The June 2004 elections to the European Parliament marked a turning point in British politics. For the first time, the two largest parties together secured less than fifty per cent of the vote, with each receiving its lowest support in living memory. The breakthrough of the United Kingdom Independence Party, with its simple message of straightforward withdrawal from the European Union, shook the political establishment and, by dragging the centre ground towards Euroscepticism, seemed to redraw the political map. The future of Tony Blair's leadership was much discussed, although his party's setback in the European elections and other electoral contests seemed paradoxically to strengthen his resolve. Nevertheless, relative equanimity was bought at the cost of the Prime Minister's promise to hold a referendum on the draft European Constitution which polls indicated the Government would almost certainly lose. And, even if the Government seemed set to be returned at the next General Election, the losses in the European elections gave a first indication of 'Teflon' Tony Blair's electoral mortality - though not necessarily that of his party.Michael Howard's Conservative opposition entered the campaign in the confident expectation that a platform would be built for the 2005 General Election, but the combined effects of UKIP's breakthrough and a Liberal Democrat upsurge left the party and its leadership struggling for the strategic high ground. Charles Kennedy's Liberal Democrats saw their consistent opposition to the Iraq war rewarded with an electoral performance that could arguably justify his claim that his party was becoming the de facto opposition to Labour. A 'non-election' in terms of popular perception, the 2004 European elections in the United Kingdom nevertheless provided a fascinating snapshot of the new, far more fluid electoral trends that have been emerging since the end of the Thatcher era, with Green, Eurosceptical, regional and single issue parties all jostling for electoral space with the bigger three. Like its predecessors, this book documents the background, framework and party preparations; recounts how the campaign unfolded; analyses the results and explores the consequences of the elections in both the British and the European context.

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