Ukip leader Nigel Farage jubilant as Europe takes a swing to the right
Ukip leader Nigel Farage inflicted another body blow on the three main political parties on Sunday night as his party scored a stunning victory in the European Parliament elections.
The anti-EU party dramatically built on its success in the local elections in England last Thursday when the results of the Euro poll on the same day were announced.
A jubilant Mr Farage hailed the outcome as “an earthquake because never before in the history of British politics has a party seen to be an insurgent party ever topped the polls in a national election.”
The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats conceded that Ukip would come first. It looked on course to double the 13 seats it won in the last Euro elections in 2009.
The Tories, who came first last time with 25 seats, faced the humiliation of dropping to third place for the first time ever in a national election. The Liberal Democrats suffered a disastrous result, conceding that they could lose all 12 of their MEPs, which would increase the grassroots pressure on Nick Clegg to stand down as party leader. Early results suggested the Lib Dems could come an embarrassing fifth behind the Green Party.
Lib Dem fears of a total wipeout were raised when they lost their seat in their one-time stronghold of the South West. Sir Graham Watson, president of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, was ousted by the Greens. However, they avoided the worst humiliation by winning one seat in the South East. The Greens also won a second seat.
After results in six of the 12 regions, Ukip had won 29.2 per cent of the votes (up 12.1 points since the last Euro elections); Labour 24.5 per cent (up 8.8 points); the Tories 23.5 per cent (down 3.5 points); the Greens 7.6 per cent (down 0.5 points) and the Lib Dems 6.8 per cent (down 6.9 points).
Across the EU, nationalist and Eurosceptic parties made big gains amid predictions that they would double their strength in the European Parliament. In France, Marine Le Pen's Front National topped a nationwide poll for the first time in its history, with the anti-immigrant party predicted to take 25 per cent of the vote and win as many as 24 seats in the European Parliament.
Ms Le Pen said France had “shouted loud and clear” that it wanted to be run “by the French, for the French and with the French” and not by “foreign commissioners” in Brussels. Manuel Valls, France’s Socialist Prime Minister, said the victory was “more than a shock, it's an earthquake”.
Turnout across the EU was estimated at 43.1 per cent, in line with the previous Euro elections five years ago.
In Belgium, the separatist New Flemish Alliance was tipped to receive nearly a third of votes cast in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders. In Austria, the far right Freedom Party was forecast to win a fifth of the votes.
In Britain, the last nationwide test of public opinion before next year’s general election confirmed that the country has entered an era of “four-party politics.” The turnout was 36 per cent, up from 34.7 per cent in 2009.
Ukip topped the poll in the East of England, winning three of the region’s seven seats. Three went to the Conservatives and one to Labour. The Lib Dems lost their seat.
Both the Tories and Liberal Democrats lost seats in the North East of England to Labour and Ukip. The result meant the Conservative leader in the Parliament, Martin Callanan, narrowly lost his place in it.
In the East Midlands, Ukip scooped the most votes, winning two seats, capturing one from the Lib Dems once held by Mr Clegg. In Wales, Mr Farage’s party came close to securing first place but Labour just saw off its challenge. In Yorkshire and the Humber, Ukip again outscored its rivals, and saw its number of MEPs triple to three.
Labour, which secured only 13 MEPs in 2009, insisted that Euro elections are “a poor guide” to general elections, pointing out that right-wing parties across Europe normally do better in them than the centre-left . “It is unprecedented for the Conservatives to come third,” said one Labour source. “David Cameron is the first Tory leader to lose a Euro election for 20 years.”
Patrick O’Flynn, Ukip’s campaign director, who was elected an MEP in the East of England, said: “This is the latest proof that Ukip is in tune with the aspirations and fears of the British public. These results will be perfect launch-pad for our campaign to win seats at the general election. A huge swathe of the public is demanding a referendum on membership of the EU and are desperate for Britain to get back control of its borders and become a self-governing country again.”
Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s communities spokeswoman, said the party would reject the Front National’s overtures to join the same group in the European Parliament. “The Front National is an extreme party; Ukip is not,” she told the BBC. “We are the common sense centre.”
An e-petition calling on Mr Clegg to quit was signed by 250 Lib Dem members in 36 hours –i ncluding 43 councillors, three parliamentary candidates and six local party chairs.More are expected to put their names to it on Monday.
Three Lib Dem MPs said Mr Clegg’s position as leader should be considered during the party’s post-mortem. But Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, the party’s former leader, dismissed the call as “ridiculous” and “not serious politics.”
In Thursday’s local elections, the Lib Dems lost 307 seats and control of two councils. The Tories lost 231 seats and were ousted in 11 authorities. Labour gained 338 seats and took control in six councils.
Ukip gained 161 seats but runs no authorities. Despite Labour’s gains, some of the party’s MPs fear its performance was not good enough and claim Ed Miliband underestimated the Ukip threat.
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