EU elections Q&A: How well will Ukip actually do?

When are they?

This Thursday, voters in the UK will go the polls to choose 73 UK members of the European Parliament (MEPs). This is a unique election that comes around once every five years, in which the electorate all the members states of the EU take part. That means the vote is taking place almost simultaneously in 28 countries. The voters of waterlogged Croatia will be participating for the first time, if they can manage to get to the polling stations through the floods.

When will we know the result?

Normally, when the UK goes to the polls on a Thursday, the result is known by around lunchtime on Friday, with some results coming through on Thursday night. That is not going to happen for this year’s Euro election, because people in other parts of Europe do not traditionally vote on a Thursday, as we do. There will be voting taking place in different countries on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All the results will be announced on Sunday evening.

Is that the only election happening on Thursday?

If you have looked at the political literature pushed through your letter box ( in which case you are part of a rather small minority: most people, sadly, bin them without a second glance) you may have noticed that the same parties have different candidates asking for your votes, because in parts of England and in Northern Ireland - but not in Scotland or Wales - there are local council elections on Thursday. Normally, these elections are held on the first Thursday in May, but the government sensibly delayed them for two weeks.

Can I vote?

If you are on the electoral register, you have a vote in the Euro elections, and if there is a council election where you are, you have a vote in both elections.

Is it true the Ukip is going to win seats in the European Parliament?

European elections use the proportional representation (PR) system, unlike the British Parliament. Because of that, Ukip, the Green Party and the BNP all currently have seats in Europe. The BNP is expected to lose theirs this time, while Ukip is expected to outperform the Lib Dems, Conservatives and perhaps also Labour. One drawback of PR is that it means you cannot pick and choose which candidates you support: you vote for the party, not the person.

Why does this election matter?

Council elections always matter, because councils have considerable scope to affect people’s lives. The European Parliament, however, is not a genuine sovereign Parliament, so the result is not going to directly alter the way the UK is governed. But the newly elected Parliament will have one important power than its predecessors never had: when the current President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, bows out in the autumn, his successor will have to be endorsed by the Parliament. So, for the first time, a Europe-wide election will directly affect who takes over at the head of the EU bureaucracy.

The result also matters considerably to the small parties, because MEPs have access to the media, and to the very generous pay, allowances and other perks that go with membership of the European Parliament. This is less important for the bigger parties who have MPs in the Commons.

The result will also have an impact on the morale of all the parties. It will be bad for Ed Miliband if Ukip takes more votes than Labour, and bad for Nick Clegg if the Lib Dems if they lose most or all of the seats they now hold.

How do I vote?

It is too late to use a postal vote, if you haven't already, but the council should have supplied you with a polling card that tells you where your polling station is. It will be a nearby public building, such as a school or community hall. You will need to call in between 7 am and 10 pm on Thursday, and you will be handed a ballot paper – or two ballot papers if you live in a place where there is a council election. You do not need to take your polling card with you. It will tell you on the ballot paper how to vote.

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