Lib Dems are confident of winning the Battle of Beecroft

Clegg's team doubt Cameron is in a hurry to heed the same voices that urged him to cut the 50p rate.

One of the things that most frustrates Tory and Lib Dem ministers alike in the coalition is the way that policy disagreements that might be easily resolved through compromise are ramped up into tests of identity and virility on party back benches.

One often cited example is the appointment of Les Ebdon to head the Office of Fair Access, the body that is meant to guarantee that universities have as diverse an intake as possible. Most Conservatives didn’t like Ebdon, seeing him as a dangerous social engineer and (more dangerous still) the chosen candidate of Vince Cable. David Cameron was not enamoured with the idea of Ebdon getting the job.

Privately, senior Lib Dems say now they would have easily sacrificed Ebdon to get some other minor concession elsewhere – or banked the gesture of coalition goodwill to get an equivalent concession further down the line. But the scale of he anti-Vince, anti-Ebdon backlash meant Nick Clegg could not surrender without looking as if he had been bullied into it by the Tory right. So the Lib Dems stood their ground and the appointment went ahead.

Something similar is unfolding around the Beecroft report. When the report was first delivered the Lib Dems made clear they could accept bits of it but had to reject some of the more outlandish ideas. Chiefly, they oppose  “no fault” dismissal at will on the grounds that it would strike fear into the hearts of employees on whose confidence consumer demand still depends. There is no evidence, the Lib Dems say, that making it easier for bosses to sack people on a whim creates new jobs.

Adrian Beecroft, the venture capitalist and Tory donor who authored the plans, blames Cable as the obstacle to their implementation and has today  attacked the business secretary as a “socialist”. In fact, reservations about Beecroft go way beyond Cable’s office. When the report was first delivered, Ed Davey (now Energy Secretary) was still in the Business Department and he was as scornful of much of its content as Cable. Davey is in most respects a classic “Orange Book” liberal, respected by sensible Tories and simply incompatible in every way with the caricature of a secret Bolshevik. Likewise, Clegg’s office was happy to heap derision on Beecroft’s report as “a really shoddy piece of work” - flimsy, poorly researched.

The Lib Dems thought they had already made sufficient concessions to send the more extreme elements of Beecroft into touch earlier this year. The report is only enjoying a zombie renaissance because the Tories are feeling wounded and anxious about the economy and the atrocious public reception given to George Osborne's Budget. In the absence of other ideas, Beecroft’s fanatical supply-side assault on “red tape” looks to many Conservatives like a decent way of re-asserting true blue control over the economic agenda.

The yellow team, meanwhile, are pretty confident that this manoeuvre won’t succeed. For a start, Team Clegg likes to point out that the last time they warned the Tories to steer clear of an idea that would reinforce the impression that they were callous cheerleaders for plutocracy it was the notion of cutting the 50p top rate of tax. Osborne ignored them; they felt vindicated by the result. No fault dismissal, they say, has the potential to be similarly toxic. As one Lib Dem in government told me recently: “Cameron and Osborne look at the scale of the problems facing the economy and they look at Beecroft and see its not the answer. They may be quite right wing, but they aren’t stupid.”
 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former 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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