Ukip: Not just a flash in the Euro pan

The Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) vote looks set to become a permanent feature of the British political landscape but is likely to lead to a third-term Labour victory by default, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

The poll confirms that Ukip did the most damage to the Tory vote in the Euro elections, although Robert Kilroy-Silk’s party also took votes from Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The data shows that 45% of Ukip’s voters voted Tory in the 2001 general election, 20% were former Labour voters and 11% had supported the Liberal Democrats.

The result comes as British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week refused to blink in the face of demands by triumphant leaders of Ukip that their success in the Euro elections means he has no mandate to sign the proposed European Union constitution at this week’s Brussels summit — if a deal can be struck.

Faced with a haemorrhage of votes to Ukip, the Tories also said they will not change their policy, and predicted that deserters will come back when Britain’s general election is called next year. But the big parties of British politics are jittery and both Blair and Tory leader Michael Howard met privately with their back-benchers this week to steady nerves.

The ICM poll shows that Ukip is not just a flash in the Euro pan. While 36% of last week’s Euro voters say they would go back to the Tories, 24% say they would stick with the anti-EU party in a general election, giving it a 4% share of the vote. It took only 1,5% in the 2001 general election and the increase would leave it as a minority party — but with a potential to damage the two major parties in their key marginals. The poll shows that if there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would stage a modest bounce-back from its disastrous 23% showing in last week’s elections to take 34% of the vote — down three points since last month.

This is the lowest Labour share of the vote since the petrol crisis four years ago, and eight points below its 2001 general election performance.

The poll shows that Labour has been losing votes to the minor parties at an even faster rate that the Tories, but they have scattered equally between the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Ukip and others. The only consolation for Blair is that 12 months before the expected general election, Howard is doing no better. The poll puts the Tories on only 31% in a general election, three points behind Labour. The poll suggests that under Britain’s first-past- the-post system, very few seats would actually change hands. With Labour on 34% and the Tories on 31%, there would be a swing from Labour to Conservative of only 0,5%. That is far short of the 10% swing they need to take power and Blair would be looking at a majority of more than 110 for a third term.

The details of the poll also show what happened to the defecting voters from the main parties in the Euro elections.

Only 50% of Labour’s 2001 general election voters stuck with Blair; 64% of Tory voters stuck with Howard but 26% of them moved to Ukip; and only 49% of Liberal Democrat voters turned out for the party. — Â

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