Nick Clegg faces EU wipeout as Ukip support surges
And Labour peer warns that Miliband will suffer too if he doesn't address working-class voters' concerns
THEY may be racist and they may be flaky but the surge in support for Nigel Farage’s Ukip is threatening to wipe out Nick Clegg’s 11 Lib Dem seats in the European Parliament and give both Labour and the Tories black eyes.
A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times shows Ukip in the lead on 31 per cent for the European elections on 22 May with Labour second on 28 per cent and the Tories third on 21 per cent, leaving the Lib Dems facing a meltdown in fourth place on a humbling nine per cent.
Not even the offensive tweet by Ukip council candidate William Henwood telling comedian Lenny Henry – famously born and bred in Dudley – to leave Britain for a “black country” if he does not like living with whites appears to have dented Ukip support.
No wonder an exasperated Peter Hain, the former Labour Cabinet minister, complained on yesterday's Andrew Marr Show that Farage is Teflon-coated – “nothing sticks to him” - while the normally mild-mannered Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the remarks about Lenny Henry were “disgusting”.
Hunt, appearing on BBC Radio, called on Farage to “explain why so many people with those kinds of views seem to be attracted to becoming candidates for Ukip. I think it is racist.”
The question is, how seriously should anyone be taking the "Ukip threat"?
A leading Labour strategist, Lord Glasman, has warned that Farage's party should not be written off because they are a home for protest votes over the Commons expenses scandal, MPs’ broken pledges (such as Clegg’s commitment to cut student fees), gay marriage and uncontrolled immigration.
Glasman says in The Times that the rise of Ukip cannot be brushed off by Labour who could be hit “in the heartlands” if they don't adopt measures to win back working-class support.
He says Ed Miliband needs to address the concerns about immigration and welfare if he is to stop voters from abandoning the party.
“That is the dilemma at the heart of the party’s strategy — is it possible to address these economic, political and cultural concerns when the party is becoming, in many ways, very middle class? What I mean by that is liberal and progressive in its sensibility,” says Glasman.
So Farage, ridiculed as the smiling, beer-swilling pub bore of British politics, will have the last laugh after 22 May, because he could influence the way that the parties pitch their appeal to voters in the 12 months leading up to the next general election.
If Glasman is right, they will have to start listening to what white working-class voters want, not what the political strategists in Miliband’s and David Cameron’s ivory towers believe they should think.
In the short term, however, the big loser looks like being Nick Clegg, whose party panjandrums were warned last week that they face a wipeout in the Euro elections – possibly losing ALL their seats.
With daily revelations of a cover-up over the sexual abuse of boys by former Lib Dem giant Cyril Smith hanging over the party, you would have thought it was the moment for Clegg to show some humility. But no – he said at the weekend that he wanted at least five more years in government.
"My party would not be interested in propping up a minority government without coalition," said Clegg. "It isn’t a role I would see as right for myself or the Liberal Democrats... We’ve only just got started, and a ten-year period for us in government means we could make a majority contribution. The last thing I want to do is give up this job."
Dominic Cummings, a former special adviser to Michael Gove, put the boot into Clegg calling him a “self-obsessed revolting character” who “only cares about his image”.
There are clearly old scores being settled between Cummings and Clegg, but instead of dreaming of another five years at his desk in Downing Street as deputy PM, Clegg might be wise to look to his own seat in Sheffield Hallam.
He may have had a 15,000 majority in 2010, but he was the pin-up boy of British politics then and hadn't yet – as his critics inside and outside the Lib Dems put it – sold his soul for a job in government.