Ground-breaking poll shows UKIP leading in the North

For the first time, UKIP is in the lead for the European elections across the North of England – according to a poll for YouGov.  The figures show that UKIP has overtaken the Labour Party – see page 2 of the data here for the full poll, including regional breakdown for the North.

UKIP 35%

Labour 33%

Conservatives 16%

Liberal Democrats 6%

Green Party 9%

What does this mean for the parties in the North East of England?  Firstly, it’s a huge bonus for UKIP.

The regional breakdown is based on just over 400 people – so it’s not exactly the smallest of sample sizes.  This isn’t a guarantee of success, for many reasons:

1.  The margin of error for 400 people is roughly +/-5%

2. We  don’t know whether the North East is truly representative of the North

3.  We’re still nearly 4 weeks away from the election.  One poll showed the Lib Dems would ‘win’ the General Election a few weeks before polling day in 2010; that didn’t happen or even come close to happening.

On the other hand, there’s every reason to be optimistic:

1.  Across the country, when only those ‘certain to vote’ are taken into account, the UKIP lead increases by another 5%.  Turnout in the European elections is usually low (c.35%) and this poll shows 46% of people are ‘certain to vote’.  Perhaps the ‘certain to vote’ figure is an even better reflection of the true picture?

2.  This poll isn’t a one-off.  UKIP across the North were 10% behind Labour a few weeks ago, then the gap closed to 4% – and UKIP has had a lot of publicity recently.  A poll putting UKIP in the lead is hardly a surprise, so there’s no reason to suppose that this is an outlier.

3.  UKIP’s support has always gone up during the final weeks of a European election campaign; it may well do so again.  We’re confident that our election address leaflet will be far better than the other parties, and we’re running a billboard campaign in two waves – which others don’t seem to be.

There are a lot of caveats here.  But IF this were to hold across the North East of England, then out of the three seats UKIP would take TWO, and Labour just ONE.  Could Richard Elvin be on his way to Brussels?

What does it mean for Labour?  Well, on the face of it Labour’s vote would be increasing – although they would be disappointed not to gain a second seat.  The problem for Labour is that the North East has been their traditional heartland – so if they were to be beaten across the region they would have to acknowledge that UKIP are now a genuine threat to them.

What does it mean for the Conservatives?  At these figures, their vote would hold up reasonably well in the North East.  It would ‘only’ have dropped by about 4% since 2009.  But they would still lose their seat, which doesn’t offer much comfort.

What does it mean for the Liberal Democrats?  This result would be rather humiliating for them, as they would drop into fifth place behind the Greens.   At this point I might be expected to crow about the demise of the Liberal Democrats, but I won’t do so.

So far in this campaign, the Green Party candidate has been somewhat less than honest about UKIP.  Most if not all of her claims about UKIP have been untrue – for example the claim that UKIP ‘wants people on minimum wage to pay the same tax as millionaires’.  This is an appalling slur – UKIP believes people on minimum wage should pay ZERO in income tax and national insurance.

By contrast, although I profoundly disagree with the Liberal Democrat candidate, she has at least presented her views honestly and fairly – that much cannot be said about the Labour or Green campaigns (the Conservative campaign has been conspicuous by its absence).

I suspect, though, that the Liberal Democrats are resigned to losing their North East seat at these elections.  They sneaked the third North East seat just 2% ahead of UKIP in 2009; since then, their vote has plummeted as UKIP’s has surged.  As their candidate said on Radio Tees after the first Farage v Clegg debate, “He [Nigel Farage] is a more popular leader of a more popular party”.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.



Sage Gateshead event a huge success

Yesterday was, without a doubt, the best day on the campaign trail so far. The media scrum, of course, turned up to Yarm to do interviews with UKIP Leader Nigel Farage MEP in the early afternoon. I did a few brief interviews, but nothing major.

Not long after stepping off the bus, Nigel met a member of the public – who said that he’d be voting UKIP after decades of being a non-voter.

Then we had the public meeting at Sage Gateshead. With just over 1,200 people present it was the biggest public meeting ever in the history of UKIP. Once again, there was plenty of media there.

Sage Gateshead is a phenomenal venue, and what a statement of intent it was from UKIP to hold a public meeting at such a venue!

The promised ‘massive protests’ were something of a damp squib, much bigger on Twitter than in reality. A few dozen far-left protesters and a smaller number of far-right protesters did turn up, but given the internet hype by those protesting on Twitter I’d expected far more protesters to turn up.

What really strikes me about far-left and far-right protesters is the hatred. I agree with many people, I disagree with many people. But there’s no reason for bitterness, hostility or the pure bile spewed out by so many of them.

Two of them were inside, and chose to chant slogans football-style at Nigel Farage at the start of his speech. Nigel, to his credit, tried to engage them in debate – but they just continued to chant until they had to be escorted from the building. Fundamentally, that’s the difference: we believe in freedom of speech and democracy for all; they believe in freedom of speech only if you happen to agree with their own world view.

My own speech went down very well. The audience reaction was warm, and it’s possibly the biggest audience I’ve ever spoken to. Speaking in front of a large (500+) audience is dramatically different from any other kind of public speaking. Content which ‘works’ in front of an audience of 1000 may not go down well with an audience of 50, and to an extent vice versa.

I focused on UKIP v Labour; there have been so many anti-UKIP attacks by Labour in the North East that it was time to set the record straight. With the media there, it was good to be asked the ‘75% of laws’ question and to be able to explain in detail why Clegg’s 6.8% and 14% are just plain wrong.

When Nigel Farage asked later, most audience members said that they weren’t (yet) UKIP members. That’s the most encouraging part of having these public meetings, like we’ve been doing up and down the region. We’re meeting real people. We’re the only party going out there and doing it.

On the campaign trail so far, I’ve met a number of card-carrying Labour members saying they intend to vote UKIP this time. One lady said she’d been so impressed that I ‘spoke better than Ed Milliband’ – I’m not entirely sure how impressive that ‘feat’ is really – and that she’d vote UKIP in the Europeans. The best one, though, was a couple who’d been Labour Party members for about 125 years (combined!). They couldn’t bring themselves to resign from a Party they once loved, but whose policies had betrayed them so much over years. They’d remain members of Labour till the day they die, but are out persuading friends and family to come across and support us. It’s the sheer enthusiasm of new ‘converts’ to the cause that never ceases to amaze me.

But back to Sage Gateshead. It was an incredible event, with so much work having gone in to organising it. I thanked Amjad Bashir on stage for funding the cost of the hall (what a gesture!) but so many people did a sterling job to make it happen. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers. We needed around 40 volunteers to make the event run smoothly, and they did their jobs very professionally.

The media coverage is positive, our campaign is off to a flying start and I’m looking forward to the campaign becoming even more intense. This morning, two more media ‘dates for the diary’ have come up. We’re less than a month from May 22nd, not long now to go – but remember, the hard work doesn’t stop on May 23rd.

After all, there’s a General Election for the Party to fight.