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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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.