Established parties fear advance of UKIP

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Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats turned their guns on the United Kingdom Independence Party yesterday amid fears that the party stands to make big gains at the European Parliament elections on 10 June.

Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats turned their guns on the United Kingdom Independence Party yesterday amid fears that the party stands to make big gains at the European Parliament elections on 10 June.

Labour fears disillusioned working-class voters may switch to the UKIP, while the Tories worry that part of their "core vote" may be tempted by the UKIP's policy of withdrawing from the European Union.

Alarm bells rang after a YouGov survey for The Daily Telegraph yesterday put the Tories on 28 per cent, Labour on 27 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 18 per cent and the UKIP on 14 per cent. Among the 39 per cent of people who are "very likely" to vote next month, the UKIP is in third place (18 per cent) above the Liberal Democrats (15 per cent) and trailing the Tories (31 per cent) and Labour (23 per cent).

The UKIP, which currently has three MEPs, is running a well-funded campaign and its profile has been enhanced by the decision of the former broadcaster and Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk to run under its banner in the East Midlands. Officials in all three main parties fear it will benefit from a "protest" vote against mainstream parties next month, when elections also take place for local authorities and the London Mayor.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, will remind the voters of his Eurosceptical credentials in the run-up to "Super Thursday" and last night the Tories used a party election broadcast to attack "waste" both by Brussels and the British Government. A Tory spokesman insisted: "There is no evidence that our vote is shifting to the UKIP. We have a very strong message about 'live and let live' in Europe. We are the party which can provide a strong voice for Britain in Europe."

Tory strategists believe Labour may have boosted the UKIP's prospects by presenting the referendum on the EU constitution promised by Mr Blair as, in effect, a vote on Britain's continued EU membership. "This has played into the UKIP's hands," said one Tory source.

Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary said: "I think the more people think about the implications of the UKIP policy, which is withdrawal, and the implications of Conservative policy, which would leave us on the sidelines, the more they will decide that Britain's place is at the heart of Europe.

"Most of us think in our personal lives that Europe is wonderful - cheap holidays, the ability to travel wherever we want in the EU, to work and study and retire there. Yet somehow the EU itself, which has given us all these benefits, has been turned into some kind of political monster," she said.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats' leader, dismissed the UKIP's poll advance as a "blip" but said: "There is a degree of Euroscepticism out there, unfortunately. I think that has been allowed to ferment because this Government has failed lamentably to give a lead on the matter."

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