Military action begins in Libya as the allies open fire

French fighter jets reported to have destroyed four Libyan tanks.

Military action has begun in Libya, with France leading the way. A French plane is reported to have fired on a Libyan military vehicle in the first air strike of the campaign. As many as 20 of the country's fighter jets are patrolling the skies over Benghazi in an attempt to enforce the no-fly zone.

In a typically assured statement outside the emergency conference in Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that "France has decided to take up its role in front of history". David Cameron has conceded that there will be "unforeseeable consequences" of taking action, but has insisted, Blair-like, that it is better to intervene than to "risk the consequences of inaction".

He said: "Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people and so the time for action has come. It needs to be urgent. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.

"What is absolutely clear is that Gaddafi has broken his word, he has broken confidence and continues to slaughter his own civilians. This has to stop. We have to make him stop and make him face the consequences. I think action must take place urgently."

For now, the declared aim remains to protect the people of Libya; both Cameron and Sarkozy have been careful not to give voice to the ultimate objective of regime change. It remains unclear how the allies will respond if Gaddafi refuses to give way. Meanwhile, there are reports that the rebels have admitted that they shot down their own plane this morning.

UPDATE: French fighter jets have destroyed four Libyan tanks in air strikes to the south-west of Benghazi, according to al-Jazeera.

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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