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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.