The UKIP phenomenon: party makes dramatic gains

The party has already made 42 gains and is averaging 26 per cent of the vote in those areas where it stood.

Most county councils haven't even begun counting yet, but it's already clear that it's Nigel Farage who'll be wearing the biggest grin today. With seven of 34 councils declared, UKIP has gained 42 seats - two more than it was forecast to gain in total - and is averaging 26 per cent of the vote in those wards where it stood. It is, as the usually restrained pollster John Curtice said, "a phenomenal performance". 

After a comfortable win in the South Shields by-election (in which UKIP finished second), Labour has gained 30 seats and is hoping to win back Derbyshire and possibly Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire, three of the four councils it lost in 2009. The party is pointing to gains in marginal seats such as Harlow, Stevenage and Hastings as proof that is recovering in those areas it needs to win for a majority at the next election. 

The Tories have already lost 66 seats and appear likely to perform worse than forecast, with the party prepared for losses of up to 500.

After a humiliating result in South Shields, the Lib Dems are taking comfort from their performance in their strongholds. In the eight Lib Dem parliamentary seats where the result has been declared, the party is averaging 33 per cent of the vote, with the Tories on 31 per cent, UKIP on 22 per cent and Labour on 11 per cent. In a by-election in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency, the party won the seat on an increased share of the vote, with a 4 per cent swing away from Labour. As in Eastleigh, this is evidence that the Lib Dems are benefiting from an incumbency factor, something that should worry the Tories, who are in second place in 37 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats and who need to capture more than half of those if they are to stand any chance of winning a majority in 2015. 

 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage answers questions from the media as he canvasses for votes in the South Shields by-election. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496