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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Kennedy misses the jackpot
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Before Sunday's Euro poll results, Charles Kennedy probably had every reason to expect his Liberal Democrats would be the big winners.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy was pushed into fourth place
After the previous local polls, he might have hoped that the swing against the government would go in his favour and he would be celebrating significant new advances.

Unfortunately for him, along came UKIP to cast a shadow over his party.

The Lib Dems may have increased their share of the vote in the European parliament election - no small thing in itself.

But thanks to the UKIP breakthrough, they were pushed into fourth place overall.

Mr Kennedy will argue that does not reflect the party's real level of support, but the psychological effects of that should not be underestimated.

Lose sleep

It has already led some to claim Mr Kennedy made a tactical mistake by calling on voters to use the poll to protest at the war on Iraq.

A ballot paper
Voters subbed all major parties
They claim he should have been arguing a robust pro-European case to combat UKIP.

But Mr Kennedy can take relief from the fact that his share of the vote increased and that he probably suffered from the general anti-establishment vote which hit both the big parties and led voters to turn instead to smaller parties including the Greens and Respect.

So once the initial disappointment has worn off, Mr Kennedy will not lose too much sleep over this result.

Electoral disaster

Firstly, despite the rise in support for UKIP, the Lib Dem's staunchly pro-European stand won more votes, suggesting such a platform does not necessarily spell electoral disaster.

Secondly, there is enough evidence from all these polls to suggest the Tories have still failed to make a general election-winning breakthrough - while his party continues to make ground nationally.

That will help him argue the case that Britain's electoral system really is becoming a three party one.

Thirdly, like the other two parties, he can probably rest assured that UKIP's performance will not translate into a general election shocker.

And lastly there seems no suggestion that his leadership is once again under the spotlight.

He fought an active campaign and, overall, the Lib Dems have more reason to feel upbeat than their Labour and Tory counterparts.




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