Last week’s local elections created a stir when UKIP took a quarter of the votes cast but impartial analysis suggests it is too soon to draw conclusions for the outcome of the 2015 General Election.
These elections were for 35 English Councils, including the County Councils which the Conservatives traditionally dominate. They lost control of eight. Labour took Derbyshire from them but the other seven have no party in overall control. Nevertheless, Conservatives still won 1124 (46%) seats and continue to control 18 (51%) of these Councils. Labour won 560 (23%) seats and now controls three County Councils, whilst the Liberal Democrats won 371 (15%) seats and control none of these Councils. UKIP won 147 (6%) seats and also control no Councils because their votes were not concentrated in a few local authorities.
If this voting pattern was repeated in the General Election UKIP could still have no MPs but they could put the Labour Party into Government, possibly in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. These are the most pro-EU parties and least likely to hold a referendum on EU membership. In contrast, David Cameron has already promised a referendum in 2017. His backbenchers are pressing him to bring this forward but his Liberal Democrat partners would block this. Even if they did not such a Bill would be defeated in the Commons by a coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Europhile Conservatives like Ken Clarke. One interpretation of last week’s election results is that traditional Conservative supporters voted for UKIP as a protest against this situation.
Lord Lawson, the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced on Tuesday that although he voted for the UK to join the EU in 1975 he would now vote to leave. He sees the EU as a threat to our financial services as the EU moves closer to fiscal and monetary union. We joined the Union to gain the benefits of being part of a ‘common market’ but because we have stayed out of the Eurozone we have little influence over decisions made by its members even when they can affect us. He also doubts David Cameron will be able to achieve significant changes in the negotiations he is proposing. That depends on the degree of support he receives from Angela Merkel and the nine other member states that remain outside the Eurozone.
The other issue that appears to have brought support to UKIP is immigration. Again, the Conservatives share these concerns and have reduced immigration by 33% over the last three years. The Queen’s speech includes an Immigration Bill that is intended to restrict access of some immigrants to benefits, health care and social housing. It will also seek to make it easier to deport foreign nationals who threaten UK security. The Conservatives have two years in which to persuade their traditional supporters that they, not UKIP, are the most likely to make a difference on the issues that concern them.