* Local, European elections being held in the UK
* Anti-EU UKIP party forecast to come first or second
* But poll shows Britons would vote to stay in EU
By Andrew Osborn
LONDON, May 22 As Britain voted on Thursday in
local and European elections an opinion poll exposed a paradox:
The anti-EU UK Independence Party is forecast to win the
European vote yet public opinion favours staying inside the
The poll, the last conducted before voting began, was based
on an unusually large sample of more than 6,000 people, and
suggested many were unhappy about the nature of Britain's ties
with the EU even if they didn't favour leaving the bloc.
The YouGov survey put support for UKIP, which wants Britain
to leave the EU, on 27 percent, ahead of all other parties. But
paradoxically it said 42 percent of those polled would vote to
stay in the EU if given the chance and 37 percent to leave.
UKIP wants an in/out EU membership referendum but has no
lawmakers in the British parliament to press for one, while
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold
such a vote by the end of 2017 if re-elected next year. The
Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labour party only back such
a vote if there's a major new power transfer to the EU.
Mats Persson, the director of Open Europe, a think tank
which campaigns for reform of the EU, said the poll showed UKIP
leader Nigel Farage had not yet won the big argument.
"Farage himself is very effective at maximising the vote,"
Persson told Reuters. "But fundamentally he has failed to
convince a majority of the British public on this key issue
because he has not put forward a credible option for life
outside the EU."
Farage says Britain would be more democratic and prosperous
outside the 28-nation bloc.
Patrick O'Flynn, UKIP's director of communications, said the
party planned to fight one battle at a time.
"People are not very good predictors of their own future
attitudes and much better at knowing what they are currently
thinking," he said. "It (the poll) doesn't particularly worry me
in terms of winning a referendum."
The European election, though in many ways a poor indicator
of voting intentions in a national vote, is the last test of
British national opinion before a general election next year and
is seen as a useful barometer of the public mood.
The elections will determine the political persuasion of
Britain's 73 lawmakers in the 751-seat European Parliament.
Local elections being held on the same day will decide the fate
of 4,216 local council seats, many of them in London.
Thursday's survey, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday among
6,124 people, put UKIP's support on 27 percent. The Labour party
was on 26 percent, the Conservatives on 22 percent, the Greens
on 10 percent, and the Liberal Democrats on 9 percent.
That is broadly consistent with previous polls, which
suggest many voters are fed up with the three main political
parties, viewing their policies as increasingly
Many Britons feel London has surrendered too many powers to
the EU and UKIP has argued that the EU's freedom of movement
policy makes it impossible to control Britain's borders.
Thursday's poll suggested UKIP's linkage of the two issues
was one which resonated with voters. The survey showed
immigration and Europe topped voter concerns, outstripping
worries over the economy.
The findings are mixed news for Prime Minister Cameron. They
suggests his pledge to try to reshape Britain's EU ties and hold
an EU membership referendum if re-elected is attractive to many
voters despite doubts over whether he can achieve reform.
However, the level of public anxiety about immigration is a
problem for him. His promise to reduce net migration to the
"tens of thousands" is way off target as figures published on
His party was never expected to do well on Thursday. Most
polls have long shown it will be pushed into third place behind
Labour and UKIP in a vote that many Britons regard as a
consequence-free opportunity to punish the incumbent party for
its perceived failings to try to correct its course.
Turnout in such elections is traditionally low. Polling
shows many Britons don't care who represents them in the
European Parliament or at a local level, and the proportional
representation voting system means the ballot favours small
parties whose chances of doing well in national elections are
much lower because of the first-past-the-post voting system.
However, the closeness of Thursday's vote to next year's
national election means the results will be closely watched and
could trigger potentially serious changes in political parties'
morale, lineup, and policies.
Results for the European elections will be available on
Sunday evening, in line with the rest of the EU, while results
for the local elections, likely to offer a foretaste of the EU
results, will be released in full on Friday.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)