European elections 2014: Nerves all round, but Nick Clegg has most to fear

 

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Governments usually view European elections with trepidation. Voters typically use them to give the party in power a bit of a kicking. But this time the Opposition will be as nervous about the outcome as every other party at Westminster.

All eyes next week will be on Ukip. A poll of the polls of Euro voting intentions conducted in the last few weeks suggests that Ukip could well claim first place. Ukip is running at 29 per cent, two points ahead of Labour on 27 per cent.

Moreover, quite a few of these polls were taken before signs emerged in the last week or so that Labour’s already narrow lead in Westminster voting intentions has become even smaller. If that movement translates into the polls next week, Labour could well become the first opposition party since 1984 to fail to top the European poll.

However, despite the use of proportional representation, Labour could fail to come first in votes but still win most seats.

If the changes in vote shares implied by our poll of polls were to occur uniformly across the 11 separate regions into which Britain is carved up for the election, Labour would  still have one more seat than Ukip.

Because the Labour vote is geographically more uneven, on that scenario  the party would still be ahead in six regions, Ukip in just five, thereby giving Labour an advantage in the carve-up of seats.

Meanwhile, although the Conservatives are at apparent risk of a drubbing, the party looks as though it will perform far better than the 16 per cent to which the last Labour government fell in 2009.

The apparent recent drop in Labour support has even given the Tories some hope of yet sneaking in first.

Even so, that cannot disguise the fact that Ukip’s surge seems set to do most damage to the Tories. On average, recent polls suggest that over one in five of those who would currently vote Conservative in a general election will back Ukip instead next Thursday.

In contrast, less than one in 10 current Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters seem inclined to defect to Ukip. Moreover, the better Ukip does on Thursday, the better its prospects for retaining a significant chunk of its support all the way through to next year’s general election.

But the Westminster leader with most to fear next week is Nick Clegg.

Even at the best of times, European elections have never been a particularly good hunting ground for the Liberal Democrats. Now with their Westminster support as weak as it has been at any time since going into Coalition, they could be struggling to retain even the slimmest of toeholds at Strasbourg.

On just eight per cent of the national vote, leaving the Liberal Democrats struggling to stay ahead of the Greens, the party might just scrape home in the South-east region, where more seats are up for grabs than anywhere else.

Avoiding a whitewash could prove to be a close-run thing.

John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University

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