When Nigel Farage's dream fades, it will be Dave who smiles

The Tories will be also-rans in next year's European elections, but once reality dawns in 2015, it is Labour who will have most to worry about

Share

I don't want to disrupt the Prime Minister's tactic of being ever so respectful of UK Independence Party voters, and he was factually incorrect, I think, to suggest seven years ago that Ukip members were "mostly" closet racists, but last week's Ukip surge will matter little at the next general election.

The party is not over yet, and Ukip will do well in next year's European Parliament elections. It will come second. Again. After the 2009 European elections and the Eastleigh and South Shields by-elections, it ought to be called the Runner-Up Party. Labour will come first in the European Parliament elections next year, as the main opposition nationally, and the Conservatives will come third. The Liberal Democrats won't do well at all, but it is that ghastly closed-list proportional system, so they will keep a handful of MEPs. Thus, like the Irish home rulers long ago, the Runner-Uppers will again send more than a dozen old-fashioned men to a parliament in which they do not believe their voters should be represented.

Then, however, it will be time to put away clownish things and to pay attention to the choice at the general election in 2015. During the year before the election, it will get through to many people tempted to vote Ukip that the choice of prime minister is a choice between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Support for Ukip will fall. An opinion poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft in November found that nearly half of possible Ukip voters would be put off if "my voting for Ukip would make it more likely that the big party I like least would end up in government". Given that the same poll found that Ukip "considerers" prefer Cameron to Miliband by a ratio of two to one, that fall will benefit the Tories. "A Vote for Ukip is a vote for Ed Miliband" is a "pretty simple message", one Downing Street official tells me.

At the general election, scores of Ukip candidates may well save their deposits (gaining more than 5 per cent of the vote), meeting the need for a protest party now that the Lib Dems have gone on to more difficult things, but none of them is likely to be elected as an MP.

The great realignment of British politics will fail to materialise, again. Nigel Farage will wake from his dream of coming from nowhere to replace the Tory party, and the Ukip effect will be reduced to taking away a few of the Tories' less knowledgeable supporters. For those of us who thought that allowing the voters to rank candidates in order of preference was a sensible reform, there is piquant justice in the Ukip voters' second preferences going to waste. But it is not going to make as big a difference as many Tory MPs in marginal seats fear.

It may seem perverse, but David Cameron's party did well last week. It was the worst Conservative showing in local elections since – well, since the party was last in government. The Tories lost a lot of seats on county councils, but those seats were last contested four years ago, when Cameron was a fresh and popular leader of the opposition and Gordon Brown was experimenting with new ways of alienating voters.

The important thing is that Labour did not do as well as it should have done. The party is on average eight points ahead in the opinion polls, which would be enough to win a majority of 90 seats. But when it came to it, last week's elections suggested that Labour is doing less well than that. It is hard to use local elections as a measuring stick for general elections: people vote for different reasons and in only some parts of the country. On Thursday, no one voted in London or in most of the other big English cities, or in Scotland.

Yet it is worth making the effort to glean what we can from the local elections. We can extrapolate from the places that voted to the ones that didn't, because changes in voting tend to be uniform across Great Britain. What matters is how much the Conservative and Labour shares of the vote changed, and what this means for the one number that will decide the next general election: the percentage-point difference between theTories and Labour.

The experts came up with different calculations. John Curtice for the BBC put Labour four points ahead of the Tories; Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher for Sky News put the gap even smaller. Either way, Labour did worse than its average opinion-poll lead of eight points would suggest. My simple rule is that Labour needs to be only one point ahead to win a majority in the Commons. On Thursday's showing, they are barely over the line.

It may be that opinion polls are a better indicator of how people would vote in a general election, but local elections give a clue, to put it no more strongly, to what might happen when people cast actual votes.

Neither the polls nor the local elections tell us what might change over the next two years, but last week did remind us of one thing that will help Cameron: when the Ukip surge falls back, it will fall back to the Tories' advantage.

However you measure it, Ed Miliband is not far enough ahead to be confident of a majority on 7 May 2015.

twitter.com@JohnRentoul; independent.co.uk/johnrentoul

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness