On a European election night when the Brexit party dominated across the UK, perhaps the most eye-catching story in North West England was the humiliating drubbing suffered by the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson.
Having claimed for weeks to be on the crest of an international movement – one that elected Donald Trump in the US – the man whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon had expected to “walk into Brussels like Connor McGregor” upon his election.
In the end, Robinson won only 2.2% of the vote – losing his £5,000 deposit – and sneaked out of the election count in central Manchester barely an hour after he had arrived. He tried to put a brave face on it, claiming the establishment had “arranged and organised” for him to be banned from social media to scupper his election bid, but it was a resounding defeat for the founder of the English Defence League.
The Brexit party won the night in the North West, polling 31.2% of the votes and taking three seats. Its newly elected MEPs are the former revolutionary communist Claire Fox, the TV doctor David Bull, and Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, a dentist.
Labour and the Tories both shed around 12% of their votes as they were squeezed from both sides by unequivocally remain and leave parties. The Conservatives lost both their MEPs in the region, while Labour lost one of its three seats. The Liberal Democrats, however, gained two seats and the Greens one.
The Labour MEP Theresa Griffin, who chairs the party’s committee of MEPs in Brussels, said her party had to re-engage with the electorate, but complained that the Brexit party vote had been based on “false news” and fuelled by the media, which she criticised for giving airtime to Nigel Farage. “We will rebuild and we will come back stronger,” she said after the result was declared.
Sajjad Karim, a Tory MEP who lost his seat after 15 years, last week criticised his party for “abandoning the election battlefield” and said he had been given “between 0% and 0.1%” support from party headquarters in the election.
Speaking after his defeat, Karim said the Brexit party and Lib Dems had done well because voters wanted clear guidance. However, he said, Britain was in a “tremendously complex situation” and both those parties’ promises were not actually feasible.
“People want that sense of clarity and that’s what they’re clutching on to. That means a candidate like me loses support from both sides,” he said.
Ukip, which in 2014 gained three North West MEPs – though they have all since left the party – vanished from the electoral map with just 3.6% of the vote, a fall of 23.8 percentage points.
Katie Fanning, a Ukip director who sits on its national executive committee, admitted its election campaign had been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its South West England candidate Carl Benjamin, the blogger known as Sargon of Akkad, who refused to apologise for making comments about raping the Labour MP Jess Philips.
“We’ve done very poorly,” she told the Guardian before the results were declared. “Ukip had a major opportunity to do very well in these elections as the democratic will of the people has been overturned, but it’s quite clear from Ukip’s actions over the last three years that people have lost confidence in us as being the primary party of Brexit.”
Fanning said she felt the party would be lucky to get three seats in total. “I believe that’s because Ukip’s EU campaign has been overshadowed by Sargon of Akkad’s disgusting comments and rape jokes and things he has said in the past. That’s very much marred Ukip’s reputation.”