Ukip surge: Farage profits from Miller scandal and TV debates
New poll suggests Cameron was wrong to stand by Miller as the Tories' 'Budget bounce' evaporates
TORY MPs worried about the cost of David Cameron's extended loyalty to Culture Secretary Maria Miller have had their fears confirmed: her refusal to go quickly over her questionable expenses claims has helped Nigel Farage's Ukip party jump to 15 per cent in an Ipsos MORI poll – equalling its best ever rating by that pollster.
On Wednesday, when Miller finally quit, Farage turned up in her Basingstoke constituency. Was he planning to take her on at the general election, now just a year away? After all, the Hampshire seat is only half an hour down the motorway from Eastleigh where Ukip came within five points of seizing Chris Huhne's seat at last year's by-election.
No. Farage was in town to throw his weight behind the newly selected Ukip candidate, Alan Stone. And the message was clear: if Miller wants to remain a backbench MP and seeks to defend the seat in May 2015, then Basingstoke Tories can expect a serious fight with Ukip.
For now, Farage has his sights on beating the Tories – and possibly Labour, too – in the European Parliament elections on 22 May.
The Ipsos MORI poll, for the London Evening Standard, was carried out from last Saturday to Monday, the period during which Cameron was still doggedly defending his then Culture Secretary.
Not only did the poll show a jump in support for Ukip, it also suggested that the positive reaction to Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget earlier in the month had completely evaporated.
Although Osborne scores the highest satisfaction rating of any Tory Chancellor for more than 30 years – 47 per cent are satisfied with his performance, against 44 per cent dissatisfied - this personal triumph has not helped his party. Little wonder - as The Mole explained - Osborne pushed so hard for Miller's resignation.
As for the Conservatives v Labour battle, Ipsos MORI has the Tories on 31 per cent, down one point since March, while Labour have climbed two points to 37, doubling the gap from three to six points.
This is in line with other recent polls. YouGov has shown an average five per cent Labour lead over the past week while an aggregate of Populus polling over the past month shows that the 2010 Lib Dem voters who have switched to Labour and who contribute a fifth of Ed Miliband’s support “are still on board and their numbers aren’t diminishing”, as Political Betting puts it.
These polls are undoubtedly a better guide to the outcome of the 2015 general election than the results of the upcoming European election will be. But if Ukip do well this 22 May, it could provoke another bout of soul-searching in Tory ranks.
The key difference between the general and European elections is that the traditionally low turnout means the new crop of MEPs will be elected by barely a quarter of voters. It’s an election for the highly motivated, making it an ideal opportunity for Ukip.
A new TNS-BMRB poll, focused entirely on voting intentions for the European elections, puts Farage's party neck-and-neck with Labour. It has Labour on 30, Ukip 29, Conservatives 21 and Lib Dems 9.
A Populus poll isn't quite so positive – it has Labour on 31, Ukip 25, Conservatives 27 and Lib Dems 10. But if Ukip out-performs the polling and Labour under-performs (which history confirms is likely) – Ukip will certainly be fighting the Tories over second place and it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that they will be contesting first place with Labour.
Both these Euro polls were conducted after the televised debates between Farage and Nick Clegg. Taken with the findings of the Ipsos MORI poll, which has the Lib Dems down four points and Ukip up four, they suggest Clegg made a bad call in agreeing to the debates.
And yet… in the longer run, that judgment may prove to be too simplistic. In the 57 seats which the Lib Dems will be battling to save at the 2015 general election, Farage could turn out to be Clegg's secret ally. Ukip inroads into Tory support could dash Cameron's hope of seizing Lib Dem scalps.