- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

LONDON — Voters in next month’s European elections could shock the political establishment by giving more seats to a party committed to a British withdrawal from the European Union, a poll suggested yesterday.

A YouGov survey for the Daily Telegraph found the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leading the Liberal Democrats among those who are “very likely” to vote.

According to this measure — which can be reliable, particularly when turnout is low — the Conservative support is at 31 percent, Labor at 23 percent, UKIP at 18 percent and the Liberal Democrats at 15 percent.

UKIP could win more than a dozen seats if these figures are repeated in the combined European Parliament, local and London mayoral and assembly elections on June 10.

Such a result, relegating the Liberal Democrats to the fourth place, would be a humiliation for the party and would send shock waves through Parliament, where the three main parties support EU membership and often dismiss those arguing for withdrawal as extremists.

When all voters are considered, regardless of their likelihood of turning out, the Conservatives are still ahead, at 28 percent, with Labor just behind at 27 percent. The Liberal Democrats are at 18 percent, and UKIP is in fourth place at 14 percent.

The survey shows that voters differentiate between European and local elections. In the latter, UKIP’s poll standing is in single figures.

Many of those questioned also would vote differently in a general election, with 36 percent choosing the Conservatives, 33 percent for Labor, 19 percent for Liberal Democrats and 4 percent for UKIP.

Roger Knapman, a former Conservative member of Parliament who leads UKIP, said the poll demonstrated that the public was turning against the European Union.

“For the first time, most people want us to get out of the European Union and renegotiate a common market, which is what we wanted in the first place,” he said.

Although UKIP won three seats in the 1999 European elections, with 7 percent of the vote, the main parties largely have treated it as an irrelevance. That would change drastically if it was to overtake the Liberal Democrats.

All three parties would come under pressure to reconsider their positions on Europe, and Prime Minister Tony Blair might have to rethink his chances of winning the referendum he has promised on the proposed EU constitution.

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