How will the South East region vote in next week’s European elections? By Emma Harwood

After forty years of membership, the UK has taken part in eight European elections without anyone paying much attention. 

This could be because in previous years they’ve been held to coincide with local elections. However, average turnout has been consistently low – the highest being just 38.52 percent in 2004. 

Ironically, the election which finally seems to have prompted the full scrutiny of the media and grabbed the attention of the British public will take place two months after the UK should have left the EU – next Thursday (23rd May). And this in spite of the fact that the 73 representatives returned to Brussels may never take up their seats, or may only do so for a very short while.

As a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations revealed back in February, that even without the UK’s participation, anti-European parties -including a mix of nationalist, far-right and populist – could be on their way to winning more than 35 percent of seats in the next European Parliament, making the stakes in the May 2019 election unusually high for the EU. But it is not just on the continent where disaffected voters will be protesting against their mainstream parties however.

Here in the UK, one of this region’s ten MEPs, Nigel Farage and his newly formed Brexit Party is campaigning on a single issue: leaving the EU without a deal. And while his party has published neither a manifesto nor provided any clear picture of what a post no-deal Brexit Britain will look like, his band of angry, ageing supporters don’t seem to care. In a series of rallies around the country, he and his fellow candidates have offered nothing but rabble-rousing rhetoric. Yet despite having no policies or plan the party has just announced it is now recruiting candidates to contest seats across the UK in the next general election. If YouGov polls are to be believed, it stands to gain up to 30 percent of the UK vote next week ahead
of Labour, which is on 21 percent. So with Farage’s party predicted to seize votes from pro-Brexit Conservatives and Ukip, and any victory likely to be manipulated as a mandate for a no-deal Brexit, where does this leave voters who would like Britain to stay in the EU?

Tactical voting
MEPs are elected using the D’Hondt system of proportional representation. It is a closed list which means voters choose parties not candidates although these will be named on the ballot paper in order of one to ten. The proportion of the vote won by each party determines how many candidates get a seat. Once the total number of seats for the region are filled, the leftover votes are discarded.

In smaller regions such as the North East, where there are just three seats to be filled, the system tends to favour the major parties. 

However, the South East is the largest electoral region, with ten seats to fill and in 2014 it elected the only Liberal Democrat, and  one of the UK’s three Green MEPs, alongside four Ukip, three Conservative and one Labour.

There will be a wide choice of pro-remain parties fielding candidates next week: Lib Dems, Greens, the newly formed Change UK and UKEU. Then there is Labour, which is arguably on the fence over Brexit, but whose top candidate, John Howarth wants to see it scrapped and to hold a second referendum. 

If the remain vote is split too thinly across these parties, votes could be wasted if one or more fail to win enough to meet the threshold required to give them a seat. Therefore, ensuring the maximum number of remain seats would entail voters opting for the strongest remain party in the region.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that voter apathy may well have contributed to the rise of Farage and Ukip in previous elections. In 1999, the year in which he was first elected MEP for this region, turnout troughed at just 24 percent. With an untold number of new younger voters gearing up to go to the polls and the loss of many older ones perhaps the surest way of stemming the anti -European tide is to simply show up at the ballot box and place your vote.

The Full List Of Parties And Their Candidates In Order Of Priority Standing For Election

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