On 23 May 2019, the country once again went to the polls in a vote which would, in theory, provide an ample indication of the general consensus regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
In the run-up towards the European Elections, the newly formed Brexit Party was the focal point of a great deal of media coverage. The party’s leader, Nigel Farage was interviewed by Andrew Marr, participated in Question Time and was given sufficient opportunity to cement his beloved Brexit Party as a household name. Despite said party having never participated in an election before, not releasing a manifesto and suspicions arising over its collection of funds, the party’s rise informed the narrative prior to the vote.
The same conundrum followed the results. Much of the coverage held the Brexit party and the hard, no deal Brexit it allegedly represents, as the victor. A beaming Nigel Farage was an emblem of success, an image uncomfortably reminiscent of the morning of 24 June 2016. Although the party secured the largest share of the vote, sitting at 32 per cent, the overall outcome of the elections was far less clear cut. Remain parties secured a 5.5 percent lead over Leave parties, with the total share afforded to each side finishing at 40.4 percent and 34.9 percent respectively. Yet, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party continue to dominate the headlines.
The wider issue reflected by the seemingly polarised European Election results is not the rise of the Brexit Party. Rather, the matter at hand is the complacency of the UK’s government and its opposition in an election which both seemingly deemed irrelevant. The Labour party remained ambiguous in its position on Brexit and once again failed to remove itself from the fence, forfeiting ten of its seats and dropping to a 15 per cent share of the vote. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party was wiped out, losing 15 seats with a mere 8.8 share in votes.
The failure of the parties at the helm of the UK’s Brexit negotiations to afford sufficient attention to these evidently important elections is a fact worthy of discussion, debate and outrage. It is a given that the government is held to account with regards to such an oversight. Instead of putting the needs of the country first, it has become apparent that both the Conservative and Labour parties have been infiltrated by internal divisions, rivalries and petty squabbles. Alastair Campbell’s recent expulsion from the Labour Party and the removal of the Tory whip from Sir Michael Hesseltine only serve to reinforce this. The Brexit Party’s victory, although perhaps sizeable, has only been permitted by the lack of leadership and opposition at the heart of British politics. These are the results which should be covered, holding those with a sizeable mandate on Brexit to account.
Despite this, Nigel Farage continues to gain steam. By placing him at the centre of the discourse, attention is drawn away from the heart of the issue. The parties at the helm of parliament have once again put internal divisions before a question which is far more pressing and it is the responsibility of the media to illuminate this. Honing in on the Brexit party provides a curtain behind which the Conservative and Labour parties can lick their wounds. Instead, it is we must illuminate their failure to act.