A Liberal Democrat poster promoting the debate.
Show Hide image

UKIP have taken more votes from the Lib Dems than most think

Clegg's party has lost more than 500,000 voters to Farage since 2010.

Ahead of the first debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage tomorrow, many have predicted that both men will win. This is because, as the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan writes in his column today, "the two parties are not competing for voters – they draw support from different ends of the spectrum." In the case of tomorrow's head-to-head over EU membership, this is undoubtedly true; Clegg is bidding for the "inners" (a group larger than the Lib Dems' current base), with Farage bidding for the "outers". 

But it's worth noting the degree of crossover between current UKIP supporters and former Lib Dems. A recent study by Peter Kellner, for instance, found that more than 500,000 2010 Lib Dem voters have defected to Farage's party, a figure greater than the number who voted Labour (c. 400,000), who voted UKIP (c. 400,000), or who didn't turn out (c. 400,000). Today's YouGov poll shows that 12 per cent of 2010 Lib Dem voters (excluding don't knows and wouldn't votes) currently support UKIP, a share that matches the number of Tory defectors (12 per cent) and exceeds the number of Labour ones (2 per cent). 

That these voters have swung from the most pro-European party to the most anti-European party is less surprising than many think. People in general pay far less attention to policy than most assume and this is especially true of the EU, which does not even make it into the top ten of voters' concerns (it is currently ranked 18th). What explains the swing is UKIP's supplantation of the Lib Dems as the "none of the above" party: the party voters support when they want to kick the Westminster establishment. 

With Clegg now framing the Lib Dems as "a serious party of government", he is largely resigned to loss of most of this group. But the Lib Dem to UKIP defectors show that Clegg and Farage will be competing for some of the same voters tomorrow. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is the French Left having its Jeremy Corbyn moment?

Benoit Hamon won the first round of the Socialist party's presidential primaries. 

Has the French Left taken a Corbynite turn? That's certainly the verdict of many after the first round of the French Socialist Party's primary.

In first place is Benoit Hamon, who quit Francois Hollande's government over its right turn in 2014, and counts the adoption of a universal basic income, the legalisation of cannabis and the right to die among his policy proposals, with 36 per cent of the vote.

In second place and facing an uphill battle to secure the nomination is Manuel Valls, the minister who more than any other symbolized the rightward lurch of Hollande's presidency, with 31 per cent. That of the five eliminated candidates - under the French system, if no candidate secures more than half of the vote, the top two go through to a run-off round - only one could even arguably be said to be closer to Valls than Hamon shows the struggle he will have to close the gap next weekend. And for a variety of reasons, even supporters of his close ally Sylvia Pinel may struggle to put a tick in his box. 

Still, Valls clearly believes that electability is his best card, and he's compared Hamon to Corbyn, who "chose to remain in opposition". Also making the Hamon-Corbyn comparison is most of the British press and several high-profile activists in the French Republican Party.

Is it merited? The differences are probably more important than the similarities: not least that Hamon served as a minister until 2014, and came up through the backrooms. In terms of the centre of gravity and the traditions of his party, he is much closer in analogue to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham than he is to Jeremy Corbyn, though Corbynistas and Hamonites bear a closer resemblance to one another than their leaders to.

What will give heart to the leader's office is that Hamon surged in the polls after each debate, when his ideas were given a bigger platform. But what will alarm everyone in Labour is the French Socialists' poll ratings - they are expected to get just 6 per cent in the elections. (And before you scoff at the polls, it's worth noting that they have, so far, performed admirably in the French electoral cycle, picking up on the lightning rise of both Hamon and Francois Fillon.)

That attests to something it's easy to forget in Westminster, where we tend to obsess over the United States and ignore politics on the Continent, despite the greater commonalities: throughout Europe, social democratic parties are in a fight for their lives, no matter if they turn to the left or the right.

The Democrats, in contrast, won the presidential election by close to three million votes and lost due to the electoral college. They have good prospects in the midterm elections and their greatest threat is gerrymandering and electoral malfeasance. But absent foul play, you'd have to be very, very brave to bet on them going extinct.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.