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EDITIONS
Voting in the UK Wednesday, 2 June, 1999, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Previous UK European elections
MEPs elected
1979 1984 1989 1994
Labour 17 32 45 62
Conservative 62 45 32 18
Lib Dems*  0  0  0  2
SNP  1  1  1  2
Others**  3  3  3  3
* Or Liberal, or Liberal/SDP Alliance   ** 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP

Share of the vote
1979 1984 1989 1994
Labour 33.0 36.5 40.1 44.2
Conservative 50.6 40.8 34.7 27.9
Lib Dems* 13.1 19.5  6.2 16.7
Others**  3.3  3.2 19.0** 11.2
* Or Liberal, or Liberal/SDP Alliance   ** 14.1% Green, 4.1% rest

The European Parliament is the only directly-elected, multi-national parliament in the world, but this has not always been the case.

The 1951 treaty which created the European Coal and Steel Community (a precursor to the European Economic Community and later European Union) provided for a representative assembly of members drawn from the participating nations' national parliaments.

1979: First direct elections

In June 1979, the nine EEC countries held the first direct elections to the European Parliament.

Only 32.7% of the UK electorate bothered to turn out compared with 91.3% in Belgium - the start of a trend of voter apathy followed at all subsequent UK Euro-polls.

One particular reason in 1979 might have been voter burnout. In March, electors in Scotland and Wales had cast ballots in devolution referendums, and in May there was the general election which brought Mrs Thatcher to power, plus council elections in every authority in England and Wales apart from London.

As well as the momentum from their general election victory, the Tories benefited from deep divisions within Labour over whether the UK should remain in the EEC. They gained a 5% swing compared with the general election and won 60 of the 78 MEPs.

1984: Labour fightback

In 1983, Mrs Thatcher had won a landslide in the UK general election.

The Conservative vote held up well in the 1984 European elections (40.8% compared with 42.4% in 1983), but the main feature of the result was the start of Labour's return from the electoral abyss of the previous year.

Then, Labour had polled barely 2% more than the combined Liberal and Social Democratic parties (27.6% to 25.4%) and it looked possible that Labour was in terminal decline.

In the Euro-elections, however, Labour widened the gap over the Liberal/SDP alliance to 17% and took 32 of the 78 MEPs, while the Tories fell back to 45.

The UK was again bottom of the turnout league, with only 33% bothering to vote.

1989: Turning point

The 1989 European election marked the first time Labour had defeated the Conservatives in a national election since October 1974.

Mrs Thatcher's anti-European tone upset many in her party, who blamed her for the defeat. Labour campaigned mainly on domestic issues and took 45 seats, compared with 32 for the Tories.

After the campaign Labour moved onto the offensive over the poll tax and within 18 months Mrs Thatcher had fallen victim to the European splits within her party.

Also of note was the stunning performance of the Green Party. As the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed, the Greens came from nowhere to take third place in terms of the popular vote with 14.9%.

The nature of the First Past The Post electoral system, however, meant the Greens did not win a single seat.

1994: Presaging disaster

The 1994 European election was virtually a dress rehearsal for the Conservatives' general election rout three years later.

Rent by European divisions, the party's share of the vote was a paltry 27.9% and it won only 18 MEPs. The situation could have been far worse than that, however.

Twelve of the Conservative MEPs had such small majorities that the switching of just 11,400 votes from Tory to Labour and 10,600 to the Liberal Democrats would have left the party with just six MEPs.

Also indicative of what would happen in 1997, post-election analysis found that 43% of Tory voters in London who changed allegiance went straight over to Labour rather than defecting to the Lib Dems, their traditional 'alternative choice'.

As a result, Labour collared a mammoth 62 of the now-87 UK MEPs and the Liberal Democrats, most pro-European of the major parties, finally won representation with two.

The Scottish National Party beat its previous electoral high water mark and won two MEPs. Plaid Cymru's share was also its best, though it failed to win a seat.

The Greens, meanwhile, returned to relative electoral obscurity, having failed to capitalise on their remarkable performance of 1989.

For the first time, the UK did not finish bottom of the European turnout league. The UK's figure of 36.8% was higher than both Portugal (in the middle of a public holiday) and the Netherlands (recent general election).

Links to more Voting in the UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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