3 May 2013

Farage sinks a pint… and a party’s hopes?

Nigel Farage sank his first on-camera drink of the day with great speed. For those monitoring when the first drink tends to pass the Ukip leader’s lips (the Spectator spotted him nabbing a red wine off the train drinks trolley the other day at 1108) this particular pint of bitter slipped down at 1130 am.
That 26 per cent of the poll figure that Ukip are averaging so far poses hefty challenges for the Tories. In the equivalent English county seats in the 2009 local elections, Ukip managed about 15 per cent of the vote. In the general election, that got squeezed down to around 5 per cent.

If there was an equivalent squeeze on the Ukip vote in the general election (no foregone conclusion) that would only bring them down to 15 per cent and given half their support is thought to come from ex-Tory voters that would be very punishing to Tory MPs defending marginals.

That said, Labour’s surge is not yet looking sufficiently strong to make you run out and put money on a Labour overall majority at the general election. Labour at first glance looks like it might be losing more support to Ukip than was previously thought or witnessed. If Labour doesn’t win Lancashire it could be due to Ukip. It could be that the Lib Dems in some seats drained away more support to Ukip than previously expected.

In a seat like Harlow in Essex, Labour doesn’t seem to be doing as well as you might expect in normal mid-term opposition terms. On the basis of last night’s results, you could imagine the Tory MP holding on in Harlow if he could squeeze Ukip’s local election tally down.

Michael Gove has warned Tories thinking of rebelling against David Cameron that it would be “barmy” and “bonkeroony”. Some Tory MPs have been approached as recently as the last few weeks to see if they’re up for a coup attempt against David Cameron. But one of those approached said he got the distinct impression the air had gone out of that particular balloon.

Another told me the appetite for a full-scale revolt had “definitely dissipated” in the last couple of months. Another Tory backbencher with his finger on the pulse said he thought the moment for a coup was probably in the two months after these elections (the post-European parliamentary elections panic, already in the diary for many Tory MPs, would be too late to replace the leader some feel).

That Tory MP thought the odds were now “70-30 against” any sort of challenge against David Cameron in the coming weeks and “probably even lower than that”.

Overall, you come away from these results thinking the chances of a hung parliament after 2015 look stronger. The BBC sample of key wards suggests that since 2009 the Ukip vote is up 18 per cent, Labour up 7 per cent, the Tories down 9 per cent and the Lib Dems down 11 per cent.

That would only put Labour, on average, a nose ahead of the Tories in key wards and if (big “if”) the Tories could squeeze the Ukip enthusiasm on general election night you can see how that would be too tight for comfort for Labour.

Nigel Farage suggested on Radio 4 this morning that his historic role was like the SDP in the 1980s and just as the SDP pulled the Labour party to the right, he would pull the Tories to his agenda. Some would say it is already happening. But some might say that the real lesson of the SDP in the 1980s was that it splintered off from Labour and helped the mother party lose the 1983 election in monumental style, nearly coming third in share of the vote.

We asked Lewis Baston to have a crunch through the council results in some English marginals to see how Labour was doing.

In South Derbyshire, where the local authority and the parliamentary constituency are the same, Labour actually came second to the Tories on share of the vote, 36 per cent to 35 per cent. In Harlow Labour won by 33 per cent to 30 per cent over the Tories – Labour was 27 per cent ahead of the Tories a couple of years before the 1997 general election here. In Worcester, another weather vain marginal, Labour is 1 point behind the Tories, 34 per cent to 33 per cent. In Nuneaton, Labour is 37 per cent to a Tory 36 per cent on the basis of yesterday’s vote.

These are seats Labour held throughout its time in government under Tony Blair. Assuming the Tories can squeeze anything out of the Ukip vote from last night (and the Tories’ private polling suggests to them they can) these particular seats don’t give Labour any particular encouragement just now. 

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