The UK Independence Party claims to be ‘changing the face of British politics’. The big support it received in the May 2013 county council elections certainly came as a shock to the three so-called ‘main’ parties, with one of these parties – the Liberal Democrats – receiving far fewer votes than UKIP. (The LibDems had 14% of the vote and UKIP 23%, and UKIP was in fact only 2% behind the Conservatives.) However, opinion polls tend to show UKIP support at only just into the double digits per cent and not much above the LibDems. Are the opinion polls telling the truth? UKIP is doing far better in local government elections than in the opinion polls. In the following note I compare opinion poll and local election results since late August. In the 47 local government elections analysed the UKIP vote share was 19.0% and its average result where it stood was 20.8%. (But note that this 20.8% was lower than the 2nd May figure! Admittedly, the difference is small.) By contrast, the UKIP share in the 59 opinion polls compiled by UK Polling Report in this period was 11.6%. On this basis, the opinion polls are seriously understating the size of the prospective UKIP vote in both the European elections of 2014 and the general election of 2015. It also needs to be emphasized that the UKIP share in local government elections has climbed from 3.1% in 2010 to 19% plus in 2013. If it continued to make gains at this sort of rate, it would certainly be ‘a major party’ in the 2015 general election and could even win it. For clarity, this is not what I expect, but for some years to come fluctuations in the UKIP vote share, around a rising trend, are likely to disrupt the thee-party, Lib-Lab-Con pattern of British politics which began in the 1980s. (This pattern began with the formation and rise of the Social Democrats, and their eventual absorption into the Liberal Party.) It is unclear whether a four-party pattern (Labour, Conservatives, UKIP and LibDems) or a three-party pattern will now develop, but a case can be made that UKIP will supplant the LibDems as the third party.
The following note sets out the results of UK by-elections from the start of 2012, a period in which a (predictable) swing to the main opposition party, Labour, and an (unpredictable) swing to a less-than-20-year-old one-issue party, the UK Independence Party, have occurred. Averaging all the by-elections and excluding the March 2012 Bradford West by-election, the swings are of about 10% from both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and of about 10% to both Labour and UKIP. If the Bradford West result is included, the swing to Labour is reduced substantially, to about 5%. The explanation is the large swing to Respect, a breakaway political force under Mr. George Galloway
Disillusionment with politics – or at any rate with the current political elite – is rife in Britain at present. The UK Independence Party has made astonishing gains in the last three years. In the 2010 general election it received about 3% of the vote, but opinion polls and canvassing returns show that in the Eastleigh by-election (result due on Thursday, 28th February) it should achieve more than 15% of the vote and its share may even approach 25%. British politics is in flux. In the following remarks, which are based on an e- mail distributed to UKIP supporters* earlier today, I analyse prime minister Cameron’s disastrous strategy to ‘modernise’ and ‘rebrand’ the Conservative Party. The result of that strategy has been to alienate support from an important Conservative constituency, namely the Cs and Ds (the lower middle class and working class) who – when they do not vote Labour – are often particularly ‘right-wing’ in their political orientation. (The ‘patriotic working class’, etc.) The Cameron strategy has been responsible for upsetting many true conservatives who dislike/deplore the prime minister’s politically-correct agenda on social issues. My surmise are that
i. the Conservatives will lose heavily in the 2015 general election and then split, with the majority of the party moving in favour of withdrawal from the EU, and
ii. the polarisation in British politics in the next few years will be less on class lines and increasingly on the European issue* I was runner-up in the 2010 UKIP leadership election and am therefore biased. I am of course not going to hide this.
Greece accounts for a small part of the European Union’s gross domestic product. With its GDP of about 225b. euros (and falling), it has less than 2% of the EU’s total GDP of over 12,000b. euros and about 2 ½% of the Eurozone’s GDP of about 9,000b. euros. But in the last few days at least half of the discussion on the EU and its future has focussed on Greece. Will Greece default, and what would that mean for the Eurozone and the EU? My main points this week are twofold. First, because Greece is – relative to its own GDP – a large beneficiary of help from the EU Budget, default would be doubly expensive. If the default were unilateral, the international community would take a number of punitive steps. (Trade credit to Greek entities would be suspended; Greek assets held outside national borders, including some assets held by the Greek private sector, would be distrained; and so on.) But – on top of that – the EU’s payments to Greece under the Common Agricultural Policy and EU structural funds would almost certainly be stopped. The exact size of Greece’s net receipts from the EU is unclear, but probably amounts to about 5b. euros or over 2% of GDP. Default would therefore cause Greece’s budget deficit and external deficit to increase straightaway by 2% of GDP, even though the central objective of policy at present is to curb the two deficits. Secondly, since unilateral default is therefore virtually inconceivable, an agreement on debt forgiveness with external creditors is the only plausible form of default. But – if Greece is not punished (and indeed punished severely) for being ‘let off the hook’ – other Eurozone countries with large external debts will also seek debt relief. (I have to admit I have no idea how this crisis is going to end. But – precisely because of the uncertainties and opacities – it seems to me very likely that the crisis will continue for years. This will be deeply negative for the image of both the Eurozone and the EU.)