CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Tories' chance to lose their nasty image (Financial Times)

David Cameron should sack Chris Grayling for defending the right of B&B owners to turn away gay couples, argues Chris Cook. This is a golden opportunity for the Tory leader to show the depth of his commitment to changing his party.

2. Chris Grayling reveals the real Tories (Guardian)

Elsewhere, Peter Tatchell says that Cameron's failure to condemn Grayling's remarks swiftly calls into doubt the sincerity and seriousness of his commitment to gay equality.

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3. Best forgotten (Times)

With the World Cup due to open in Johannesburg in June, the murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche could not have come at a worse time for South Africa, says a leader in the Times. His death must not be allowed to threaten the racial harmony that this white supremacist always opposed.

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4. I have never known the Tories to be so committed to the poor (Independent)

Unlike Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron has an instinctive sympathy for the poor, writes Bruce Anderson. After the left's failure to stem inequality, the Tories' social justice agenda deserves a chance.

5. Health-care reform is creating more anxiety than euphoria (Guardian)

The passage of health-care reform was a definite negative for Barack Obama's poll ratings, says Michael Tomasky. The president must confront a deep anxiety among independent voters that the Democrats are planning more huge domestic legislation.

6. Politicians should get among the people (Daily Telegraph)

The party leaders should follow John Major's example and get on the soapbox, writes Philip Johnston. Limited contact between the electorate and those who seek to lead it is one of the main reasons for declining turnout.

7. Italy still unable to see beyond Berlusconi (Financial Times)

The Italian electorate appears convinced that there is no alternative to Silvio Berlusconi, says Geoff Andrews. But Berlusconi's reforms are designed to do little more than consolidate his power and neuter his opponents.

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8. God is attracting more debate than ever (Guardian)

The New Atheists intended to dent the growth of religion across the world, writes Madeleine Bunting. Instead, they only fed our interest in it.

9. George Osborne's got it right -- we need wealth creation (Daily Telegraph)

The Tories' planned National Insurance cut proves that they support and understand the wealth creators of society, argues Boris Johnson.

10. Marginalised maybe, but we aren't persecuted (Times)

Christians in Britain need to learn to speak of their faith without implying that those of no faith are morally defective, says Richard Harries.

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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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