All too evident is the dire situation on the British political scene following the disastrous return for the Labour government. Of course, no-one expected a sweeping majority to be won by Gordon Brown's Labour Party, and it was most certainly not shocking that a shift to political extremities was seen (particularly to the right.)
In fact, no sober minded and informed person really expected an unfavourable outcome for parties such as Nick Griffin's BNP and Nigel Farge's UKIP. One question, amongst a plethora of others, now to be posed by the British voter, is what is going to happen next?
Firstly, on the domestic front we will see one of two things happen. These issues will have a direct effect on Britain's European positioning: if Labour stay in government, little will change in the current pro-European stance. If a general election takes place, Labour is likely to be replaced by a Conservative government and this means that we will surely see a less progressive approach taken to further integration, with David Cameron already having pledged to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not in place at the next general election.
The first outcome of the elections could be a kind of "push down a hill" for right-wing parties. History teaches us that a less-favourable economic climate breeds a desire for the kind of drastic change that centre parties just cannot deliver (generally speaking.) The conditions most preferable for a growth in support for parties like UKIP and the BNP would be the resurgence of the terrorist threat to the UK in some form (be it an attack by a terrorist organization or a propaganda effort by the rightist political parties themselves) and a further decline in the levels of unemployment and economic loss.
However, the second possible "future" for domestic British politics, is a status quo being retained or a plunge in support for the parties on the extremes of the political spectrum. This would typically be caused by several factors: the economic system returning to normality, some new social benefit instituted by the current government, by which the government could regain the trust of the voters.
Currently both prospectives seem equally possible and much of the future will be decided by Mr Brown's handling of the current expenses scandal and the calls for a general election.
Secondly, there is a European future to be considered. Here again, there are two likely outcomes, both relying heavily on the course that domestic policy takes. We cannot stress enough the importance of this issue on the European debate for Britain.
Were a general election to be called or Gordon Brown to resign, there would be a scramble for power amongst the parties. Almost every imaginable outcome would see Labour would lose power. Currently, all major parties except Labour and the Liberal Democrats are Eurosceptic to a varying degree. An actively Eurosceptic British government could prove damaging (for example, by holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty or perhaps Eurosceptic parties will attempt to hold up the policy process) or fatal (ie, a return to national sovereignty and termination of EU membership) to British participation in the European Project.
However, there would be difficulty in Britain's withdrawal from the European Union caused by length of time taken over making the decision (in which the political make-up may have changed again) and the expense of the necessary procedures.
Again, the second option is a retention of the status quo vis-à-vis the European project and Britain's participation in it. Given the outcome of the European elections, it looks to be an implausability that a pro-European stance is going to be adopted by any party who is not already holding this line. The electorate has voiced its opinion, confirming Britain's traditional Euroscepticism, and this time, Britain has chosen to favour those parties who champion an anti-European stance. Non-change seems to be the only other option to withdrawal.
Ultimately, the questions regarding Britain's European role will not be answered until several months in the future when the dust has begun to settle on the elections just passed.
Marc Lewis Thomas is a student at Cardiff University reading European Union Studies.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Asle Toje and Barbara Kunz: Saving Europe from the Idealists
- Heinrich Bonnenberg: The Real Challenge of Europe
- Daniel Korski: How Britain Now Runs European Security