round the LibDems and Brexit have the same number of votes, so the final seat could go to either one of them.

If the LibDems got their one seat, then Leave parties would win 46% of the vote but 50.7% of the seats (37 seats), whilst the Remain parties would win 32% of the vote but only 19.2% of the seats (14 seats), with Labour vacillating in the middle with 22% of the vote but 30.1% of the seats (22 seats). Because who the hell knows whether Labour is Remain or Leave at this point.

If Labour came out for Remain in the end, then we’d see Remain win 54% of the vote but 49.3% of the seats (36 seats) vs Leave taking 46% of the vote but 50.7% of the seats (46 seats). If Labour came out for Leave, Remain would get 32% of the votes, but 19.7% of the seats (14), with Leave taking 68% of the votes but 80.8% of the seats (59 seats).

UPDATE 30 April: Labour have decided today that they will be pursuing their “alternative” Brexit, which is just as unrealistic as the Tories’ version, so they have essentially come out for Leave.

This means that, with current polling, we’re looking at Remain getting less than 20% of the seats on about 32% of the votes. This is not good.

The d’Hondt system does not apportion seats in a perfectly proportional manner, penalising smaller parties and advantaging the bigger parties. So not only is it possible to split the Remain vote, doing so will severely damage the number of seats we can win.

But, at this point it’s worth repeating the fact that there are enough Remain voters, we just have to get out and vote.

It’s also worth pointing out that the pollsters might well be overestimating the Brexit Party’s support, so the situation may not be as dire as it looks. But that’s no reason to sit on our laurels. Never has it been more important to get people out to vote.

Small footnote on Labour and tactical voting: Unless Labour come out firmly as Remain, committed to at the very least a People’s Vote, then it is far, far too risky to vote for them in the hope that they might at some point do the right thing. If Labour remain this unreliable and feckless, then the only choice Remain voters have is to vote for the most popular Remain party in their region, even if it’s the LibDems. I know a lot of people still hate the LibDems on principal, but Brexit is a way bigger issue than tuition fees ever was and in this instance, if they are the most likely to get a good showing in your region, then it’s important to vote for them.