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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
UKIP seeks more Euro seats
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It is always a boost for political parties to be able to trot out some celebs at election time.

Robert Kilroy-Silk
Kilroy-Silk is standing in the East Midlands
And the small but high-profile UK Independence Party can certainly claim its fair share of those.

Most recently it has lined up controversial TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk - the man who probably pioneered daytime audience participation shows in Britain - as a candidate for the European parliament elections.

Publicist Max Clifford and Dick Morris, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton are also on board.

So that should help ensure the party gets voters' attention.

And it is probably fair to say that the party's demand for the UK to pull out of the EU strikes a chord with a large number of British voters.

PR system

Whether all this celebrity and policy can be translated into votes, let alone seats in the European elections on 10 June, is another matter.

It is always difficult for smaller parties to make the breakthrough in British politics, thanks to the nature of the first-past-the-post system.

UKIP's poster launch
UKIP hopes to win 10 Euro seats
Things are better for them in Europe because the election is carried out under a PR system.

Last time around that helped it secure three of the 84 British seats and, things being equal, party leaders could well have expected to improve on that showing on 10 June.

And, speaking at the launch of the party's campaign, leader Roger Knapman called for voters to make 10 June "Independence Day" by handing him 10 or more seats.

War vote

The apparent rise in Euroscepticism amongst voters should play to their advantage, as might the government's U turn over a referendum on the EU constitution.

That change of heart by Tony Blair may have effectively neutralised the referendum argument as an election issue, but it also ensured it was put in the front of voters' minds.

The downside for the party, however, is the effect of enlargement of the EU which has meant nine fewer seats to share out in the UK.

There is also the question of whether the EU poll will really turn into a vote on Tony Blair's role in the war on Iraq - as the Liberal Democrats are urging.

And whether the public Euroscepticism actually suggests there is a widespread desire to withdraw from the EU and renegotiate terms is an open question.

Either way, at a time when the party may reasonably expect to improve its showing, it may find it has a fight on its hands.



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