It's too early for the Lib Dems to declare "victory"

The battle over Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms isn't over yet.

He may once have boasted that Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms were in the Liberal Democrat manifesto but Nick Clegg is still hailing their dilution as his biggest "victory" since the coalition began. The cause of such excitement is the publication by Steve Field, the GP who led the government's "listening exercise", of a report into the reforms, although most of the key changes were announced in David Cameron's speech last week. To summarise, the 2013 deadline for the creation of GP-led consortiums will be "relaxed"; membership of the consortiums will be opened up to hospital doctors and nurses, and the main duty of Monitor, the health regulator, will be to promote "integration", not "competition".

To the consternation of the Tories, Clegg has published a "scorecard" showing that the Lib Dems have secured 11 of the 13 changes demanded by its conference. In the Independent, a jubilant Shirley Williams declares that, thanks to her party's efforts, "the Prime Minister will be able to say with confidence that the NHS is safe in the Coalition's hands".

More cautious types are reminding the Lib Dems that the political wrangling isn't over yet. Clegg, Cameron and Andrew Lansley will issue their own response to the report at a joint event tomorrow, and the Tory right are using the intervening period to demand a limit to the concessions.

Then there's the question of NHS funding, a landmine primed to explode at some point in the near future. As I noted last week, Cameron is on course to break his pledge to increase spending on the health service - higher inflation means that it faces a real-terms cut. The coalition's NHS woes are far from over.

But it would still be churlish to deny that this is some of the best press the Lib Dems have had since the coalition was formed. The government's decision to "modify" its £26,000 benefits cap has already been successfully spun as another victory for Clegg's party. Whether the voters will give them any credit, however, remains to be seen.

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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