Labour faces EU election 'disaster'

June 4, 1999

The Labour Party risks electoral disaster in next week's European Parliament elections, signalling trouble for the next general election, according to academics at the London School of Economics.

Patrick Dunleavy, of the LSE public policy group, warned that Labour could lose 28 of its 62 seats, because of its neglect of supporters in traditional heartlands. His warning came as lecturers stepped up lobbying of MEP candidates.

Professor Dunleavy said: "If they dip below 38 seats, Labour will really be doing badly. The problem is that its traditional supporters are disillusioned."

He said that opinion polls, which the leadership tends to believe, consistently show Labour further ahead than it actually is.

"If the party continues to believe in its dominant opinion-poll position, it could have serious problems being re-elected. Looking at local elections, the issues that tend to dominate are those relating to local services, which should favour the Labour Party. But in inner-city areas, turnout is below 25 per cent. There were significant swings away from Labour in the recent local government elections and in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly."

The LSE's public policy group has carried out an analysis of candidates and seats in the forthcoming elections. According to the last Mori poll in mid-May, Labour had a clear lead at 52 per cent, compared with the Tories' 25 per cent. The proportional voting system tends to undermine the lead of larger parties while boosting seats for the smallest. But if voting patterns follow those of the recent local and assembly elections, Labour would win 34 seats, the Tories 29, the Liberal Democrats 16, with five seats for the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

The Association of University Teachers has targeted MEP candidates, stressing the international importance of higher education. It has sent briefs to candidates setting out its concerns. It says that the Erasmus, Socrates and Leonardo programmes for student exchange fail to go far enough. One problem is that maintenance cuts have made higher education unaffordable to many, says the AUT.

There is also concern about government pressure to harmonise higher education qualifications in the European Union, which threatens to deprive universities of their say in how this should be done.

The AUT says that research funds available from the EU through the fifth framework programme do not represent an increase in real terms. It is calling for action to curb the use of fixed-term contracts for researchers.

The National Union of Students is urging students to use their vote. It has sent out 200,000 leaflets to people aged 18 to 24.

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