The Tories hit a record poll low as UKIP hits a record high

With Cameron's party on 27% and Farage's on 17%, the gap between them is now smaller than the gap between Labour and the Tories.

In the week since the local elections, the Tory party has appeared anything but calm in its response to the UKIP surge. MPs have demanded an early EU referendum to give David Cameron a "mandate" to renegotiate Britain's membership (a referendum on a referendum, in other words), Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for a full-blown coalition, with Nigel Farage as Deputy Prime Minister (presumably after he's gone to the trouble of actually winning a seat) and Cameron has hurriedly brought Nadine Dorries back into the Conservative fold after rumours that she was on the verge of defecting to the Farageists.

Unfortunately for the Tories, then, today's YouGov poll will do little to calm their nerves. It puts them on a record low of 27 per cent (their worst rating not just since the election, but ever) and UKIP on a record high of 17 per cent, with 25 per cent of 2010 Conservative voters (excluding don't knows and wouldn't votes) telling the pollster that they would vote for the purple peril. The gap between the Tories and UKIP - ten points - is now smaller than the gap between them and Labour - 11 points. Labour's rating of 38 per cent is it worst since February 2012 but the even smaller Conservative share means Miliband would still win a majority of 108 on a uniform swing.

For Cameron, the risk between now and the election is that such polls will prompt Tory MPs to begin forming their own pacts with UKIP. While Farage has consistently said that Cameron is an insurmountable obstacle to a national arrangement, he has long made it clear that he is willing to consider local deals. As he told the Spectator last May, "What I do know is there are Conservative Associations up and down the country who think this could be a way forward… So all I would say to you is that in terms of co-operation or deals or anything in the future, firstly it’s some way off but secondly, I can see that there are associations thinking along the lines that if they approach us. Would I entertain and contemplate such ideas? Of course I would."

A string of mini UKIP-Tory pacts would force Cameron to choose whether to disown the candidates in question (triggering a Conservative split) or be seen to give in to Farage. With UKIP likely to enjoy another surge after next year's European elections, the dilemma will not go away. While Farage's party will still be lucky to win even one MP in 2015, it has the potential to prevent the Tories winning many more. At the last general election, with a UKIP vote share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories in its absence, but many would have done). If UKIP starts to look as if it could determine whether the Tories remain the single largest party (an overall majority, always unlikely, now looks impossible), then the pressure for a rapprochement of the right will become overwhelming.

David Cameron speaks at a press conference at the EU headquarters on February 8, 2013 in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Carwyn Jones is preparing for a fight with the UK government

From Labour's soft-nationalist wing, Jones has thought carefully about constitutional politics. 

This week's 20th anniversary of the 1997 Yes vote on devolution in Wales was a rather low-key affair. But then while there are plenty of countries around the world that celebrate an Independence Day, few nations or regions around the world would make much fuss about "Partial Autonomy Day".

The most important single event of the day was, almost certainly, the address by First Minister Carwyn Jones at the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ 20th anniversary conference. The sometimes diffident-seeming Welsh Labour leader has rarely been on stronger form. Much of his speech was predictable: there were his own recollections of the 1997 referendum; some generous reflections on the legacy of his now-departed predecessor, Rhodri Morgan; and a lengthy list of identified achievement of devolved government in Wales. But two other features stood out.

One, which might have struck any observers from outside Wales was the strongly Welsh nationalistic tone of the speech. In truth this has long been typical for Jones, and was a very prominent element of the successful Labour general election campaign in Wales. A fluent Welsh-speaker and long a part of the soft-nationalist wing of Welsh Labour, the First Minister briefly considered what would have been the consequences of the achingly-close 1997 ballot having gone the other way. Wales, we were told, would no longer have had the right to be considered a nation – it might even (gasp!) have lost the right to have its own national football team. But this theme of the speech was also linked to devolution: why should Wales not have parity of treatment on devolved matters with Scotland?

The most striking feature of the speech, however, was the confidence and combativeness with which the First Minister set about attacking the UK government on constitutional matters. This territory has often appeared to be the area which most animates Jones, and on which he is most comfortable. He has clearly thought a great deal about how to protect and develop the constitutional status of devolved Wales. The First Minister was clearly deeply unimpressed by the UK government’s handling of Brexit as a whole, and he linked Brexit to broader problems with the UK government’s approach to the constitution. Brexit was declared in the speech to be the "biggest threat to devolution since its inception" – and the audience were left in no doubt as to where the blame for that lay. Jones was also clearly very comfortable defending the joint stance he has taken with the Scottish National Party First Minister of Scotland, in opposing the EU Withdrawal Bill and much of the UK government’s approach to Brexit negotiations. This high level Labour-SNP cooperation – extraordinary, given the otherwise utterly toxic relations between the two parties – was argued to be the necessary consequence of the UK government’s approach, and the threat of a power-grab by Westminster of powers that are currently devolved. 

Finally, the First Minister had one new card up his sleeve. He was able to announce a Commission on Justice in Wales, to be chaired by a figure of impeccable authority: the soon-to-retire Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, John Thomas. The clear intention of the Welsh government seems to be to use this commission to advance their agenda of a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction. This is another matter on which there appears to be little current common ground with the UK government.

Carwyn Jones emerged from the general election as a greatly strengthened figure: having led the Labour campaign in Wales when it appeared that the party might be in difficulty, he deservedly accrued much political capital from Welsh Labour’s success in June. The First Minister has been thinking imaginatively about the UK constitution for some years. But for a long time he failed even to carry much of the Welsh Labour party with him. However, he succeeded in having many of his ideas incorporated into the Labour UK manifesto for June’s election; he is no longer a voice crying out in the wilderness. On the anniversary of devolution, Jones said little that was wholly new. But the combination of everything that he said, and the tone and confidence with which he said it, was striking. This was not the speech of a man looking to back away from a confrontation with the UK government. Wales seems up for a fight.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.