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Europe Votes

Bright days for Britain's euroskeptics

The euroskeptic UK Independence Party made significant gains when Britons voted in EU and local elections on Thursday. No one yet knows what that means for the European Union.

"D'you want to know who I voted for? UKIP! To me, they're the only party that's interested in all these foreigners coming into the country," said 83-year-old Londoner Michael McKennedy as he left his east London polling station. "Look at it, there's hardly any jobs for the kids around here."

McKennedy was proud to tell the world he'd just cast his vote for the UK Independence Party, UKIP, and his words, and those of voters like him, are the kind likely to make EU leaders even more anxious than they might have otherwise been.

UKIP was forecast to make the biggest splash at the polls on May 22, and it did in local council elections, where it gained more than 89 seats after over half of the returns had been counted on Friday morning. The results of the vote for European Parliament aren't due to be announced until Sunday, May 25, after the polls in the final country, Italy, close.

Britons like McKennedy say that it's the only party listening to what he and a significant number of others care about.

Widening the English Channel

The party is known best for its tough talk on, as some supporters would put it, "how the country looks."

"For UKIP voters, the most important thing is immigration, says Laurence Janta-Lipinski, a research manager for one of the UK's top political pollsters, YouGov.

"They are dissatisfied. They are left-behind voters, voters who don't feel that the main parties represent them and this is what UKIP's tapping into for their support."

A policeman guards a pollling station in London

Turnout was only around 36 percent

After voting in rural Kent, southeast England, UKIP's charismatic leader, Nigel Farage, posed for a barrage of photographers. "Things will never be quite the same again," he said.

Farage enjoyed a level of media popularity in recent months that the UK's other political leaders could only dream of. And that's despite - or even due to - a seemingly ongoing series of statements by Farage and some UKIP colleagues perceived as clumsy by some, outright racist and sexist by others.

Having a say in Europe

Despite UKIP's growing popularity, 42 percent of Britons polled just before the election said they would vote to stay in the EU if given the chance, while 37 percent would vote to leave, according to YouGov.

"It's worth making the effort [to vote]", said Adrian Everson as he sipped his morning coffee in Wimbledon, on the other side of London, after castin his ballot, "So we can have a say with what's happening in Europe."

The rest of Europe will be looking at how well UKIP did in the elections, said YouGov's Janta-Lipinsk. But there are other underlying attitudes in British public opinion that are more favorable towards the EU, he added, referring to recent polls that indicated the more strident anti-Europe feeling that had reached a fever pitch several months ago in Britain had begun to ease up.

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