Twitter chatter could make Ukip the main beneficiary
The UK Independence Party has suddenly become the talk of people who Twitter, thanks to Norman Tebbit's highly publicised advice to voters to give the main parties a kicking. Although they have never won a Commons seat, Ukip is now getting more mentions on Twitter and other social internet sites than any other political party when the subject of next month's elections comes up.
The little anti-EU party has lurched from crisis to catastrophe since its triumph in the European elections four years ago, but now looks set to be the main beneficiary of public disillusionment with mainstream politicians in next month's elections.
Ukip's leader, Nigel Farage, believes the party has rid itself of its reputation for being "the BNP in blazers", meaning it attracted ageing middle-class racists. One of the Ukip candidates featured on party leaflets is Deva Kumarasiri, who was sacked by the Post Office for refusing to serve customers who did not speak English. Two others are Harry Aldridge and Amy O'Boyle, 22 and 19 respectively.
The prospect of Ukip being the main beneficiary of the furore over MPs' expenses has an irony to it, since two of their MEPs have been mired in scandal. Ashley Mote, elected MEP for South-east England, was imprisoned in 2007 for falsely claiming £65,000 in welfare benefits. Last month another Ukip MEP, Tom Wise, was charged with false accounting and money laundering over allegations that he misused nearly £40,000 in expenses. Both men were expelled from Ukip, but still sit as MEPs. Mr Farage vigorously defends his party's handling of both scandals. "David Cameron has told his MPs to pay the money back," he said. "Well, our chap [Wise] paid the money back, but he was still expelled. Mote never even took his seat as a Ukip MEP."
Ukip failed to follow up its unexpected success in 2005, when it won 12 seats in the European Parliament and knocked the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. The party was torn apart when its most famous MEP, the former television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk, broke away to form a rival organisation. "That set us back two years," Mr Farage admitted.
Mr Farage also came under fire from Ukip members who thought he was taking too soft a line on Europe. Last September, one of Ukip's better-known activists, Robin Page, presenter of One Man and His Dog, forecast the party was "finished", after it failed to adopt him as candidate. "Yes, I've had a little bit of difficulty with them," Mr Farage said. "I call them the 'angry old men tendency'. Most of them have gone now, I'm pleased to say."
After months of neglect, interest in the party on the internet began to pick up around 27 April, and shot up again on Tuesday, after Lord Tebbit's veiled hint that he is backing Ukip. On that day, Ukip's website recorded 12,500 unique hits. Three weeks ago, there were fewer than 1,000 a day.
An internet "buzzmetrics" firm, Radiant 6, has been monitoring traffic on social media sites for mentions of the Euro elections, and found 845,000 mentions of Ukip in one month, more than any other party and nearly half as many as all other political parties combined, with half the increase packed into one 24-hour surge. "We have an online guerrilla activist base," said Ken Irvine, a recent defector from the Conservatives to Ukip, who formerly ran a marketing business. "We push out a message on Twitter and ask them to retweet it. It helps drive up our support.
"Despite all the money they have spent, the Tories are way behind us and behind Labour and the BNP on the social media sites. That is because we go to where people are having the conversations. The Tories are expecting the conversation to come to them."
Britain to pull out of the EU and enter into free trade agreements. Ukip also wants a virtual end to immigration but says it is not racist.
Has nine MEPs, claims 15,000 members and rising, and more council candidates than ever.
The bookies predict Ukip will get more votes than Labour. That sounds unlikely but the party might take third place again.
Post-crunch campaign will focus on jobs and recovery
Next month's election ought to have been the Green Party's chance for a big breakthrough. It is the obvious alternative for idealistic young voters disillusioned with Labour, given its policies on the environment, on scrapping nuclear weapons, and other causes dear to the left. But its public image is of a party with a lot to say about the environment, which in the current economic crisis has slipped down the list of public concerns, and not much to say about anything else.
That is why, when it launches its campaign today, there will less talk than usual about global warming, and much more about jobs. It will unveil a "green recovery package" which, the party says, will create a million jobs by putting the UK economy "on something like a war footing" as vast resources are invested in rebuilding industry, public transport, and public and financial services.
Until recently, the Green Party shied away from doing anything as formal as electing a leader, leaving it to two principal speakers to represent the party. That changed last September when Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP for the past 10 years, was elected leader.
The party has high hopes of a breakthrough at the next general election, when it hopes to win its first Commons seat. Ms Lucas will be its candidate in Brighton Pavilion, where the sitting Labour MP is standing down. If she does not win, the Greens believe they have an outside chance of winning either Norwich South or Lewisham Deptford, where they also scored well in 2005. A Green MP would give the party a major fillip.
But first they have to hold on to the two seats they already have in the European Parliament. They are in danger of losing one, because the overall number of MEPs is being cut, but hope to gain one by beating the BNP in the North West region. One of the fringe parties, Respect, has pulled out their candidate there, giving the Greens a better chance. Even so, the arithmetic of next month's elections means that the Green Party has to improve its vote just to hold on to what it has got.
Create a million jobs through "green" projects like wind turbines and solar panels. much more investment in public transport and abolish nuclear weapons.
Patches of strong support, mainly in the south among young voters disillusioned with Labour.
Should win one, or two seats in the European Parliament and some council seats.
An Irish voice rallies young for a 'democratic Europe'
Libertas claims it will deliver a "spectacular result" at the European elections by offering voters across Europe the chance to back radical reform of an "unaccountable" EU.
The party wants massive reforms including elected commissioners who draw up laws, the repeal of many European directives and a rewritten Lisbon Treaty, put to a referendum in each country. It was founded by the Irish businessman Declan Ganley, who led the successful "no" campaign during Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty last year. He now hopes to secure 100 seats by being the first to have candidates across the continent.
Party insiders say prospects in Britain are nowhere near that level, but add they have received backing from Labour supporters annoyed at their party's decision not to hold a referendum on the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. Libertas has targeted young people and those who would not usually bother voting in the Euro election.
Andrew Jamieson, the chairman of Libertas in the UK, said Lord Tebbit's plea to voters to back a fringe party at the elections had provided his party with a fillip.
However, the party has already suffered from its own political scandal. One of its candidates in the Czech Republic was forced to resign after he was convicted of tax evasion.
Massive reforms, but not an end to membership. Wants elected commissioners, new Lisbon Treaty, and repeal of EU directives.
Voters unwilling to back Ukip and the BNP, which want to pull out of EU. Finding support from ex-Labour supporters and apathetic voters.
Not much support in Britain, but looks sure to win seats across Europe.
BNP targets North-west and West Midlands, but is running short of cash
The BNP is to launch a "monumental push" to secure its first MEPs by bringing together key activists from across the country to target two regions in the forthcoming European elections.
Though the party has been keen to suggest it is running a national campaign, secret memos sent to activists suggest that a funding shortfall has forced it to focus all its efforts into securing seats in the North-west and the West Midlands. The memo, obtained by the anti-fascist group Searchlight, instructs activists in Scotland and the North-east to head to the North-west ahead of the election on 4 June, while those in the Midlands and the South-west should help boost the campaign in the West Midlands.
The party has a real chance of winning its first seats in Strasbourg. It will need 9 per cent of the vote in the North-west to guarantee a seat, though could secure one with as little as a 7.5 per cent share. It is hoping that a more concerted campaign in Cumbria and Merseyside will see it boost the 6.4 per cent share of the vote it achieved in 2004. Senior figures in all three major parties harbour concerns that the BNP could be the recipient of anger against MPs milking the expenses system. It used the widespread disgust at the abuses as the focal point for the launch of its European campaign this week, depicting MPs as pigs stuffing money into their pockets. It also seized on the employment of foreign workers at Lindsey oil refinery earlier this year, adopting the slogan "British jobs for British workers".
However, MPs are hopeful they can head off the threat by redoubling their campaigning efforts. They believe the BNP has generally benefited in traditionally Labour-dominated areas when other parties decide not to campaign. According to one senior Labour figure who has been out canvassing opinion in London, many voters still have grave reservations about voting for the BNP and are more keen on voting for the more acceptable Ukip.
The BNP may also be damaged by a series of recent scandals. Simon Darby, the party's deputy leader, faced criticism earlier this month after describing the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, as an "ambitious African" whose fellow Ugandans threw spears at their enemies. It also faces a funding crisis. According to a leaked letter sent by the party's leader, Nick Griffin, the BNP has fallen well short of its £390,000 campaign fundraising target. The letter, sent to all members, suggests the party is still £90,000 short of the goal.
Will attempt to benefit from expenses scandals, as well as "British jobs for British workers" pledge.
Disillusioned working-class voters. Will target key areas of Midlands and North-west in European elections.
Realistic chance of first European seat in the North-west, but could be hit by Ukip strength and increased campaigning from main parties.
Nationalists hope to pick up disillusioned Labour vote
Nationalists in Wales and Scotland are aiming to be the big winners from the "haemorrhaging" of support from Labour at the 4 June elections.
The SNP launched its campaign yesterday with a pledge to focus on the Scottish jobs and its economy. But its leader, Alex Salmond, also focused attention on unpopular Labour policies from Westminster.
"We can make clear to the UK government that they must not cut £500m from the money we are investing in recovery and put at risk 9,000 jobs," he said. "Instead they can make the savings by scrapping the £100bn Trident replacement and £5bn ID cards."
Plaid Cymru, which launches its European campaign today, has its sights set on winning two of the four seats up for grabs in Wales as a result of the unpopularity of the Labour Government. It is also keen to see off a resurgence from the Tories.
"With Labour's vote collapsing, Plaid Cymru is the only real alternative for the people of Wales," said its leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones.
Ieuan Wyn Jones
Securing European money to fund green transport and broadband access.
Only realistic alternative to Labour.
Will pick up backing from disenchanted Labour voters.
Pledge to safeguard jobs and economy.
Biggest party in devolved Scottish parliament. Will benefit if Labour vote collapses.
Will win some of six seats up for grabs.