Wednesday, 21 May 2014

What doesn't kill Ukip only makes them stronger..

Good morning. It's the last day of campaigning before voting tomorrow. The main media event will be another joint appearance by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who are due on a walkabout in Newark about now, before going on to a gig in Enfield. We might consider at another time the growing importance of the Dave and Boris show to the Conservatives, and what that tells us about any agreements reached for his return to Westminster. But there are more pressing matters before us to ponder, namely the prospects for Ukip. The party has been pounded in recent days. The main parties, helped by the media, have tried their best to paint Ukip as a collection of unsavoury racists unfit to govern. Yesterday'sCroydon carnival fiasco was its nadir.

Yesterday though I wondered whether this might not provoke sympathy among voters and prompt greater support for an underdog at bay. And so it proves, if this morning's polls are anything to go by. They show Ukip on course to come top tomorrow. YouGov in the Sun has the parties as follows among those certain to vote: C21 L25 LD11 Ukip30 Green7. A Survation poll in the Mirror is similar: C23 L27 LD9 Ukip32 Other9. To judge by my inbox and Twitter feed, there is an ocean of anger out there among voters who think Ukip has been unfairly targeted. It's worse than that. The Guardian has on its front "Labour and Tory ratings suffer as Farage attacks backfire", and carries a useful piece of analysis from Patrick Wintour on how Nigel Farage has skated his way through "probably the most intensive scrutiny any unelected British politician has faced in decades". According to this view, Mr Farage realises the attacks have backfired. "It is a finding that Labour and Tory polling has also picked up," Patrick reports. 

On that basis, George Osborne's last minute intervention - "Osborne: Ukip is a threat to economy" is the Telegraph splash - is not only too late but will only make things worse. It may be that the Tories have worked that out, which is why Mr Cameron is appealing to angry Tories heading for Ukip, urging them to come back to the fold in his Sun cabbie interview. Again, probably too late, not least as most Ukip voters all never forgive him his "cranks, loonies, fruitcakes" remarks. The Mail leader makes the point that if only the Tories and Ukip could team up, they would have 43pc of the vote between them and guarantee a conservative majority: the Tories can win if they stop demonising Ukip is its conclusion.

CCHQ, and Labour too, will ponder the lessons of this campaign as they ponder how to anticipate and respond to Ukip for the general election. It must remain likely that, as before, Ukip support will fall back as voters concentrate on who should run the country after the general election. But the party leaders will have to consider a nagging doubt: by hitting Ukip hard and submitting it to the scrutiny it should by rights receive, have they exposed its weaknesses or made it stronger? Will voters agree that Ukip is indeed a ramshackle, single-issue fringe party? Or will they invest in it all their frustration and anger at a political system they think is detached from reality? Attacking Ukip appears to have made it stronger, like some kind of superhero who absorbs the energies of his attackers. Imagine if it doesn't stop here. There is lots to be learned and pondered from this most bizarre campaign.

Ukip's anti-racism jamboree will have done nothing to persuade those who believe that the party is a few floats, a coconut shy and indeed a steel band short of a carnival. Things started poorly when the Croydon-based Endurance Steel Orchestra stopped playing after they discovered it was a Ukip event. It fell to Winston McKenzie, a former boxer and now Ukip's Commonwealth spokesman, to provide the entertainment. "Mr McKenzie," Quentin Letts writes in the Mail, "is that most hazardous of things in politics: a character.". Mr McKenzie was soon embroiled in a series of rows with protesters before having to inform  that Nigel Farage would not be attending - "Nigel's done a bottle job", one protester told Michael Deacon. Mr McKenzie defended Mr Farage's decision to give the event a pass, suggesting that the Ukip leader risked being stabbed. "Croydon at the moment is an absolute dump," he told the local newspaper. Mr McKenzie is himself a Croydon council candidate in Thursday's poll.

The PM has an interview in this morning's Sun. The big question has finally been cleared up: "Dave is fine," he tells the Sun's Cabbie, Grant Davis. The gentle wooing of Tory defectors continues - "People are frustrated. I totally understand their frustration...but when it comes to the General Election, are we going to stick to our economic plan or are we going to risk it all?" - and Dave describes the battle ahead as "tough but not impossible". Mr Davis isn't sold just yet; he's leaning towards Ukip as a protest vote on Thursday. 

"Red Ed's Day From Hell" is the Mail's verdict on a Tuesday when the Labour leader - as our leader puts it - "bounced from blunder to blunder". Mr Miliband was in trouble before most people were out the door yesterday morning  after he stumbled over the cost of his weekly shop - he went for £80 before ITV's Susanna Reid pointed out that the average family-of-four spends closer to a £100.  The Times has been out and about in Mr Miliband's North London stomping ground and found - courtesy of some neighbours who can safely cross themselves off the Miliband family Christmas list - that  he's partial to the odd £2.25 loaf of bread.

Things went from bad to worse for Ed Miliband after an appearance on BBC Wiltshire. The interviewer, Ben Prater, asked Mr Miliband what he made of Jim Grant. The Labour leader attempted to bluff his way through but faltered when Mr Prater asked him whether he knew who Mr Grant was. ("You'll enlighten me, I'm sure" was his somewhat sullen response.) Having been told that Mr Grant was the Labour leader, Mr Miliband praised Mr Grant for doing "a good job as leader of the council". Swindon council, unfortunately, is run by the Conservative Party's David Renard. 

"Lib Dems fear the worst local election night in party history" says the Times. The number on Liberal Democrat minds is 3,817 - the number of councilors they had in 1988 when the party was formed. Their council base could fall to just over 2,100 on Thursday. They look set to lose around half - close to 350 - of the seats they are defending this week. Of the eight remaining Liberal town halls, Kingston is a near-certainty to go blue while Sutton is also on the danger list; if they lose both, it will augur poorly for their chances in either seat - Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston while Paul Burstow holds Sutton and Cheam - come 2015.

Plebgate is back in the news. Andrew Mitchell claims that one of the police officers involved in the row spoke of "toppling the Tory government, who is urging the Met Comissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to reveal more from his internal investigations into the affair. 

Lloyd Bank has announced that it will put a cap on mortgages in a bid to help stem London's rising property market - house price inflation in the capital was put at 17% yesterday - but they remain supporters of Help to Buy.The scheme has raised confidence, they say, and is not one of the factors driving the capital boom. James Titcomb has the story. 
A new ComRes poll of the 40 most marginal Con/Lab seats for the Indy has the Conservatives just two points behind the Labour Party (it's Con 33%, Lab 35%). That the lead is so small will add to Conservative hopes and only fuel Labour jitters.
An independent Scotland would need to spend £750m on a new tax system, the Institute of Chartered Accountants has said. The report further calls into question just how the post-independence campaign will pay for its pledges; the oil and gas revenues alone, the report says, are not enough. The FT's Kiran Stacey has the story.

Support for Ed Miliband comes from an unexpected quarter this morning. Sarah Vine aka Mrs Gove says that he won't be the first or the last politician to be caught out like this. Ultimately, she writes, "they're just men".

Morning Briefing is edited by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

Latest YouGov poll:
Con 33%, Lab 35%, LD 11%, UKIP 13%

With an itemised shopping bill and a list of Labour's council leaders, one hopes:
@SadiqKhan: Early start on busy campaigning day - on my way to #GoodMorningBritain to talk about latest prisoner absconds fiasco on this Govt's watch

In the Telegraph
Best of the Rest

1000 LONDON:  NHS boss Simon Stevens to speak at The King's Fund NHS leadership summit.
1130 LONDON:  Animal Welfare Party candidates and supporters to campaign on the streets of London in an open top routemaster. Supporters in animal costumes and candidates will carry balloons and streamers as the bus heads from Bethnal Green through Shoreditch, Islington and Camden, campaigning for Thursday's EU elections.
1200 PAISLEY: Visit by Shadow Chancellor.
1830 LONDON: CBI annual dinner.