Ukip overtakes Lib Dems as third most popular party

The latest YouGov poll puts the Eurosceptic outfit above Nick Clegg's party.

Ukip may never have won a seat in the House of Commons, but today it has overtaken the Liberal Democrats as the third most popular party, if a YouGov poll for the Sun is to be believed.

The daily poll puts Nigel Farage’s party on nine per cent, one point ahead of the Lib Dems, who have eight per cent of the vote. While Ukip has consistently polled close behind Nick Clegg’s party since the 2010 election, this appears to be the first time it has actually closed the gap overall. (One YouGov poll last year put them ahead among 18-24 year olds, but not overall).

As with any unusual result, it is worth noting that this could be an outlier. A Populus poll in the Times (£), also out today, keeps the Lib Dems safely in third place with 11 per cent of the vote.

However, it would be foolish to write off the result entirely, given that this has been on the cards for the last six months at least. In some ways, it is hardly surprising. The Lib Dems have traditionally been the beneficiaries of protest votes from those unenamoured with the two main parties, a support base it lost when it entered government. While many disillusioned Liberal Democrat voters went to Labour, Ukip benefited from those seeking a more anti-establishment alternative.

Conversely, Tory right-wingers frustrated at the perceived softness of their party in coalition may also be switching allegiance. As Antony Wells explains at UK Polling Report, there may be some more immediate factors too:

A third, more short term cause is probably the granny tax: we’ve seen significant drops in Conservative support and increases in support for UKIP amongst over 60s since the Budget and older people have always been by far the most likely group to vote UKIP.

It is certainly a boost for Farage’s party ahead of May’s local elections, though it remains unlikely that this will be translated into seats in parliament in the next general election. However, as my colleague Rafael Behr argued last year, increasing support for Ukip could shape future policy, particularly on Europe:

One factor that could really change the dynamic is the performance of Ukip - or rather, Nigel Farage's party's anticipated performance in 2014 European elections . . . Conservative strategists are, apparently, very worried about what that might mean for a poll that is due just a year before the next general election. It is feasible to imagine that, come 2014, Cameron will be more afraid of Farage's populist, nationalist agitation beyond the gates of his coalition than Clegg's cosmopolitan Europhile hand-wringing within.

It is entirely possible that Ukip will not sustain its lead in tomorrow’s YouGov/Sun poll – but this is a significant vote share for a minor party, and clearly, it cannot be entirely dismissed.
 

Ukip supporters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament, London, October 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.