Danny Alexander says "UKIP will come and UKIP will go", he shouldn't be so sure

Both before and after the next election, Farage's party is likely to remain a significant presence.

Most politicians have recently sought to avoid dismissing the threat from UKIP, so it was striking to hear Danny Alexander declare on the Marr show this morning that "UKIP will come and UKIP will go".

It's unclear whether he had in mind the period before or after the next general election, but neither prediction is safe. First, while UKIP's support is likely to fall significantly in May 2015 (it is level-pegging with the Lib Dems on 11 per cent in today's YouGov poll), there's still a good chance it will poll above 5 per cent, a level of support that is high enough to determine the outcome of the election. At the last election, with a UKIP share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the party's 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). UKIP's support has fallen from a peak of 16 per cent (with YouGov) in the weeks after the local elections but it will likely enjoy another surge when the European elections are held next May.

Second, while the return of the Tories to opposition, most likely under a more eurosceptic leader (it's plausible that the next leader of the party will support withdrawal), would hit support for UKIP, I expect it would remain a significant force. As the polls regularly show, anti-EU sentiment is not the main cause of UKIP's success and, in an age when all three of the main parties are untrusted, it could become a permanent receptacle for protest.

Under first-past-the-post, UKIP will always struggle to win seats, but I'm not as confident as Alexander that the Farageists will fade away after May 2015.

Danny Alexander talks to Ken Clarke at a press conference by the Centre for British Influence. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.