Could Ukip overtake the Lib Dems?

Lib Dems fall to seven per cent in new poll, just two points ahead of Ukip.

Lib Dems fall to seven per cent in new poll, just two points ahead of Ukip.

A year ago even the most ardent Ukip supporter wouldn't have suggested that their party could overtake the Lib Dems in the polls. But they're now just a few points between the two. The latest YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on seven per cent (their joint lowest rating since the election), with Ukip two points behind on five per cent (down from six per cent the previous day). As Europe rises up the political agenda, there's every possibility that Nigel Farage's party could eventually overtake Nick Clegg's.

The main explanation for the surge in support for minority parties (their combined support is 15 per cent) is the entry of the Lib Dems into government, which has left them unable to compete for the protest vote. Their supporters have mainly defected to Labour (backed by 41 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters) but also to Ukip (backed by four per cent) and to the Greens (backed by seven per cent).

The problem for Ukip, of course, is that however strong their headline support is, they'll be lucky to win a seat at the next election. As for the Lib Dems, they may want to reassess their support for proportional representation. As things stand, on a uniform swing, they'd win nine seats.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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