The Lib Dems have replaced the Tories as Britain's least favourite party

New polling shows that 49% would not consider voting Lib Dem, compared to 43% who would not consider voting Conservative.

If you glanced at today's Sun you could be forgiven for thinking that UKIP had become not just Eastleigh but Britain's second party. "PM feels heat as UKIP support hits 38 per cent" reads the paper's attention-grabbing headline. But the stat turns out refer to the party's potential level of support, not its current level (12 per cent in today's YouGov poll). Asked whether they would consider voting for UKIP if it had "a realistic chance of actually winning in your local area", 38 per cent say they would, 10 per cent say they would "probably not" and 43 per cent say they would "definitely not". A separate question which asks whether people would consider voting for the party, regardless of its chances of success, found that 36 per cent would and 44 would not. 

The level of "considerers" is viewed by all parties as an important measure of their potential to expand their support, so how do the rest compare? It's Labour that comes out on top, with 46 per cent saying they would consider voting for the party and 35 per cent saying they would not. The party's large pool of potential voters is one reason why some Labour MPs (see Peter Hain's Staggers piece yesterday) are confident their party will be the largest after 2015. 

The Conservatives are in second place, with 40 per cent saying they would consider voting for the party. But worryingly for David Cameron, 43 per cent of all respondents say they would "definitely not" vote for the party. For a large section of the electorate, the Tories remain too toxic to touch. 

But it's the Lib Dems who are now Britain's least favourite party. Only 30 per cent would consider voting for them and 49 per cent would "definitely not". The finding contrasts with an earlier YouGov poll in September 2011 which found that 36 per cent would not consider voting Lib Dem, compared to 42 per cent who would not consider voting Tory. While the Lib Dems are often accused of retoxifying the Conservative brand, the poll reminds us that coalition government has been most toxic for them. 

Here are those figures in full. 

Labour

Actual support: 40%

Potential support: 46%

35% would "definitely not" vote for the party

Conservatives

Actual support: 31%

Potential support: 40%

43% would "definitely not" vote for the party

Liberal Democrats

Actual support: 12%

Potential support: 30%

49% would "definitely not" vote for the party

UKIP

Actual support: 12%

Potential support: 36%

44% would "definitely not" vote for the party

 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg attend a press conference at 10 Downing Street to mark the halfway point of the coalition government on January 7, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.