Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 6 News List

British anti-EU party gains again

VOTER BACKLASH Analysts said the popularity of a talk-show host turned politican had a lot to do with boosting the fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence party

AFP , LONDON

A fringe party that wants Britain to pull out of the EU claimed third place in elections to the EU Parliament on Monday, rattling both the governing Labour Party and the main opposition Conservatives.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 12 of the 68 seats in England and Wales in what its best-known member, Robert Kilroy-Silk, called "a tremendous snub" to Prime Minister Tony Blair's pro-European views and a warning for him not to sign up to the draft EU constitution.

British newspapers agreed that UKIP's share of the vote -- almost 17 percent -- revealed a deeper hostility to the EU than suspected among British voters, and that the party could not be written off as a protest against a government which has lost support because of the war in Iraq.

Blair's Labour Party was expected to pick up some extra seats among the 10 still to be declared in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where results were due to be announced later in the day.

In England and Wales, Labour had 17 seats, the Conservatives 25, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Greens two and the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru one.

However one notable source of comfort for Blair was that UKIP cut more deeply into Conservative support than into that of Labour.

The Tories won 27.4 percent of the vote, a drop of 10 percent since the previous EU election, held in 1999, while Labour's share of the vote slipped 5.65 percent to 22.3 percent.

The left-of-center and pro-EU Guardian newspaper said the election result had "left the politics of this country's relationship with Europe as uncertain as at any time since Labour took office" in May 1997.

"UKIP should neither be overestimated or underestimated," it warned. "Its success may be a flash in the pan in general election terms ... but don't be too confident that UKIP's fine showing is ephemeral."

The answer to that question depends partly on how far UKIP owes its success to the popularity of Kilroy-Silk, a former Labour Party lawmaker who quit politics in 1986 to host a television talk show that endeared him to housewives all over the country.

A suave and silver-haired 61-year-old today, Kilroy-Silk was once described as "the most handsome man in the House of Commons."

However after he entered parliament in 1974 confidently predicting his own meteoric rise to the top, Kilroy-Silk's political career proved a disappointment and he never rose above the level of junior opposition home affairs spokesman.

Kilroy-Silk insisted Monday that his party's stunning result was more than just a protest vote.

"It is extremely patronizing to suggest that people who voted out of a very deep and clear conviction or commitment are wasting their vote or protesting," he told BBC radio.

"We are the only party throughout the election that had a very clear, straightforward policy. We are the only party that talked about Europe and didn't actually tell any lies."

Labour had been expecting a bad result in the EU poll since receiving a thrashing in local council elections held at the same on Thursday, when it lost 477 seats while the Conservatives gained 281 seats.

The council election results were announced immediately, but the EU poll figures had to be kept secret until Sunday night, after other EU member states had finished voting.

Senior Labour members acknowledged on Friday that Labour had paid a heavy price in the council elections because of the government's support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.

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