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.
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.