Peak UKIP Postponed

John Rentoul

16Mar IoS Poll Peak UKIP PostponedI may have been wrong about “peak UKIP”. I wrote recently that, having failed to come up with a sensational by-election win, of the kind that delivered the oxygen of publicity to the Liberals, the SDP and the Lib Dems in their years of trying to break up the two-party system, UKIP would probably come second in the European Parliament elections in May.

Our ComRes poll in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday has disrupted that assumption. When asked how people intend to vote in the European Parliament elections, UKIP are a full 14 points ahead of their Westminster support. While the Conservatives lag 11 points behind their Westminster support, Labour is also seven points behind its level of general-election support.

This is not how I thought it would be. European elections are a classic national by-election: a chance to give the government of the day a kicking. And Labour is the main opposition party, so I expected its vote to hold up in the low thirties. I thought there were lots of people who didn’t like the government but also didn’t like UKIP. But it may be that many Labour supporters simply won’t turn out for an election that doesn’t seem to matter, whereas UKIP supporters and “anti-politics” voters are more motivated. This poll is a useful corrective to those who think the Labour vote is solid, or that its lead in general election voting intention is stubborn.

I should have paid closer attention to the shares of vote won in the last European elections in 2009:

Conservatives 28%
UKIP 17%
Labour 16%
Lib Dems 14%
Green 8%
BNP 6%

Although the Tories, the main opposition party, came top, they were nine points below their rating in the general election opinion polls (37 per cent, average of five polls from different companies before 4 June 2009); but Labour, in Government, was only five points below its general-election support, a mere 21 per cent – possibly because it had already sunk so low.

Politics was a bit weird then because the expenses scandal had just broken, but politics is always weird. This time, it is so weird that UKIP might well top the poll.

For the general election, however, our poll suggests that the Tories are well placed – as long as the UKIP surge can be driven back next year. The party has regained the advantage over Labour on tax (this is confirmed by asking the tax question above the other way round: “If the Conservatives win the next General Election, I expect that I would pay more tax than if Labour win it” – Agree 31%, Disagree 36%).

Ed Balls’s plan to allow a Labour government wriggle room on borrowing for capital investment is unpopular. And the David Cameron and George Osborne team have regained the level of trust on the economy that they enjoyed two and a half years ago (bottom charts). This is not great but it is a recovery, and the two Eds remain more distrusted.

The Tories may worry about UKIP in this poll, but it may be Labour who have more to worry about in the end.

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  • Pacificweather

    It is tempting isn’t it? To vote Ukip in the EU election. Not just a kicking for the British parties but a kicking for the French and Germans. It might help Cameron’s renegotiations and save us from leaving the EU. Politics is indeed a bit weird.

  • newfriendofed

    Maybe it is time for J. R. to stop making predictions as his recent track record (Ed M. to call a referendum, UKIP is finished) has been so poor.

  • greggf

    “The Tories may worry about UKIP in this poll, but it may be Labour who have more to worry about in the end.”

    Indeed, Miliband’s chances of becoming PM have probably diminished since he ruled out a plain referendum on the EU.
    Referendums have been promised then dropped or simply reneged so many times since 1975 that public opinion probably supports the Tory and UKIP idea much more than Miliband calculates.

    I’m surprised your recent ComRes poll didn’t query how they rated Miliband’s refusal of a referendum – perhaps that’s what weird about politics, being surprised how the voting public may respond.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    To say nothing of his five-year “the euro is finished” refrain. As a Labour supporter (on the grounds it’s marginally less awful than the Tories) I’m always heartened when his wishful-thinking leads him to predict its imminent doom…

  • reformist lickspittle

    Other polls have asked about it – opinion is roughly evenly divided.

    Indeed, the questions asked have revealed a rather more nuanced picture of public opinion than the standard “do you want a referendum on the EU” poser (which of course shows an overwhelming majority saying “yes” – but people say they would like a referendum on ALMOST EVERYTHING, and always have)

    Obsessive anti-EU fanatics will of course persist in believing that Ed’s decision is a massive vote loser – but so far, there is little objective evidence for this.

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