European Parliament and local elections: What will happen if Ukip wins the popular vote?
Success for Nigel Farage's party would have major implications
The final opinion polls for the European elections suggest Ukip is likely to attract more votes than any other party. If it lives up to forecasts, what happens next?
Success on that scale would send shockwaves through the Westminster establishment, particularly as it would demonstrate that Ukip has been done little damage by the succession of embarrassing revelations and gaffes that have blighted its campaign over the last month.
It would also leave Ukip facing the challenge of keeping up the momentum. In the short term, it will pour resources into fighting next month’s parliamentary by-election in Newark triggered by the resignation of Tory Patrick Mercer following lobbying allegations.
This ought to be a safe Conservative seat, and Ukip only scraped together 3.8 per cent of the vote in Newark at the last general election.
But expectations will be high that the party can pull off another stunning result in the Nottinghamshire seat. Anything short of victory, or a close-fought second place, would provoke accusations that the Ukip bubble is deflating.
The ubiquitous Nigel Farage has acknowledged that Ukip was in danger of being perceived as a “one-man band”.
In a fresh attempt to head off the charge, he will appoint a series of new spokesmen and women, many from the 20-plus Euro MPs it can expect to send to Brussels and Strasbourg.
A crucial question they will face is over which allies it chooses in the European Parliament. Will it run the risk of accusations of extremism by linking up with the likes of the Dutch PVV, whose leader Geert Wilders has equated Islam with fascism?
Strong results for Ukip will also prompt fresh bouts of introspection in Labour and Tory ranks.
Read more: Why can't Ed Miliband eat a bacon sarnie?
Labour will try to brush off its success, and point to its expected gains in the local elections, but it would be a damaging blow to its morale.
Being beaten into second place by a party with no MPs would hardly be a sign that Labour is on the march with less than a year to go to the general election.
Ed Miliband would face fresh charges of being out-of-touch with many of the working-class voters whose support he needs to make it to Downing Street.
Nigel Farage, whose Ukip has an 11-point poll lead; David Cameron; Ed Miliband; and Nick Clegg He would also come under pressure to match David Cameron’s promise to hold an in-out referendum on European Union membership, although Mr Miliband remains strongly opposed to the idea.
The Conservatives would be plunged into even deeper turmoil if they limp in third behind Ukip and Labour.
Mr Cameron would face renewed calls from the party’s Right to toughen its message on immigration and Europe in an attempt to win back the disillusioned former Tories who have disproportionately defected to Ukip.
A member of the public walks past a Ukip election poster in Glasgow (Getty) The number of MPs who have advocated an electoral pact with Mr Farage’s party would be certain to grow. The Ukip leader indicated this week he was open to the idea of local deals with anti-EU MPs (Labour as well as Tory) if they “genuinely want this country to be free, independent and self-governing”. He said: “I would do a deal with the devil if it got us a referendum.”
If the polls have got it wrong and Ukip comes second, that would still be a remarkable performance for an “outsider” party.
But it would still be seen as disappointing given the way Mr Farage and his cohorts have talked up their prospects. His enemies would then revive images of bubbles bursting and the Ukip boss would face challenging questions of “what next?”
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