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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Is the French Left having its Jeremy Corbyn moment?

Benoit Hamon won the first round of the Socialist party's presidential primaries. 

Has the French Left taken a Corbynite turn? That's certainly the verdict of many after the first round of the French Socialist Party's primary.

In first place is Benoit Hamon, who quit Francois Hollande's government over its right turn in 2014, and counts the adoption of a universal basic income, the legalisation of cannabis and the right to die among his policy proposals, with 36 per cent of the vote.

In second place and facing an uphill battle to secure the nomination is Manuel Valls, the minister who more than any other symbolized the rightward lurch of Hollande's presidency, with 31 per cent. That of the five eliminated candidates - under the French system, if no candidate secures more than half of the vote, the top two go through to a run-off round - only one could even arguably be said to be closer to Valls than Hamon shows the struggle he will have to close the gap next weekend. And for a variety of reasons, even supporters of his close ally Sylvia Pinel may struggle to put a tick in his box. 

Still, Valls clearly believes that electability is his best card, and he's compared Hamon to Corbyn, who "chose to remain in opposition". Also making the Hamon-Corbyn comparison is most of the British press and several high-profile activists in the French Republican Party.

Is it merited? The differences are probably more important than the similarities: not least that Hamon served as a minister until 2014, and came up through the backrooms. In terms of the centre of gravity and the traditions of his party, he is much closer in analogue to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham than he is to Jeremy Corbyn, though Corbynistas and Hamonites bear a closer resemblance to one another than their leaders to.

What will give heart to the leader's office is that Hamon surged in the polls after each debate, when his ideas were given a bigger platform. But what will alarm everyone in Labour is the French Socialists' poll ratings - they are expected to get just 6 per cent in the elections. (And before you scoff at the polls, it's worth noting that they have, so far, performed admirably in the French electoral cycle, picking up on the lightning rise of both Hamon and Francois Fillon.)

That attests to something it's easy to forget in Westminster, where we tend to obsess over the United States and ignore politics on the Continent, despite the greater commonalities: throughout Europe, social democratic parties are in a fight for their lives, no matter if they turn to the left or the right.

The Democrats, in contrast, won the presidential election by close to three million votes and lost due to the electoral college. They have good prospects in the midterm elections and their greatest threat is gerrymandering and electoral malfeasance. But absent foul play, you'd have to be very, very brave to bet on them going extinct.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.