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

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried