Lib Dems have cause to fear Ukip as the inheritors of their mid-term protest vote

 

When Nick Clegg tells his staff he intends to make a speech about Europe, his political aides usually roll their eyes and try to talk him out of it. They believe there are few votes in defending the EU.

As a former MEP and European Commission official, Mr Clegg is instinctively pro-European but he is not a starry-eyed Europhile and has written books about the need for it to be reformed.

At the European Parliament elections in May, Mr Clegg has decided, there is no point in pretending his party is something it is not.  So he will draw a deliberate contrast between the “out” brigade of Ukip and the Lib Dems as “the party of IN.”

It is a gamble, albeit a calculated one. Ukip is expected to do well under the proportional representation (PR) system, which means there are no “wasted votes”. Its target areas will include East Anglia, Lincolnshire, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, where it did well in last year’s county council elections.

Ironically, PR is the Lib Dems’ Holy Grail and the party would normally do well under it. But not in a mid-term European election when an anti-EU party has supplanted the Lib Dems as a “protest party” and Mr Clegg is in government. 

There is another reason why Ukip should do well: Nigel Farage has cleverly broadened his party’s agenda to give immigration a high profile. Most voters care much more about that than they do about the EU.

 

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