Inside Westminster: Ukip’s fortunes could brighten in the European elections, but don’t expect that to carry on in 2015 when it will really count

Farage did well in EU matters but was shaky on foreign policy and domestic issues

Share

Nigel Farage is unquestionably the man of the moment in British politics. He should enjoy it while it lasts – because it won’t.

The UK Independence Party leader appears on course to achieve his “political earthquake”. He “won” Wednesday’s broadcast debate with Nick Clegg on Europe: 57 per cent of people believed he performed best, with 36 per cent opting for the Deputy Prime Minister. Today another YouGov survey showed Ukip a close second behind Labour in voting intentions for the European Parliament elections in May, and one point ahead of Labour among those absolutely certain to turn out.

The other parties are right to be worried about the rise and rise of Ukip. But Mr Farage could still be heading for a fall at next year’s general election.

A fascinating study to be published next week by British Future, an independent think tank, puts the Farage phenomenon in perspective. It reminds us that we have been here before. The report analyses the three European elections since proportional representation was introduced in 1999.

The three “insider” parties – Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – secured a lower share of the vote at the Euro polls than in the previous or following general elections, whether they were in government or opposition. Between them, Labour and the Tories got below 50 per cent of the Euro vote but recovered to two-thirds at the next general election. In contrast, “outsider” parties such as Ukip averaged 24 per cent in Euro elections but only 4 per cent when the nation next chose its government. Although the number of people voting doubled to about 30 million at general elections, the “outsider” vote collapsed – for example, from 4.7 million in the 2009 Euro poll to 1.8 million a year later.

According to British Future, Ukip could win between 25 and 30 per cent of the vote this May but, on past performance, should expect to lose about 63 per cent of it at next year’s general election. This would give Ukip just 5 to 6 per cent– unlikely to be enough to get its first MP.

Even if Ukip’s higher media profile and growing local presence allowed it to retain 66 per cent of its Euro vote, it might land only 8 to 10 per cent of the general election vote, the study says, and would still struggle to win any Commons seats.

In contrast, the Tories, as the main governing party, should expect to add about 13 per cent to their Euro election score, so a 23 per cent share for David Cameron’s party this May could be enough to secure a narrow victory a year later. The main opposition party should add between 6 and 8 per cent to its Euro score: if Ed Miliband’s party matches the Tories’ 2009 figure of 28 per cent, it could be enough to get him to Downing Street.

British Future reminds us that Euro elections are very different. The much smaller Euro electorate will have a much older, whiter and more vocally Eurosceptic profile than the voters of 2015, which will suit Ukip very nicely this May. About a quarter of those who vote in both 2014 and 2015 are likely to choose different parties. Indeed, Ipsos Mori found that about 55 per cent of Ukip supporters say their main reason for backing the party in the Euro poll is “to send a message to the other parties that I’m unhappy”, with only a quarter saying Ukip has the best policies on Europe and about 15 per cent that the party has the best policies to run Britain.

Of course, past trends are not always the best guide to the future. Senior figures in Ukip know the general election will be much harder to crack than the Euro poll but are convinced they can break the mould of British politics. Yet the first-past-the-post system is cruel on smaller parties and creates a huge mountain for Mr Farage to climb. Would millions of people really vote for him when they are choosing a government? He did well enough on EU matters in Wednesday’s debate but was shaky when it came to foreign policy issues such as Ukraine or domestic matters such as gay marriage. Next year, he will need a credible economic policy that goes much wider than quitting the EU.

However, even if Ukip wins no seats next year, it could be a “spoiler” which decides the outcome in key marginal seats by taking votes from other parties.

Some Tory and Labour figures complain that Mr Clegg was wrong to give Mr Farage a leg-up to a higher national platform with two broadcast debates, the second of which will be on Wednesday. The truth is that the Ukip leader had already elevated himself and is not going to go away soon.

The Lib Dem leader had nothing to lose – literally, as his party could end up with no MEPs, instead of its current 12, after the Euro elections. Mr Clegg’s performance was strong enough to appeal to the one in four people who are pro-EU. He now needs them to vote on 22 May. Mr Clegg deserves credit for kickstarting Britain’s first real debate on Europe since 1975, and for making the positive case for EU membership. With Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband so reluctant to make it, it is hardly surprising that Mr Farage has made hay.

Read more:
Nigel Farage: Why did Clegg duck the vital questions in our debate?

The Lib Dems’ quiet revolutionary

George Osborne may have won the plaudits for a skilful Budget with sweeping changes to pensions and savings, which appears to have changed the political weather. But one of the unsung heroes was Steve Webb, the quiet but highly effective Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister.

Unlike some of his Lib Dem colleagues, the former Institute for Fiscal Studies economist took to ministerial life like a duck to water. Unusually, he knows as much, if not more, about his subject than his civil servants, and is unmistakably a man in the right job. He has long had the annuities market and fees for workplace pension funds in his sights. Now, it seems, all his Christmases have come at once.

Mr Webb has formed a good working relationship with Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, who lets him get on with his job.

With local and European elections in May, the Tories and Lib Dems will soon be kicking lumps out of each other again after their Budget truce. But the revolution in pensions, led by a quiet revolutionary, is another reminder that coalition works.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:TEACHERS REQUIREDWe are...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Hislop the Younger, by-election polling and all about the olden days

John Rentoul
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to 'adapt and survive'

Nigel Edwards
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?