The Lib Dem leadership contest has begun

Tim Farron joins Vince Cable in declaring that he's prepared to stand for leader.

First it was Vince Cable, now Tim Farron has joined the Business Secretary in declaring that he's prepared to stand for the Lib Dem leadership if Nick Clegg is removed. Asked whether he wanted to be leader, the party president told The House magazine: "I certainly wouldn't rule it out" (Cable told the FT: "I don’t exclude it – who knows what might happen in the future"). Farron's answer is significant because when asked this question, a politician traditionally replies: "We've already got a leader and he's doing an excellent job" (or words to that effect). His decision to fuel speculation about his intentions is a sign of just how weak Clegg's position is. As Richard Reeves, the Lib Dem leader's former strategy director, wrote in this week's issue, "For four days and nights the question in the sea air will be: Clegg or no Clegg?"

While it's unlikely that the Lib Dems will seek to force Clegg out in the next year, if the polls continue to show that they'd perform better under Cable, I expect them to remove him before the election. A recent ComRes poll showed that with Cable as leader, support for the Lib Dems would rise to 18%, compared to 14% under Clegg. On a uniform swing, that would leave the party with 39 of its 57 seats, compared with 23 under Clegg. The chance to save 15-20 MPs is likely to prove too good to resist. For the Lib Dems, it represents the difference between a bad result and a terrible one.

Now, in the form of Farron, Cable has an open challenger. The ballots may not have been sent out but, in every other respect, the Lib Dem leadership contest has already begun.

Asked whether he wanted to be leader, Lib Dem president Tim Farron said: "I certainly wouldn't rule it out".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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