In Depth

Miliband slumps as Ukip enjoy surge over £1.7bn EU row

Miliband taunted Cameron about EU funding demand but had no answer when PM asked, ‘Would you pay it?’

The Mole

Ed Miliband’s leadership rating has hit a 33-month low and Labour has slumped five points in a month in the opinion polls, putting the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck for the May 2015 general election. To make matters worse for Miliband, Ukip is climbing fast and stealing Labour support.

Miliband’s team cannot easily dismiss the poll findings because they are now consistently showing that David Cameron and the Tories have closed the gap. 

A new poll for The Sun is the second in a row from YouGov to show Labour and Conservatives tied: it puts them both on 32 per cent, with Ukip on 18 per cent and the Lib Dems on eight per cent.

A ComRes poll for The Independent also has the two main parties on level-pegging, with Labour having dropped from 35 to 30 and the Tories up one point on 30.

But just as worrying for Miliband is the rise of Ukip, helped by the £1.7bn EU funding row. Nigel Farage’s party is up four points in a month on 19 per cent, suggesting Ukip are attracting traditional blue-collar Labour voters as well as Tories, just as Farage said they would. 

Ukip will get a further boost if – as expected – they beat the Tories and win the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November. Cameron is “throwing the kitchen sink” at holding on to the Kent seat against Tory deserter Mark Reckless but there are rumours Labour is not fighting too hard because it believes it is in its interests to see Farage give Cameron another black eye following Douglas Carswell’s victory for Ukip in Clacton. 

But Miliband would be wise not to celebrate too loudly if Ukip beat the Tories in Rochester.

Among the reasons Miliband is failing to score with his own core voters are Europe and immigration. Two-fifths of the public (39 per cent) say they are attracted to Ukip because the party says what they think, an increase of six points since April when ComRes asked the same question. 

Yesterday, when Miliband taunted David Cameron in the Commons over being slapped with a £1.7bn bill by the European Commission, Cameron rounded on Miliband and asked him: “Would you pay it?” Miliband had no answer.

Labour reacted with predictable outrage when Defence Secretary Michael Fallon used the toxic word “swamping” to describe the large numbers of immigrants that have landed in Britain, over-stretching local services in many towns and cities.

Downing Street forced Fallon to withdraw his comments, but David Blunkett, the former Labour Home Secretary, supports Fallon’s use of the S-word in the Daily Mail and warns Miliband that he will remain out of touch with Labour voters if he continues to refuse to get engaged in the issue.

“I believe that both Michael Fallon and I were right to speak out on this issue and to voice the concerns of ordinary voters. Just because immigration is deeply controversial, that cannot mean that we should avoid talking about it,” says Blunkett, 67, who is stepping down at the next election.

Blunkett reminds readers he was condemned in 2002 when he was in the Blair Cabinet for saying local services were being “swamped” with asylum-seekers. Today, without naming them, he is refering to a local issue in his Brightside, Sheffield constituency, where thousands of Roma migrants have taken over terraced streets and asserted their ethnic rights to throw rubbish in the streets, and allow their children to run riot at night. 

The residents who have complained about the Romas’ unruly behaviour are largely from the ethnic Pakistani minority who quietly settled in Sheffield before the influx from Eastern Europe. 

Labour in the past would have brushed it aside as part of the “melting pot” of different cultures that make Britain a richer country. Now Blunkett sees real dangers in Labour’s Westminster elite not confronting the realities of multi-cultural Britain his voters face every day on the ground. 

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found Miliband’s personal standing had dropped to its lowest level since January 2012 when there were doubts he would survive as leader.

This is bound to trigger a fresh round of panic in the Labour ranks, where anti-Miliband chatter – “He’s a geek, he’s unelectable, he’s another Michael Foot” - has been circulating for months.

The fact that he has survived at all is because the anti-Miliband brigade have not managed to find a candidate willing to stand against him. Now, with only six months to go before the general election, it’s too late: Labour are stuck with him until polling day.

But do the polls mean all is lost for Labour? Not necessarily. Ukip are still likely to take far more seats from the Tories than from Labour, splitting the right-wing vote. As David Cameron constantly warns his party, Miliband could still scrape through, thanks to Nigel Farage.

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