Nigel Farage could be standing down as UKIP leader on May 8 if he fails to enter Parliament in two months' time. A failure to win South Thanet at the election would mean "curtains for me", Farage admitted in the final extract of his new book "The Purple Revolution", serialised in today's Telegraph. So, could May 7 mark the end of an era?
The UKIP leader has increasingly speculated about his future at the party's helm. He said recently that a failure to persuade Britain to vote to leave the European Union would mean "curtains for Nigel". Before that, he suggested that he would have to resign if Ed Miliband became Prime Minister (possible) and if UKIP failed to win any seats at the general election (impossible unless Douglas Carswell defects back to the Tories). The 50 year old clearly has UKIP's future on his mind, previously predicting that by 2020 he would be "too old and knackered" to stay leader and that the party would "have found somebody else". In February, he told activists that he had not died, and was in fact as "fit as a blooming flea".
Farage's gloom about his electoral prospects is rather overdramatic, as the latest polls indicate he is on track to enter Parliament in May, with a Survation poll giving him 11 point lead (at 39%) over his Tory rival. With victory seeming so inevitable, he is now having to busily manage expectations as his opponents in the Kent seat will likely attract a "Stop Farage" groundswell of support. Failing to enter Parliament in May would kill the intended "People's Army on the march" message stone dead, and Farage's team know this.
If he did lose, Farage has already got his excuses prepared: blaming the media and the establishment. Don't expect an immediate coup though, as if he failed to win South Thanet, a seat he fought in 2005 and won just 5 per cent of the vote, his grip on the party is so strong that it would be almost impossible for anyone to move against him. The fallout from voters rejecting Farage would have to be so humiliating that he felt was holding back his party by staying on as leader. As a former UKIP colleague recently told me: "While UKIP do well, Nigel is of course unassailable, as of course was Napoleon. But when you start losing a few battles, it won't be quite so straightforward".
Could UKIP survive a Farage departure? Few believe he would stop pulling the strings, with some floating the idea of him staying on as an "executive chairman" of the party. The Farage shadow would still loom large in the party, with many senior members owing their position to his patronage. Farage was elected for another four year term as leader last November, but his influence will remain for much longer.
RATES NOT GREAT
Consumers will see prices fall in shops across the country as George Osborne prepares to announce the biggest review of business rates "in a generation", Peter Dominiczak reports. The Chancellor will use his Budget on Wednesday to announce a "radical" investigation of how to change the system which sees 1.8million business in England paying rates which experts warn are "crippling" small firms. If you want to find out more about what Osborne is planning, we have been rounding up the best predictions and leaks so far.
ED'S POLICY JM-HELL
Ed Miliband's flagship tuition fees policy will destabilise British universities and disadvantage "working class children", Labour's biggest individual donor John Mills. The JML shopping tycoon told Ben Riley-Smith that there are "redistributive problems" with cutting tuition fees to £6,000 a year and warned the policy could hurt the party's economic credibility.
BLAIR: I'D DUFF UP GILLIAN
It was not a "mistake" for Labour to open the borders to Eastern European migrants, Tony Blair has said. The former Prime Minister also called on his party must "argue" with voters like Gillian Duffy who are angered by its record on immigration, even if it means they vote for another party. Matthew Holehouse reports.
NO PEACE YET
Blair is also likely to step back from his role as the Middle East peace envoy amid a diplomatic impasse and growing concerns about his business interests, it emerged last night. After seven years, the former British prime minister is reportedly in talks with John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, and Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, over the future of his role as the Quartet's representative. Here are more details.
LET'S GET DIGITAL
Downing Street is considering delivering a blow to broadcasters' including the BBC by taking part in our proposed live internet debate on the eve of the general election campaign. It follows a major row between Number 10 and the broadcasters after they threatened to "empty chair" the Prime Minister if he did not accept their demands for three debates in the weeks before the election.
SAVE THE GINGER RODENT
Danny Alexander has given a major boost to groups calling for tactical voting in the general election by urging Tory and Labour supporters who fear an SNP landslide to vote for him. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was infamously compared to a "ginger rodent" by Harriet Harman, warned that the nationalists wanted to use the election as a "stepping stone to independence". Auslan Cramb has more.
Lib Dem Tim Farron has earned a stinging rebuke from party grandee Lord Ashdown after saying his party deserved 2/10for the way they'd handed being in coalition. Speaking on Piennar's Politics on Radio 5 Live, the former party leader shot back: "His well-known ambition would be better served with a little more patience and a little more judgement." He added later, for good measure, that "judgement is not his strong suit". The Spectator has more details.
STRAW BLOWN OFF
Jack Straw was rebuffed by a senior European Commission official he attempted to lobby on behalf of ED&F MAN, a British commodities firm for which he is a paid consultant, newly released documents show. After telling our undercover reporters that he "got in to see the relevant director general", it now emerges that the man Straw wanted to meet said he did not "feel the need to meet on this issue right now". Luke Heighton has more.
THE WINDS OF WINTER...
... Are still blowing through local council finances, especially outside the south east. That, at least, is the story from Sigoma, the LGA sub-group behind this glossy but unsubtle Game of Thrones spoof depicting the decent folk of the north and other provinces as suffering under the predations of sneering Lannisters in London. (Who can they be thinking of?) Leaving aside the questions of why cash-strapped councils are still spending cash on shiny lobbying efforts, and whether suggesting the PM is an inbred psychopath is smart politics, the campaign deserves credit for one reason: it's made local government finance interesting for a while.
Average of polls: Lab: 33.92%, Conservative: 31.77%, UKIP 15.35%, Lib Dem 7.67%, Green 5.7%. The data includes YouGov, ComRes, MORI, ICM, Angus Reid, Populus.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@RobFordMancs: If UKIP want to win more than 5 seats under first past post, they need to convince moderate voters. Attacks on anti-discrim/NHS harm that
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1100: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gives a speech in London saying the SNP will be a constructive force at Westminster for the whole of the UK after the general election.
1100 Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, and David Davis, the Conservative MP, speak at the launch of a Civitas pamphlet on secondary education.
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
1430: Communities and Local Government Questions.
A motion to approve Statutory Instruments relating to counter-terrorism.
A motion to approve the Draft Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.
Transport for London Bill (HL) - Consideration Stage.
A short debate on car parking fines on private land.
1630: A debate on an e-petition relating to veterans pensions.
HOUSE OF LORDS
Deregulation Bill - Consideration of Commons amendments.
Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill (HL) - Consideration of Commons amendments.
A fatal motion on the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 - Fatal Motion.
A motion on the City of Birmingham (Scheme of Elections) Order 2015.
A short debate deprivation of Liberty Safeguards on healthcare.