Good morning. Polls have been open for just under an hour and a half now in an election that Ukip is on course to win. The latest YouGov poll has Ukip at 27%, Labour at 26%, the Conservatives at 22%, while the Liberals are down in fifth on 9% behind the Greens on 10%. The Mail's Opinium survey has still better news for Ukip: they are on 32% to Labour's 25%, the Conservatives are on 22%, while the Greens and the Liberals are tied on 6%.
Ukip's earthquake receives a mixed response in the papers. "Kick politicians in the ballots" says the Sun's leader. Get the anger out now before the real contest a year from now. The Telegraph's leader is less sanguine about today's vote: "The Tories are the only party offering a realistic prospect of the referendum that Ukip longs for...backing Ukip is likely to accomplish the opposite end", is the warning." "Vote Ukip, get Tory" is the Mirror's warning. Under the headline "Farage's Camoflage" - "Cam" is thoughtfully marked out in blue just to hammer the point home - they show a picture of Dave gradually transforming into Nigel Farage. Their endorsement (a shocker, this) goes to Labour.
Within that party, a post-mortem is already underway. "'Complacent' Labour to hold crisis talks over Ukip threat'" is the frontpage of the i. Peter Hain is reported as describing the party as complacent to the threat that Nigel Farage presents to Labour in their Northern heartlands. But there's worse in store for the Lib Dems:"Lib Dems braced for total wipeout in European poll" is the Guardian splash. The best case scenario for the Liberals is that they lose half their representation; the worst is that they lose everything.
The early results won't come until two o'clock tonight, when we'll see how the parties have fared in the key battlegrounds of Croydon and Swindon, and whether or not Ukip have been able to break into the Liberal Democrat's stronghold of Eastleigh. Thurrock, Ipswich, Colcehster and Bristol follow an hour later; then Peteborough, Basildon, Cambridge, Enfield, and Sutton. At five o'clock we'll find out whether Labour have taken Merton and before learning if the Liberals can hold out in Kingston-upon-Thames. Sky News will be covering the results from ten o'clock tonight, while the BBC's coverage begins with Question Time at ten thirty-five.
As the three Westminster parties look forward to the contest to come, they'll reflect on a campaign in which the Tory machine seemed to crank into gear while Labour sputtered, while the Liberals will wonder if their fortunes can ever recover from the cost of coalition. All will have to face up to the fact that the Ukippers may be more hard-wearing than they had hoped.
OPERATION SAVE CLEGG
Under the headline "Lib Dems braced for total wipe-out in European poll", the Guardian has detail of a briefing note prepared by Lord Ashdown's Wheelhouse group which sets out the 'lines to take' for the party depending on different Euro outcomes. At one level, not surprising. If they are reduced to 0-2 MEPs, they should say "Aiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuurrgggghhhhhhhh". Sorry, I've misread Nick Watt's copy. They would say: "Disappointed with the result but the party remains resolute and this was expected at this point in an electoral cycle". Parties always brace themselves for bad results, and think about what they will say through gritted teeth on the election programmes. The Lib Dems are thinking hard about the mess they are in, though. Nick Clegg's future is being discussed, and despite the triple-lock in favour of coalition that he secured from his MPs, peers and activists, there is talk of him quitting or being putsched. In recent months we speculated about a Tory panic, but it now looks like the Lib Dems are the ones about to go through a fit of nerves. Objectively, it is hard to see a set of circumstances - even fifth place behind the Greens and no MEPs - that should lead to Mr Clegg's removal without making things worse. But in the meantime the Tories are troubled. Those around Mr Cameron fear for Mr Clegg's safety and worry that the Coalition could be fundamentally destabilised. And more cynical Tories wonder whether we are about to see another of those Downing Street operations to shore up the Lib Dem leader, perhaps with a concession here, a new policy there, or even a large cheque.
DOFFING THE CAP?
Is Dave preparing to ditch the immigration target? During his campaign stop in Newark, the PM was asked about the pledge. "You'll see when we publish the manifesto," was Dave's response. The effort to limit immigration is on course to fail. The good news for Downing Street, though, is that the pledge's failure comes without any predictions of trouble from the backbenchers. Things appear more stable on that front that they have been for some time.
ED VS. BACON
"What is it about Milibands and food?" wonders Ann Treneman this morning. The unflattering pictures of Ed Miliband's early breakfast are the only lasting image of yesterday's campaign tour by the Labour leader. As I wrote in my column last week, continual scrutiny comes with the job in the digital age. That means, as James Kirkup says, if you neglect the "dull-but-important" job of making sure the leader doesn't look silly, you quickly end up with a major image problem. As a result, asGeorge Eaton notes, Mr Miliband's team is now having to attempt something that has never been done before: winning an election while lagging on leadership and economic competence.
SMOOTH SAILING FOR BORIS AND DAVE AFTER ROCKY ROAD
Dave and Boris's campaign stop in Newark is everywhere. Mr Tony once gave Gordon Brown a cornetto; the PM gave Boris a bite of rocky road. Yesterday's Com/Res poll for the Indy showed that Boris Johnson remains the most popular politician in the battlegrounds. Expect much more of the Dave and Boris show over the next year.
TOUGH THERESATheresa May showed that she's still Whitehall's toughest operator with a bruising address to the Police Federation. The expectation was that the Home Secretary would give a robust speech to bounce the Fed into voting for reform; but they weren't quite expecting the barracking that followed, on everything from their reluctance to reform to the record of scandals that has eroded public trust in the police. Mr Tony once called the Fed most powerful trade union in the country; Mrs May left them in stunned silence. Even the Guardian's Martin Kettle was impressed.
HAWKS MULTIPLY ON THE MPC
Uh-oh! "BoE edges closer to early rate increase" is the FT's splash. Mark Carney's statement on rates was thought to have signalled that interest rates would remain as they are until the third quarter of 2015. The number of hawkish voices on the Monetary Policy Committee is increasing , partly as a result of fears about Britain's housing market, while the good news on retail sales has convinced some that the recovery is bedding in well enough to weather a rate hike.
WITH DADS LIKE THESENigel Farage is considering forming a blocking minority with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other Eurosceptic parties of the far right. It might not be a formal arrangement, but even the whiff of association with Miss Le Pen may prove too much even for Mr Farage's image to bear, particularly as Le Pen pere has recently been back in the news after describing an Ebola epidemic as the solution to France's immigration "problem".
THE SELFIE ELECTION, BANNEDVoters who tweet photos of themselves and their ballot papers could facea £5,00 fine or six months in prison. (Steven Swinford has the story.)
Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Con 22%, Lab 26%, LD 9%, UKIP 27%, Green 10%
TWEETS & TWITS
@alisonseabeck: Off for early, very early, delivery with @plymouthlabour Still dark !! However early bird catches the 'vote'
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AGENDA2200: Polls close in European and local elections.
2200: Sky News' 'Decision Time' begins and runs throughout the night.
2235: BBC coverage begins with BBC Question Time and runs throughout the night.