Friday, June 11, 2004

The end – and the beginning

Euro-election coverage

While attention is still focused on the council elections, information on the Euro-elections - with the results delayed by EU diktat until Sunday - is drfting in.

Two more Euro-election results are in from the unofficial "verification" samples recorded in South West constituencies. Both put the Conservatives first, at 38 and 37.5 percent. UKIP comes second on 22.4 and 23.4 percent, the Lib-Dems come in at just shy of 16 percent. Labour trail fourth at 10.9 and 7.8.

One result from the West Midlands gives UKIP a relatively modest 15 percent but, generally, returns for UKIP seem to indicate a range of between 20-25 percent.

Despite the perception that most of the votes are coming from disaffected Tories, key Labour insiders are also reported as "very gloomy" on the outcome. One "very key insider" is now saying that the result will be "even worse for us" than the Council elections. We have lost "lots of votes to UKIP".

One factor which they may not have foreseen was the layout of the postal ballot form. While all three main parties concentrated on the Council elections, hoping for a carry-over of the Euro-vote, the form presented the Euro-candidates first, which means that most voters will have cast their Euro-vote first and then made their choice for the council seats.

Displaying more sophistication than they have been given credit for,they have been able and willing to cast their votes differently for the two elections. This means that the 7 percent vote polled for UKIP on the council elections cannot in any way be translated into a prediction for the Euros. On present showing, UKIP could possibly gain 15 or 16 seats.

This takes account of the substitute exit poll carried out by AOL (at 17.00 hrs), which now puts the Conservatives at 24 percent, with UKIP having dropped back to 22 percent. Labour moves up to 14 percent and the Lib-Dems and BNP share 12 percent.

At 11.30 today, the UKIP poll put UKIP in clear first place with 27 percent of the vote, leaving the Tories trailing in second place with 23 percent and Labour polling a mere 14 percent. The Lib-Dems managed a mere 11 percent, putting them in fifth place behind the BNP which got 12, capturing fourth place in the rankings.

By 13.00 hours, the UKIP lead had dropped to 24 percent as against the Tories 22 percent with Labour up one at 15 percent. Overall, however, the rankings remained the same.

There is an enormous health warning with these types of polls, although in the past, my impression is that AOL subscribers tend to display a Europhile bias. However, as the data settle down, they still point to a massive swing in favour of UKIP, putting the Party in a strong second place. This is a much stronger position than indicated by the Gallup Poll released last night (which was actually conducted on the Wednesday).

With the UK total seats falling from 87 to 78, the Gallup predictions were that UKIP would get 12 seats but the victor would be the Tories with 23 seats, ahead of Labour with 20. The Lib-Dems were expected to boost their presence from 10 to 14 seats. If this did happen, it would have been largely as a result of the Moslems expressing their disapproval of Blair's Iraqi adventure. For the first time, a block ethnic vote would have had a measurable effect on the result of a major election.

The Green vote still looks set to fall and there still are no good indications on the fate of any of the independents, particularly Neil Herron, who has been fighting for a North-East seat. Here, with only three seats up for grabs, the hurdles are impossibly high and the best that is expected of him is that he will keep his deposit.

However, the loss of Newcastle - a traditional Labour stronghold - to the Lib-Dems is a good sign, more so with Tony Flynn, the council leader, having lost his seat. Flynn is a strong and voluble Europhile and has been a leading player in the North-East Region "yes" campaign for regional assemblies. Whether this will help Herron is difficult to determine but private polling does suggest that the North-East will be the only region which does not return a UKIP MEP.

The only certainty at the moment, however, is that the closure of the polls yesterday marked not only the end of the Euro campaign but also the beginning of the post-mortems, with the blood-letting to follow shortly thereafter. Already, the Today programme has picked up on the Howard letter to John Whittingdale, pledging to invoke the supremecy of Parliament in order to repatriate fishing - as an indicator of a hardening in the Tory line towards Europe.

Behind closed doors, massive heart-searching in the Tory camp has already started. The Europhiles have been quick to get their oar in, with sources close to Jonathan Evans, the Tory group leader, blaming their own eurosceptics for the debacle. Showing their characteristic failure to understand the message they are being given, the line is "If you hadn't gone on about the EPP link, or about how dreadful Europe was then the electorate wouldn't have noticed our split loyalties".

Evans, however, will be under considerable fire, not least because his advice on campaigning tactics was to concentrate on the council elections and play down the European issues. When the discarded bodies are seen, Evans may be one of the high profile casualties. Liam Fox may be another.

Yet another casualty may be the Tory group membership of the EPP, demanded by disappointed candidates and activists as a guesture to demonstrate the Party's Eurosceptic credentials.

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