But the key phrase there is "of those that voted". And that was a depressingly low number - in places. Overall turnout was 34.3% - down by 3.9% from 2004's 38.2%. But those figures mask the variation across the country.
In fact, in some areas turnout was up, though only marginally. The East of England, the South West, and the South East all went up by about 1%. But these aren't regions the BNP managed to do well in. The regions the BNP did well in have been traditionally associated with Labour. Obviously the proportional nature of this electoral system changes that a bit, but the ability of the BNP to claim seats must be seen, primarily, as a failure of not all parties, but of one - the Labour Party.
Let's look at the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions. In the North West, turnout went from 40.9% to 31.7% - a fall of 9.2%. In Y&H, turnout went from 42.6% to 32.3% - a fall of 10.3%. Put it this way: about a quarter of the people who voted last time didn't bother this time. That's pretty awful.
It gets worse for Labour. In hard numbers, about 470,000 fewer people voted in the North West - and Labour lost about 240,000 votes. In Y&H, about 363,000 fewer people voted - and Labour lost 183,000 votes. Half of the people who didn't vote had been Labour voters. In terms of their share of the vote, Labour lost 7% and 7.5% respectively - about a quarter of their share.
(Remember, even with a falling turnout, the share of the vote would stay the same, all else being equal. A declining share of the vote means, in this case, and in my opinion, that former Labour voters are overwhelmingly more likely not to have voted than those of other parties.)
These figures illustrate a catastrophic collapse of the Labour vote in these areas. In comparison, the Tory vote stayed relatively stable - in fact, their share of the vote increased by only 1.5% in the North West, and dropped by 0.2% in Yorkshire and the Humber. This wasn't a flight to the Tories - they stayed pretty much the same.
A very fair point to make is that the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber were all postal votes last time round. The other two regions that were all-postal last time were the North East and the East Midlands. This time, their turnout dropped as well. In fact, the North East's turnout dropped by more than Yorkshire and the Humber - it went from 40.8% to 30.4% - a fall of 10.4%. The East Midlands, however, had a more modest drop - from 43.4% to 37.1%, a fall of 6.3%.
But I think clinging to the hope the drop in Labour's vote is due mainly to the change from an all-postal ballot is wishful thinking. For a start, the drop in turnout was significantly larger in the areas Labour had previously been stronger - the East Midlands saw a much smaller drop. But, much more significantly, it ignores Wales.
Wales didn't have an all-postal ballot last time. But they saw the biggest percentage drop in turnout this time round - from 41.4% to 30.4%, a massive 11%. About 239,000 fewer people voted - and about 159,000 fewer people voted Labour. The Labour share of the vote went from 32.5%, the second highest of any region in the UK, to 20.3%, the fifth. And, for the first time since the Labour Party became a national party, Labour were beaten in Wales. And beaten by the Tories.
This wasn't a change from an all-postal ballot depressing turnout. No, this was the Labour vote not turning up. There could be many reasons for this. Anyone who has read my past few posts will know I think policy is a main one. Others will point to the expenses scandal hitting Labour harder than the other parties.
I think it's that we have reached a tipping point. And I don't know if Labour can recover from it.
More than 5 years ago, I gave a speech at the final hustings to become the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for a safe Labour constituency - my home. And because I cared about my home, and because I was worried about the path the Labour Party was on, I gave an honest assessment of where I thought we had been going wrong - ignoring our grass roots, not pursuing policies that would create a fairer society, introducing privitisation into health and education, and so on.
And I told my fellow party members that I wasn't worried about Labour winning in that constituency at the next election. But I was increasingly worried about the election after that, and the one after that. Because I felt the central Party had made a decision that they could safely ignore their heartlands, because they had nowhere else to go, no-one else to vote for.
And, you know what? They are right. The heartlands don't have anywhere else to go. But these European results show that they don't have to go anywhere to cause problems for Labour. They don't have to go to another party. They don't have anywhere to go. So they just stay at home.
(Incidentally, the other place strongly associated with Labour is Scotland. They, however, had a strong opposition to Labour that wasn't the Tories - the SNP. Turnout fell by only 2.4%. Labour lost about 81,000 votes. Coincidentally, the SNP gained about 89,500 votes. In Scotland, former Labour voters do have somewhere else to go.)
Now, I know that European elections are different from general elections. People vote differently, they protest, or they just don't care. But this election, the Labour heartlands have learnt an important lesson - they don't have to vote Labour. They can just... not vote.
That's why the BNP won seats - the Labour vote collapsed. In Yorkshire and the Humber, Labour needed only another 10,270 votes to have stopped the BNP getting a seat. In the North West, Labour would have needed another 60,000 or so - but their vote had fallen by about 240,000. (UKIP would have needed only another 2,449 votes, or the Greens would have needed 4,962.)
No, the election of the BNP isn't a failure of all parties. It's not a failure of the political system. It's not even a sign that the country is becoming racist. It's a sign that the Labour Party is failing, that the Labour Party cannot energise its core vote, that the Labour Party vote is collapsing.
It's a sign that the Labour government needs to start listening to what its party members and voters actually want them to do.
But because they didn't, because Labour failed, I am now represented in the European Parliament by Nick Griffin. For the next 5 years. Thanks a bunch.
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