Editorial: Ukip's dramatic emergence may yet throw the May local elections wide open

Leaders of all three parties will be watching to see whether Nigel Farage can sustain the momentum he generated in the Eastleigh by-election in February

Share

Labour and the Liberal Democrats today launch their campaigns for the local elections on 2 May, which will be significant as one of the last major tests of the political weather ahead of the general election. In 2009, the Tories swept the board in these seats – mainly naturally right-of-centre, shire areas – so the only question a few months ago was how many seats they would lose, and whether it would be Labour or the Liberal Democrats that took the most off them.

What has since complicated those calculations has been Ukip’s dramatic emergence, which is why the leaders of all three parties will be watching to see whether Nigel Farage can sustain the momentum he generated in the Eastleigh by-election in February. The wild card of British politics is still coasting along on 17 per cent in the polls, well below the 28 per cent it won in Eastleigh but enough to inflict massive damage on the Tories unless its bubble deflates before May.

The decision to field 2,000 candidates in the 2,400 or so seats is ambitious, evidence that Mr Farage is on a mission to consolidate his Eastleigh triumph and at the same time chastise his bête noire, David Cameron, for having once described Ukip as a collection of fruitcakes and closet racists.

Just as the Tories must go down in May, Ukip, which won only seven council seats in 2009, must surely gain. If the party makes a serious showing on 2 May, and then does well in the European elections in 2014, it will be legitimate to start talking about a realignment of the political landscape, or at least the English one; there’s still no sign of Ukip picking up in the Celtic fringe.

The temptation for Labour is to sit back and watch the two parties of the right lacerate one another. It will meanwhile take comfort in wresting seats off the Tories in the Midlands, where it came second in 2009 but where its 10-point lead nationally over the Tories will translate into significant gains. But Labour realises that the local elections are not entirely risk-free, and that simply opposing the Tories is no longer enough. Such considerations underpin the decision to make tackling loan sharks a priority in the local elections. Ed Miliband knows he must provide convincing evidence that Labour is starting to reverse decades of decline outside the traditional heartlands. If not, there will be concern about why the “one-nation” strategy is not making more headway, prompting doubts about whether a Labour victory in 2015 is inevitable.

The other interesting question in the local elections is whether the Tories’ own new strategy, placing a sharper accent on welfare reform and immigration, will start to deliver results, by limiting the damage that the Tories sustain from Labour, the Liberal Democrats or Ukip. With the economy becalmed, it can only benefit the Conservatives if the national debate continues to shift away from the deficit and wobbly credit ratings towards Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit caps and such issues as when immigrants should gain access to the NHS and legal aid.

Labour feels justifiably impatient with what it sees as undue attention focused on a handful of unrepresentative benefit cases. It is also starting to fight back against claims that it has no interest in reforming welfare. This is why radical new proposals have suddenly emerged from Mr Duncan Smith’s opposite number, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne, which centre on restoring the long-lost contributory element to welfare. May will provide a test run, therefore, for the new approaches of both the Tories and Labour in an election that may yield surprises.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Analyst -International TV Production

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project