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News Monday, 14 June, 1999, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
Tories celebrate Euro poll success
Conservative leader William Hague has hailed his party's dramatic European election victory as vindication of his opposition to the single currency.

Labour suffered a disastrous setback in what was the first nationwide electoral test of its popularity since winning the 1997 general election.

But all parties have expressed dismay at the record low turnout. Only about 23% of the British electorate bothered to vote in Thursday's poll, although in Northern Ireland it appeared to be more than one in two.

Labour has been replaced as the largest UK party in the European Parliament with its share of the vote slumping to about 28% - down from a 44% peak two years ago.

Mr Hague said the result - which mirrored a shift to the centre-right across much of the European Union - was a "a major breakthough" for his party.

(For more on the results across Europe click here)

"We spoke up for the people of this country who do want to be in Europe, but not run by Europe," he said.

"I don't want the euro. I want to keep the pound."

Blair 'to hold firm'

hague
William Hague: Tony Blair says his Euroscepticism is damaging to the UK's interests
Prime Minister Tony Blair said his party would learn lessons from the "very disappointing" result.

But he insisted Labour would not follow Mr Hague's example to try to regain support.

"There is an anti-European vote there to be mobilised, but I believe it is a short-term gain for long-term loss for him and the country," he said.

Mr Blair said he would not be swayed from his wish for the UK to adopt the euro if and when the government's pre-conditions were met.

He said his position on the euro had been set our clearly and "we have got to hold firm to the position that we have".

Ashdown bows out

The poll has also been the swansong for Paddy Ashdown as Liberal Democrat leader.

ashdown
Paddy Ashdown says Labour has not really tried to sell the euro to the public
At his last news conference in that role, Mr Ashdown accused the Tories of riding to success in the elections on an "extremist nationalist tide".

And turning on the government, he said Labour had left it for the Lib Dems to be the only party to actively promote the euro during the election campaign.

"The prime minister, who has shown such leadership in other areas, has completely failed to show any of those leadership qualities of which he is capable," he said.

Redrawing the political map

But the UK's first nationwide proportional representation election has produced unprecedented gains for smaller parties, particularly the UK Independence Party.

It won three seats, while the Greens took two seats, the same number as Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru.

The Tories had always been expected to pick up extra seats under the new voting system. However, the scale of their gains had not been widely anticipated.

After all the results in England, Scotland and Wales had been declared, they had won 36 seats, Labour 29 and the Liberal Democrats 10.

The result is likely to remove any doubts over Mr Hague's position as Tory leader and will temporarily silence those within the party who have accused him of being too Eurosecptic.

Mr Hague has ridiculed the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party which had hoped to embarrass him at the ballot box but have failed to win a seat.

"I don't think we will be hearing much more from them," he said.

Mr Hague has also said that those members of his party who have openly supported the breakaway faction will be expelled.

In Northern Ireland, Democratic Unionist leader Rev Ian Paisley topped the poll. He proclaimed this as a vote against last year's Good Friday Agreement.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Former Tory home secretary Michael Howard: "This is a great tribute to William Hague"
Video
The BBC's Norman Smith: "The results will be a boost for William Hague
Audio
Political Correspondent Emma Udwin: The Tories' anti-euro campaign produced a better result than many of them expected
Video
The BBC's John Pienaar: Labour's been taught a painful lesson
Audio
William Hague: "We spoke up for the people of this country who do want to be in Europe"
Video
The BBC's Robin Oakley: Tony Blair acknowledged the bruises
See also:

14 Jun 99 | News
14 Jun 99 | News
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