The importance of your vote

At least we can give Mr Farage some credit for rousing people who disagree with Ukip, with a reminder of why voting matters

 

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One thing can be said in Nigel Farage's favour: he has brought the European Parliament election campaign to life. Our ComRes opinion poll today suggests that the UK Independence Party is heading for one of the most striking election upsets in recent history. For a so-called protest party that has no MPs in the House of Commons to win 35 per cent of a national vote would be extraordinary.

Ukip's advance has, late in the day, provoked a reaction. Our poll puts the Green Party in fourth place: possibly because pro-Europeans have been galvanised. Supporters of the European ideal may see the force of Nick Clegg's argument that a "party of out" needs to be opposed by a "party of in", without wanting to vote for a party that is "in" the coalition government.

What is more, many pro-Europeans have been disappointed by Ed Miliband's caution, and by his apology for the principled decision of the Labour government to open our borders to citizens of the new EU nations in 2004.

However, it was encouraging that the Labour Party started to take a more robust approach last week. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, sought to engage directly with Ukip's appeal to Labour's working-class supporters. She said: "Ukip wants to end paid holiday rights and reduce job protection – making it easier for employers to abuse immigration as a cheap option." She said Labour would "outlaw agencies hiring only overseas", and insisted: "Pulling out of Europe won't help – that risks jobs."

This was probably a more effective way of taking the fight to Ukip than that adopted by the Liberal Democrats, who made a YouTube video simply assembling some of the racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic things that various Ukip candidates and councillors had said. Persuading floating voters that there is something unsavoury about Ukip turned out to be a task better carried out by the party's leader than by his political opponents.

Mr Farage's interview with James O'Brien on LBC on Friday was an important moment in this campaign. The Ukip leader was asked why people should feel uncomfortable if a Romanian family moved into their street but not if a German family did. He replied: "You know what the difference is."

A line was crossed, as was confirmed by two things yesterday. One was Ukip's defiant statement of clarification, which sought to associate Romanians with "criminality". The other was an editorial in The Sun, which condemned Mr Farage as a racist.

The turning of The Sun is significant, not least because it has carried its fair share of alarmist stories about Roma in the past. Let us hope that it marks the turning of a tide. Let us also hope that enough people will have noticed the most visible party in this campaign and made a judgement accordingly.

The Independent on Sunday has always accepted that leaving the EU is an arguable policy that should be debated. It is a shame that Ukip has clouded it with prejudice. But the debate must go on.

In our view, the EU is a valuable if flawed joint venture. Its parliament is perhaps more flawed than valuable. And the closed-list voting system used in Great Britain, which gives too much power to party machines, is more flawed still. Yet Thursday's election is important. If there are local elections in your area, they are important, too.

Turnout is expected to be low: at least we can give Mr Farage some credit for rousing people who disagree with Ukip, with a reminder of why voting matters. The thing about democracy, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau did not quite say, is that it does not come round that often. So when the chance comes, as it does this week, whatever you do, do vote.

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