The cost of Libya is a blow to Osborne's credibility

The £260m cost of the war undermines Osborne's claim that "the cupboard is bare".

Finally, we can put a figure on the cost of military action against Libya: £260m. Liam Fox confirmed the amount in a written statement to MPs, revealing that the campaign itself had cost "in the region of £120m". Another £140m will have to be spent replacing missiles and other munitions if the mission is to continue at its present rate.

It's a blow to the government's credibility and particularly that of George Osborne. On March 22 the Chancellor told the Commons that the cost of military operations against Gaddafi would be "in the tens of millions, not hundreds of millions". This has now been exposed as a dramatic underestimate.

But more significantly, the cost of the mission undermines Osborne's previous insistence that "the cupboard is bare". It is harder for ministers to defend library closures, Sure Start closures and the rest when the government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a war far from home.

The coalition has sought to present many of its decisions (the VAT rise, the tuition fees increase, the abolition of universal child benefit) as "unavoidable" but today's news is a reminder that it has choices too. Given that the government spent £694.4bn in 2010-11, £260m is, as Jock Stirrup, the former chief of the defence staff, said on The World At One, "very small beer". But it's the perception that counts. Public support for the mission, already at a record low, is likely to plummet further.

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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