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.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's magic money tree is growing in Northern Ireland

Her £1bn deal with the DUP could make it even harder to push through cuts in the rest of the UK.

Going, going, gone...sold to the dark-haired woman from Enniskillen! Theresa May has signed a two-year deal with Arlene Foster, the DUP's leader, to keep her in office. The price? A cool £1bn and the extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland.

The deal will have reverberations both across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland specifically. To take the latter first – the amount spent in Northern Ireland in 2016/17 was just under £10bn. A five point increase in spending on health, education and roads is a fairly large feather in anyone's cap.

It transforms the picture as far as the fraught negotiations over restoring power-sharing goes. It increases the pressure on Sinn Féin to restore power-sharing so they can help decide exactly where the money goes. And if there's another election, it means that Arlene Foster goes into it not as the woman who oversaw the wasteful RHI scheme (a renewable energy programme that because of its poor drafting saw farmers paid to heat empty rooms) but as the negotiator who bagged an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland. 

Across the United Kingdom, the optics are less good for the (nominal) senior partner to the deal.

"May buys DUP support with £1 billion 'bung" is the Times"£1bn for DUP is 'just the start" is the Telegraph's splash, and their Scottish edition is worse: "Fury at 'grubby' deal with DUP". With friends like this, who needs the Guardian? (They've gone for "May hands £1bn bonanza to DUP to cling on at No 10" as their splash, FYI.) 

Not to be outdone, the Mirror opts for "May's £1bn bribe to crackpots" while the Scotsman goes for "£100 million per vote: The price of power".  Rounding off the set, the Evening Standard has mocked Foster up as Dr Evil and Theresa May as Mini-Me on its front page. The headline? "I demand the sum of....one billion pounds!"   

Of course, in terms of what the government spends, £1bn is much ado about nothing. (To put it in perspective, the total budget across the UK is £770bn or thereabouts, debt interest around £40bn, the deficit close to £76bn).

But only a few weeks ago Theresa May was telling a nurse that the reason she couldn't get a pay rise is that there is "no magic money tree". Now that magic money tree is growing freely in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives have been struggling to get further cuts through as it is – just look at the row over tax credits, or the anger at school cuts in the election – but now any further cuts in England, Scotland and Wales will rub up against the inevitable comeback not only from the opposition parties but the voters: "But you've got money to spend in Northern Ireland!"

(That £1bn is relatively small probably makes matters worse – an outlay per DUP MP that you might expect a world-class football club to spend on a quality player. It's tangible, rather like that £350m for the NHS. £30bn? That's just money.)

For Labour, who have spent the last seven years arguing, with varying degrees of effectiveness that austerity is a choice, it's as close to an open goal as you can imagine. Theresa May's new government is now stable – but it's an open question as to how long it will take her party to feel strong again.

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

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