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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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