Early results from the local council elections in Britain point to a surge in popularity of the UK Independence Party, whose fierce anti-Europe stance has rattled the mainstream British parties and will encourage the populist Eurosceptic parties who are campaigning across the continent.
While the final results from the local elections will not be known until later Friday, it appeared that UKIP, led by the charismatic Nigel Farage, was on course to win third of the votes in some of the big cities, such as Birmingham, where its presence had been small to nil. UKIP was stealing votes from all three mainstream parties – the Conservatives, their coalition partner the Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labour.
Popularity for the Lib Dems was collapsing and the Conservatives were getting hit far harder than Labour.
The British poll combined the local elections with the European Union parliamentary elections. While the result of the EU election will not be known until late Sunday or early Monday, UKIP’s success in the local elections may well translate into equal success in the EU elections.
In the 2009 EU elections, UKIP earned 16.6 per cent of the British vote, second to the Conservatives, giving it nine of Britain’s 73 seats in the EU parliament. UKIP may humble the Conservatives in the current EU election by pushing them into second or third place.
Eurosceptic parties on the left and the right may win 25 per cent of the vote in the EU election, though some polls put their support at close to 30 per cent. It is difficult, however, to judge whether the popularity of the parties, which range from UKIP to France’s anti-immigrant and anti-euro Front National, reflect voters’ mistrust of further European integration or are merely protest votes against the mainstream domestic parties.
“I think Nigel Farage, for quite a lot of those people, is just a big sort of two fingers stuck up at what they feel is a sort of hectoring, out-of-touch elite,” Jeremy Browne, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker, told BBC television.
The success of UKIP will push prime minister David Cameron and his Conservative party to harden its stance against further EU integration as he gears up for the 2015 British general election. Mr. Cameron has already promised an in-out referendum in 2017 on Britain’s membership in the EU if the Conservatives win the election.
Mr. Cameron appears to have underestimated UKIP and the popularity of its anti-Europe stance. He once called UKIP a party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.”
Other European leaders are also feeling what Mr. Farage has called a “political earthquake” as the mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties in Britain and elsewhere in the EU come under pressure from disaffected voters. The Front National and Italy’s Five Star Movement, which is Europe’s biggest Eurosceptic party, are polling at 20 per cent or more in the EU elections.
The Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, wants France to ditch both the EU and the euro, the currency used in 18 of the EU’s 28 countries. Five Star, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, wants Italy to hold a referendum on Italy’s use of the euro. Both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Grillo complain that the European parliament and the European Central Bank are robbing their countries of economic sovereignty.