Perhaps one of the most significant shifts in British politics that anti-Europeans won’t like was brought out yesterday in the LBC debate between Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP and Nigel Farage MEP; like on the continent small parties are now important. A debate between the third and fourth largest parties at the last election would not in the past have got television coverage, let alone this amount of coverage.
What is the impact in the longer term if anything? Absolutely nothing. Clegg won the debate according to a majority of both Labour (51%) and Lib Dem (77%) voters. Farage won the majority of both Tory (69%) and Ukip (93%) voters. So the debate merely entrenched voters positions.
People’s positions on Britain’s membership of the EU barely changed either. Yet, the impact is likely to be on the two biggest parties. The debates have become the key event, indeed really the only event, in the EU parliamentary elections. Yet, only the smaller parties are joining the debate.
This is where the major parties might fair badly. Anyone who is motivated to vote by their passion for the EU is likely now to vote for one of the two parties which represents OUT or IN. They might be in small numbers but for UKIP it could be the difference between winning outright and coming second and for the Lib Dems winning some seats and oblivion in Europe.
If UKIP win this, the prime minister could be in hot water. With the purple and yellow rosettes attracting vastly more voters from the Tories than Labour, Ed Milliband will be pleased with Nick Clegg’s move to give Nigel Farage such a prominent platform. If it keeps going like this, even with Labour’s slender poll lead getting weaker, the PM’s chances of a victory in 2015 are fading faster than David Moyes’ credentials as a top flight football manager.
The polling remains remarkably consistent. In the latest ComRes/Independent poll – the first phone poll since the Budget, the results were stark. Asked which of the two biggest parties was most likely to keep the economy growing, 47% say CON and 36% LAB.
Also CON has closed the gap on Ed Miliband’s chosen territory of living standards. Some 43% told ComRes they believed that LAB is most likely to make their family better off, with 37% saying CON. The LAB lead on this measured has dropped from 10 to 6% since last September.
LAB (48%) is viewed as the party most likely to ensure pensioners have an adequate level of income in retirement, with 34% choosing the Tories. However, George Osborne’s reforms to pensions and savings seem to have appealed to the “grey vote”. Some 49% of those aged 65 and over say the Tories would be more likely to ensure pensioners have an adequate level of income, with only 36% of this group opting for LAB.
The European election is likely therefore to trigger a reshuffle. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Lynton Crosby will focus, sharpen and refine the message to the finest point. Their focus on the economic recovery is their main card – possibly their only card. Ministers like Nicky Morgan MP are likely to win promotion because they will focus relentlessly on the economic and business message. Expect much more of this over the next year – and very little deviation or hesitation but with much repetition.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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