UKIP shows strength ahead of local elections

Nigel Farage's party is fielding a record 1,734 candidates, just 22 fewer than the Lib Dems.

After ceasing hostilities following Margaret Thatcher's death, the parties have resumed campaigning for next month's local elections (now less than three weeks away), with the Conservatives releasing a new Party Political Broadcast today. 

The full list of candidates was published earlier this week but, for obvious reasons, received little attention, so here it is. 

Total for England - 2,360 seats

Con 2,258 95.7% (per cent of seats contested)
Lab 2,174 92.1%
Lib Dem 1,756 74.4%
UKIP 1,734 73.5%
Green 882 37.3%
Independent 648 27.5%
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 119 5.0%
BNP 101 4.3%
English Democrats 38 1.6%
Others 126

The most notable thing about the list is the number of UKIP candidates. Aided by a string of former Conservative donors, the party is fielding candidates in nearly three quarters of the seats, just short of the total for the Lib Dems. In the last three months, UKIP has gained more than 30 councillors through Tory defections and by-elections and is confident of a strong performance on 2 May.

The Conservatives, who currently control 29 of the 34 county councils and unitary authorities up for grabs, are already preparing for heavy losses. The seats were last contested in 2009, shortly after the expenses scandal broke, when Labour was at its lowest ebb. The party received just 23 per cent of the vote, compared to 28 per cent for the Lib Dems and 38 per cent for the Tories. As a result, there is strong potential for the Conservative vote to unwind in Labour and UKIP's favour. Miliband's party is hoping to win control in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire, while the Lib Dems hope to regain control of Somerset and Devon. 

The other notable thing about the candidates list is the dramatic decline in BNP representation. After fielding 450 candidates in 2009, the party is standing just 101 this time round. Indeed, for the first time in recent history, a far-left party (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) will be better represented than Griffin's mob. 

UKIP party leader Nigel Farage speaks at the party's 2013 Spring Conference in the Great Hall, Exeter University. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.