Grassroots Conservative activists are "mad swivel-eyed loons" who are forcing Tory MPs to take extremist positions opposing gay marriage and Europe, one of David Cameron's closest allies has said.
That was according to the Telegraph Media Group Ltd,which is now asking who the Tory is behind the "slur". Sources close to the centre, however, are suggesting that the perpetrator is Andrew Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party & Chairman of the Party Board.
If it is him, of course, he is toast. But his intervention raises serious questions as to the relationship between the Tory leadership and the constituency parties. Up to press, it has only been UKIP which has been on the receiving end of the Tory lash, but if the hierarchy is going to war against its own members, this represents a development of some significance.
The broader issue is that it signifies an authoritarian streak emerging in the party management, where the duty of the members is seen to be to fall into line with the dictates of the party leaders. Gone is any idea that the wishes of the members should be taken into account.
To that extent, one can see why Mr Cameron is very much in tune with the EU ethos, where top-down management is the preferred style and democracy takes a back seat. If that it is attitude, though, party leaders would have been better advised to spend more effort on keeping their view secret.
The much put-upon party activists are not going to take kindly to being told what their leadership really thinks of them.
"We've never had this kind of reaction before", said the clearly taken-aback party leader as he was surrounded by protesters chanting often crude anti-UKIP slogans.
Scotland has always been difficult for Farage and, as he gets higher-profile, something like this was bound to happen. One wonders, though, whether the UKIP leader should have been better briefed, and whether he would have listened if he had been.
By the media and the paid politicians, almost any subject can be trivialised to the extent that it becomes a low-grade soap opera. And that transition was managed with consummate ease earlier this morning during PMQs, when deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stood in for Mr Cameron.
Perhaps the highlight of the event was Edward Leigh taunting the Clegg with a copy of a 2008 Lib Dem leaflet (below left) in which he declared: "It's time for a real referendum on Europe" at the time of the Lisbon Treaty negotiations.
Leigh, asked Mr Clegg whether the man pictured in the leaflet was "an impostor or just a hypocrite", only to get a dead-bat reply that he was in favour of a referendum when the rules changed.
Clegg, in turn, complained of the Conservatives of "constantly shifting the goalposts" on a referendum. He said the Commons had spent a hundred hours debating the Bill which gave a legal guarantee of a referendum if powers were transferred to Brussels. Nevertheless, he now seems to concede that a referendum is inevitable.
In anticipation of a vote today on an amendment to the Queen's Speech, the deputy prime minister declared: "We on this side should go out and promote what is in the Queen's Speech, not spending days bemoaning what is not in the Queen's Speech", then adding: "I think we should stick to the priorities of the British people, which is growth and jobs".
This is a theme echoed by Paul Goodman on Tory Diary, who is relying on a time-honoured formula in an attempt to defuse the "Europe" issue. "The matters that most move the British people at the ballot box", he claims, "are the meat, potatoes and two veg of British politics: the economy, hospitals, schools and crime - plus, of course, immigration".
Notwithstanding that these issues are all, to a greater or lesser extent affected by our membership of the EU, Goodman is unwittingly illustrating what we should have a referendum on the EU. Such constitutional matters tend to be swamped by more immediate concerns in a general election, so they should be deal with separately, with the referendum format being the most appropriate mechanism.
What is interesting though is the contrast between this mealy-mouthed response and the triumphalism of the Daily Express which was the only national newspaper to give the referendum full frontal treatment this morning (right). Claiming a victory for its own campaign, it announces without equivocation that we are to get a straight in-or-out choice in a referendum on Britain's EU membership.
In a dismissive response, however, Nigel Farage declares that, "This latest talk of an EU Referendum is nothing more than gesture politics". Thus, his earlier-declared stance of planning to stand for Westminster in 2015 is still in force, which means that the effect of UKIP's intervention could be to ensure that we have a Labour government and no referendum.
Meanwhile, we have the putative rebellion of up to 100 MPs, in the Queen's Speech vote, which is scheduled for 7.15 this evening. As Labour and the Lib-Dems were whipping their MPs against the motion, it is almost certain to fall.
Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail is amongst the many who see in this evidence of the Conservative Party tearing itself apart, Sandbrook himself relying on comparisons between Mr Cameron and John Major.
This also allows the loss-making Guardian to question Mr Cameron's leadership skills, asserting that he once led his party by challenging it, but now meekly muddles through by pandering to its obsessions.
But, for all that, the publication of the draft Bill seems to have had an effect. We are told that the rebellion is "fading away", possibly signifying that MPs attach more significance to the referendum promise than does Mr Farage.
Certainly, an evidently frustrated Daniel Hannan has bought the package – but then you would expect that. However, one has a sneaking sympathy for his complaints about the tendency of lobby journalists to look at the EU through the tinted glass of party management. He thus observes that, amid the hubbub about "Tory splits", we are in danger of missing the magnitude of what is taking place.
We are no fans of young Hannan here, but in this one instance, I tend to veer closer to his "take" than anything the likes of Iain Martin has to offer. This man, whose own judgement is very often suspect, thinks the Conservatives have "lost the plot".
To me, that is the kettle calling the pot black. I think we are looking at an event of some magnitude here, one which the media and the serried ranks of MPs have not entirely succeeded in trivialising. And such are the dynamics of the Cameron offer that I would not be entirely surprised to see Labour and the Lib-Dems supporting the idea of a referendum.
Indeed, Cameron is now on the attack, saying that the "focus" must now shift to Labour and the Lib-Dems and whether or not they would be prepared to offer the British public a vote on Europe. He is criticising the two party leaders for "pretending nothing has changed" in the EU in recent years, putting them on the back foot.
But, once the events of this day are over, the real focus must then shift to king-maker Farage and his UKIP supporters. As the reality of a referendum seems to be firming up, Farage may come under pressure to rethink his somewhat glib response.
If it has become the role of UKIP to deny us a referendum on the EU, then he had better start telling us what he has in mind as an alternative.
COMMENT: COMBINED REFERENDUM THREAD
A due amount of cynicism is warranted, and all the things I said last night about the prime minister still stand.
However, it is possible to concede a small amount of surprise at the exact text
of the referendum question that might be asked, if we ever get a referendum, which is now supposed to be before the end of 2017. And that question, the one which causes the surprise is, "Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?"
The reason for the surprise is that it abandons the great advantage, upon which Mr Cameron was to rely – the "renegotiation" ploy which, according to Kellner and others, converts a majority in favour of leaving into a comfortable win for him.
Cameron is still going to be pushing his renegotiation agenda but, unless that is tied in to the referendum question, he has problems. In the 1975 referendum, the question was very similar: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (The Common Market) ", but that time it was prefaced by: "The Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom's terms of membership of the European Community" …
Also, tying the referendum to the end of 2017 at the latest opens the way to the "colleagues" to block any negotiations right up to the very last minute, leaving Mr Cameron with no room for manoeuvre in seeking to big-up the deal.
On the other hand, the one thing Cameron has going for him is that he is now able
to say only his party is offering a "clear choice" about the UK's future in Europe. But most of all, he can say with a little more conviction that the only way we are going to get a referendum is by voting Conservative.
Whatever one might think of the way he has been dragged kicking and screaming to this position, it would be very hard now for a new Conservative government to back away from a referendum. Even without legislation in place before the election, they have nailed their colours to the mast.
Interestingly, Miliband is holding firm so far. He is not bending to vulgar "populism" and matching Cameron's offer. But we can bet he will be watching the polls very closely, and if there appears to be electoral advantage from putting a referendum on the table, the Labour leader will surely be tempted.
This also rather puts Farage on the rack. If we judge that Cameron is making a genuine offer, then our best hope for a generation for getting out of the EU is most definitely to back the Conservatives. A vote for UKIP at the general election would have the effect of denying us the opportunity of quitting.
These are difficult judgements though. To treat Mr Cameron's offer as suspect is entirely an honourable position. With so many promises made, and not fulfilled, there is every good reason for not believing that this is a genuine offer.
Thus, we ourselves have to make the call. Are we going to hammer the Tories, and hold out for something better – whatever that might be – or do we go with the latest offer and hope it comes off? And then, we have to ask whether we are actually capable of winning a referendum, or is Mr Cameron presenting us with a poison chalice.
Just for once, the ball is back in our court. We maybe have a chance of a referendum, but maybe it is an illusion. And then, do we really want something we might not win? We are unprepared, with no coherent arguments to put to the electorate, and could very easily lose a referendum.
David Cameron will propose laws tomorrow to guarantee that the public is assured an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.
So says one of the businesses owned by the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, which also tells us that the Conservatives will take the highly unusual step of publishing "draft legislation". This will illustrate the law that the Tories would like approved.
The development emerged in Washington last night after Barack Obama effectively backed Mr Cameron's attempts to renegotiate Britain' s relationship with the EU before ordering a referendum.
The president called for Mr Cameron to be given time to "fix" the EU, asserting that, "you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off". He then warned that Britain would lose influence if it ever left the single market.
Comments like this are politically illiterate, but are typical of American politicians and many US commentators, who understand the nuances of UK politics about as well as we tend to understand the nuances of theirs. Our problem with the EU, for instance, isn't specifically that anything is broken. It is that the EU is a putative United States of Europe - and we want no part of it.
However, we need have few fears about an Obama endorsement. American presidents interfering in British politics do not go down well, so his intervention is not likely to help Mr Cameron.
And nor is this "draft legislation" any big deal. A government Bill is not going to follow, so the best the Conservatives can hope for is a private member's Bill. This has only a limited chance of becoming law, and then only if supported by the Lib-Dems. As it stands, that support is unlikely, so we are being treated to gesture politics.
There is also the question of timing. If Mr Cameron is set on the renegotiation path, he must have some certainty that he will be able to conduct and conclude negotiations with the "colleagues" in good time for a referendum campaign to be conducted. That, effectively, means doing a deal by the end of 2016, or very early in 2017, only 18 months or so after the general election.
Assuming Mr Cameron does get re-elected, this is a very small window for renegotiations – or would be if there was any intention of them seeking serious concessions. And it depends entirely on the good will of the "colleagues", who could refuse to deal – as is widely expected.
All-in-all, therefore, we are not very much further forward. There is still no certainty of a referendum and it is in any case dependent on the successful conclusion of negotiations, over which Mr Cameron has no control.
Putting all this together, these recent events don't do so very much to enhance Mr Cameron's credibility either. On top of the imponderables, the anti-politics vote keeps soaring, making his re-election ever more unlikely.
One of these days, the man will realise that the only way off the hook he has impaled himself is Article 50 – but it is going to be a while yet before he gets to grips with the inevitable.
Entirely typical of the Fourth Estate, the media is turning the serious question of our continued membership of the EU into a biff-bam, soap-opera style contest, centring on a putative "commons revolt" which may or may no occur some time this coming week.
Particularly prominent in this low-grade game are the two Sunday "heavies", the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph, both of which offer front-page headlines relating to Tory "revolts" or "civil war".
The latest development in this saga is Michael Gove declaring that he would vote for Britain to exit Europe if there was a referendum tomorrow.
Fortunately, there won't be a referendum tomorrow. The Times YouGov poll earlier this week (published Wednesday) had 35 percent wanting to stay in the EU, with 46 percent leaving and 20 percent "don't knows". This isn't anything like a big enough margin to ensure victory.
The big problem with all the hyperventilation, though, is that it is not leading to any better appreciation of the problems of leaving the EU, and nor is it leading to any change in Tory strategy, which remains one of attempting to renegotiate the treaties. Thus, to have 100 or so Tory "rebels" calling for a referendum, without the first idea of how they are going to win it (assuming they do want to leave the EU), is not exactly helpful.
Neither is the official Tory response, which is to have "strategy" chief Lyton Crosby calling for the date of an EU referendum to be brought forward a year early from the planned 2017.
This simply means leaping over the edge of the cliff a year earlier than anticipated, as we confront a referendum that is difficult to win and which risks serious damage to the eurosceptic cause.
On the other hand, we have Ed Miliband who is taking on the mantle of a rock of stability, refusing to countenance a referendum, and maintaining a staunch pro-EU position.
If the Kellner view is accepted, and we are likely to lose a referendum which gives the choice between a "renegotiated" settlement and leaving, then the best option for avoiding electoral defeat is increasingly looking to be Labour. Those who can't go that far should simply vote UKIP – especially in Tory-Labour marginals - as the next best thing.
Completely oblivious to the adverse effect of his manoeuvring, however, John Baron still pursues the idea of "paving legislation", to convince the electorate that Mr Cameron is serious in his intention to hold a referendum.
But thereby, he misses the point. The referendum is just a means to an end, and if it is to be manipulated by a Conservative prime minister – should the party gain office – there is no real point in having one. It most certainly will not convince the hard-core "outers" that they should vote Conservative.
Sadly, therefore, with the aid of the media, all be are getting is a huge confusion between activity and outcome. The referendum soap opera may keep the hacks entertained, as they indulge in their feeding frenzy, but withdrawal from the EU is no closer than it has ever been.
David Cameron thinks it is possible to change and reform the European Union and to change and reform Britain's relationship with it.
In the very limited sense that it is theoretically possible, Mr Cameron is right. But in practical terms, it is absurd to believe that the UK can steer the EU away from its founding objective of "ever closer union" and, therefore, that we are going to be able seek changes to our "relationship".
Thus does Booker write to tell us that the only solution to our "EU mess" is Article 50.
In all the brouhaha over a Euro-referendum unleashed in the wake of that surge in the polls by UKIP, he writes, it is hard to know who is talking the emptiest fluff. We really are paying the price for all those years when our politicians and media were so keen to bury our European system of government out of sight that they have little idea of the harsh realities of the situation in which we find ourselves.
We have Tory MPs piling in to demand an in-out referendum before 2015, which they are not going to get. We have former political heavyweights such as Lord Lawson, Denis Healey and Norman Lamont queuing up to say that if there were such a referendum they would vote to leave.
We've even got Nick Clegg and those poor little BBC presenters locked in a 13-year-old time warp, trying to tell us that, if we did leave, 3.5 million British jobs would vanish because our trade with our European neighbours would somehow dry up overnight.
None of this bears any more relation to where we actually are, as one of the 27 fully signed-up members of the EU, than David Cameron's threefold dollop of wishful thinking that, if only we re-elect him in 2015, and if only he can somehow persuade his EU colleagues to hand back a few unspecified powers of government –– in breach of the most basic principle on which the EU was founded – he can somehow lead the " yes" campaign in 2017 to a referendum vote for Britain to stay in.
It is true we may one day by law have to have a referendum, whichever party is in power, because sooner or later the drive to give Brussels even more powers in its efforts to save the doomed euro will require a new treaty.
But in the meantime Mr Cameron is terrified that, unless we stay in the EU, we will lose the right to trade freely with its single market. Lord Lawson, in his own muddled way, seems equally to think that, by leaving, we would indeed be excluded from the single market, but that this would be OK because it would somehow bring us "a positive economic advantage".
The truth is that there is only one way we can get what they, and most people, seem to want, but none of them, except occasionally Nigel Farage, ever mentions it – and even then he barely gives it any emphasis.
The only way we can compel our EU partners to negotiate a new relationship which would still give us access to the single market is by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Only thus can we negotiate precisely the kind of relationship already enjoyed, in their different ways, by the two most prosperous countries in Europe, Norway and Switzerland, which trade as freely with the EU as we do, but without the rest of that political baggage that inspires such growing resentment not just in Britain, but in many other EU member states.
This, of course, catches out Mr Cameron, because Article 50 can only be invoked by a country announcing its wish to leave the EU. He flatly refuses to recognise that it is perfectly possible to continue trading freely with the EU without belonging to it.
Lord Lawson falls into the opposite trap by also imagining that leaving the EU means being excluded from the single market, although he seems to think this could be an advantage because we could somehow make up for it by increasing our trade with the rest of the world. But both these men, like countless others, are living in cloud-cuckoo land. They will not bring their thinking back to earth by looking hard-headedly at the rules of the game.
The only way we can now face up to the reality of the plight we are in is by putting Article 50 at the very centre of the national debate. It is the only way we can get the best of both worlds that so many people say they want.
Unless we do so, we are doomed to wander on in a fog of wishful thinking that can only continue to leave us with the worst of all worlds – ruled by a dysfunctional system of government that we increasingly resent, but refuse to understand, Booker says.
In the words of Lady Thatcher, which he has quoted before, from her book Statecraft, that we should ever have become absorbed into this "European superstate" will one day be seen as "a political error of the first magnitude".
If we really wish to remedy that error, the only practical way that can be brought about is by invoking Article 50.
It's no doubt frustrating for the Prime Minister, says the Daily Mail this morning, that "Europe" has again become so toxic, even though he believes he has made his position clear. The Mail then continues:
He has pledged an "in-out" referendum if he wins the election, but not until he has tried to renegotiate the terms of our membership to make them better reflect the interests of the British public. If he succeeds, he clearly believes Britain would be better off in the EU than out.
There you can see the future. All that has to happen is that Mr Cameron shows the requisite "leadership" and the paper will roll over and back its man. Like the rest of the British media, when Cameron comes home with the "deal", it will buy into it and support the "yes" vote.
But this is far too vague for many in his party who want a firm timetable, and this week Mr Cameron also suffered wounding criticism from grandees who argue that renegotiation is a pipedream.
The Mail has always supported the Prime Minister in his efforts to claw back powers from Brussels before holding a referendum but – as UKIP's successes prove – he has no time to lose. He must start leading the debate on Europe, rather than appearing to be dragged along by it.
One suspects that the intensified interest in an EU referendum displayed by the idle school-boys, insignificant coxcombs, toad-eaters and sundry others of the commons, has more to do with protecting their positions at the general election than any concern about the governance of this country.
Thus, we see, according to diverse sources, including the BBC, that the self-same idle school-boys, etc., have tabled an easily defeatable amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's speech, expressing regret that it did not include a commitment to legislation on a referendum.
This, we understand, has been fronted by MP John Baron, and could be debated as early as next Tuesday or Wednesday, giving a platform to those Tory MPs who feel most threatened by the Fatuous Farage to declare their undying commitment to leaving the EU, without ever having to do anything constructive about it.
Downing Street thus conveys the predictable message that David Cameron is "relaxed" about the amendment, as well he might, it having little chance of success, so much so that Tory MPs may be given a free vote – the ultimate expression of contempt from the parliamentary establishment. If the vote mattered at all, the whips would be on.
This latest outbreak of Tory euroscepticism follows an intense 48 hours of thrashing about in the wake of the much-delayed Lawson statement, with a rickety old bandwagon becoming ever-more burdened as more and more ex-office holders pile into its capacious rear.
Two more former chancellors of the exchequer have added their voices to the clamour: Labour's Dennis Healey and Conservative Norman Lamont also say it is time to reconsider Britain's membership of the EU, but again they are fixed on leaving only if the UK cannot renegotiate its relationship with the bloc.
Even more prominent amongst the bandwagon riders is the wannabe Tory leader Boris Johnson, who tells us that "leaving Europe a shot in the arm for democracy", which might carry some conviction if Johnson actually practised democracy and showed any signs of knowing what the term meant.
The man-child is still hedging his bets though, also supporting David Cameron, the latter reinforcing his renegotiation fantasy by telling us that he thinks it is possible to change and reform the EU, and "change and reform Britain's relationship with it".
The man clearly fails to understand that asserting this no more makes it true than if he was to assert, with the same degree of confidence, that the moon was made of green cheese. In fact, there is more likelihood of establishing a lunar green cheese mine than there is of Mr Cameron successfully changing and reforming the EU.
But, with Lawson having breached the dam, even Michael Portillo has joined calls for a referendum, with no more idea of how to fight and win one than the rest of the bandwagon riders.
Fortunately, we remain in a position where Miliband is likely to heed Poly Toynbee's call and "ignore calls to hold a futile and distracting in-out vote".
As long as the Farage mania holds, that is Mr Miliband's last best hope of becoming prime minister, the net effect of the UKIP vote being to destroy the Conservative's chances of winning an outright victory at the general election.
What terrifies Toynbee, though, is the Kellner scenario where a referendum held by an unpopular mid-term Labour government could unite the eurosceptics, who could then pull off a vote demanding an EU exit.
Thus, Toynbee says, Labour should stick to its "no referendum" policy. Ed Miliband "does not want to be the prime minister to take Britain out of Europe into the wilderness". And there lies the ultimate irony. Our best option for leaving the EU is for Labour to promise a referendum and for us to vote the party into office.
The most interesting fact of the day so far is not in any newspaper. It concerns that EU piece by Lord Lawson yesterday, still being so widely discussed, and is simply this: it was actually written a month ago, before the death of Lady Thatcher.
When Lady Thatcher died, the piece was temporarily spiked and Lawson instead had a eulogy published. Then, for reasons of its own – not unrelated to Murdoch's increasing dislike of Mr Cameron – the EU piece was resuscitated yesterday, giving the false impression that it was in response to UKIP's performance in the county elections.
The Murdoch agenda is now plastered all over the front page of The Times, with the lead story on the print edition declaring: "Voters tell Cameron to cut Europe down to size". Cameron is being warned that he "must scale back Britain's relationship with the European Union to little more than free trade" or risk losing a referendum.
The fatuity of this call is matched only by the unhelpfulness of Lawson's call for the UK to leave the Single Market – something guaranteed to bring corporate business to the ramparts in defence of its interests, spewing FUD all over the terrain.
But it is also a measure of the intellectual disarray of the Conservatives and media, none of whom seem able to understand that the only way we can possibly "scale back Britain's relationship" with the EU is by invoking an Article 50 notification.
Such a straightforward option clearly eludes Mr Cameron, who is now stymied by the rigidity of coalition politics, professing that he "can't legislate for an EU referendum".
More than 100 MPs have called on Mr Cameron to legislate in this Parliament, in a letter organised by John Baron, MP for Billericay. But in a reply to Mr Baron dated 30 April, Mr Cameron admits that no such legislation is currently possible.
Cameron wrote that the government's legislative programme was founded on the Coalition Agreement which did not include legislating in this Parliament for an "in-out" referendum. For the government to be able to bring forward a referendum Bill, "we would require the agreement of our coalition partners which, as things stand, is not forthcoming", Cameron adds.
Most likely, if Mr Cameron requires the assent of his coalition partners to run a referendum Bill past parliament, he would also need their permission to invoke Article 50. That, effectively, condemns him to constructive inactivity. All he can do is promise to stick to his original plan, of giving voters "a proper choice" between "staying in a reformed EU and leaving", with a referendum conditional on the Conservatives winning at the general.
However, Simon Jenkins in the loss-making Guardian argues that Cameron should go for a "mandate referendum"and call Clegg's bluff. The one thing Clegg fears more than a referendum on Europe is an early general election, he says. Cameron could argue that he was acting decisively on the expressed wishes of the British people.
Which such confusion at the heart of the debate, the way is wide open for an incisive contribution from the leader of UKIP, the only political party dedicated to withdrawal from the European Union.
But, instead of that, we get a piece from ten-pint Nigel Farage complaining about "three-pint Eurosceptic heroes", his message doing nothing much more than illustrate that the only eurosceptic party in town still does not have a settled policy on how to leave the EU.
No doubt the worst for wear after his rations, Farage is all over the place, demanding a referendum before the general election, without the first thought of how he might win it, or whether, indeed he can. And for want of that, it is evident that he his pinning his hopes on another "stunning victory" at the euro-elections, as if that was actually going to achieve anything of substance.
In the absence of any clarity, we thus have to make do with yards of extruded verbal material (EVM) from the media, none of it of any consequence. People tired of living can sate themselves on the ponderous editorial in the Independent, or the blathering of Mark D'Arcy on the BBC website, if only to confirm that a surfeit of quantity does not quality make.
Basically, the media, which has never been able to offer any coherent reporting on the issue of European integration, is running to form. The only single mention we can find of Article 50 is here, drowned by the torrent of inconsequential fluff that takes us no further forward.
But, if there is one phrase for which the media can be commended, it is in the Financial Times, which tells us that this issue is "not going away". In this, at least, it is right.
COMMENT: COMBINED REFERENDUM THREAD
The loss-making Guardian seems terribly keen to convince us that we don't have a chance of winning an EU referendum – whenever it comes.
To that effect, the paper enlists Peter Kellner, of YouGov – husband of eurocrat Baroness Ashton. He quite rightly ignores any question of a referendum earlier than the general election, and posits whether we will still be a member of the European Union in 2020.
In the first of three scenarios, Kellner rehearses the outcome of David Cameron redeeming his promise to renegotiate Britain's membership terms and holding a referendum in 2017. As of 21 and 22 April, a YouGov poll had voters who want to leave the EU comfortably outnumbering those who wanted to stay in, by a margin of 43 to 35 percent.
But, he says, whenever Cameron has made the EU a high-profile issue, the gap tends to close. In one poll in mid-January YouGov found more people wishing to stay in the EU than leave it.
Then, YouGov asks respondents to imagine that Cameron has renegotiated our relationship with the EU and said that Britain's interests were now protected, thus recommending that Britain remain a member of the EU on the new terms.
Asked how they would then vote in a referendum, every time the question is put, those saying "stay in" clearly outnumber those who say "get out". The most recent poll finds a three-to-two majority for remaining in the EU. And in a real referendum, Kellner expects a similar rest.
In a Conservative-inspired referendum in 2017, the leaders of all three main parties would advocate a vote for remaining in the EU. They, and much of the business community, would issue dire warnings of how bleak life would be on the outside; only a minority will share Lawson's view that prosperity would be greater if we withdrew.
The unspoken "mood" question, says Kellner, would shift from today's "Do you like the EU?" (majority answer: no), to "Is it better for British jobs and prosperity for the UK to remain in the club than risk the hazards of life on the outside?" (probable majority answer in 2017, as it was in 1975: yes).
Thus does he conclude that, as in so many referendums round the world, when there is no settled national consensus, the status quo will prevail.
The second of the scenarios is where Labour wins the 2015 election and Ed Miliband sticks to his current position of opposing a referendum. There, the consequences are simple. Britain would remain in the EU, at least until after the 2020 general election. In the third scenario, though, Miliband wins the general election having changed his stance and promising a referendum. Cameron resigns and is replaced by a strongly eurosceptic successor.
In these circumstances, says Kellner, a referendum fought in 2017 could have a Labour government suffering mid-terms blues up against the main opposition party advocating withdrawal. Then, the possibility of the UK voting to leave the EU would be very real.
Alternatively, a Miliband victorious at the general election could call a snap referendum which, in the honeymoon phase of his administration, he could well win.
Thus does Kellner conclude that, if the parties stick to their current plans, he sees little chance of Britain leaving the EU. The best chance is of Miliband matching Cameron's promise of a mid-term referendum in 2017.
Then, he says, a striking paradox emerges. In those circumstances, anyone whose overriding passion is for Britain to stay in the EU should vote Conservative – while anyone desperate to maximise the chances of quitting should vote Labour – provided Labour has committed to a mid-term referendum.
If this is the Kellner view though, under current conditions there is another possibility – that a vote for UKIP at the general ends with a weak Lab-Dem coalition, and an alignment between the Conservatives and UKIP as the official opposition. And that alliance could be strong enough, politically, to force the government into giving us a referendum.
But, while events beyond anything but a straight Conservative victory at the general is hard to read, what is very clear already is the europhiles intend to fight a referendum on the FUD (fear-uncertainty-doubt) factor, with the greatest stress on potential loss of jobs.
And there, despite Kellner's certainty, a referendum is winnable, if we can neutralise the FUD. If we can show how leaving the EU will not impact adversely on jobs, and can deal with the other factors which the europhiles claim as their own, and can then spread the message effectively, we can beat the status quo effect.
However, that means we cannot leave the battle until the start of an official referendum campaign. We need to have a plan agreed and ready as soon as possible, and should be actively fighting the campaign even before the general election. With some years to go, we have time, but only if we do not waste any more of it.
Thus, Kellner's analyses are not to be trusted. We know where his true loyalties lie, and they are not with us. And Kellner says we can't win with a Conservative government in place, and – effectively – won't even have a referendum with Labour in place.
I say we can win a referendum under the Tories, and can force one under Labour (which we can also win) - but only if we start now, developing and following a coherent plan. And that is, preferably, with UKIP. But, if necessary, we will have to do without.
COMMENT: COMBINED REFERENDUM THREAD
If you take the totality of this blog, you will find that – aside from the legacy media and, of course, the EU – the most frequent target of our ire has been the Conservative Party, and in particular David Cameron. By contrast, Mr Farage and UKIP are mentioned considerably less often, and then not always in an unfavourable light.
However, UKIP is a political party, and Farage is a public figure – with his salary and expenses paid-for from the public purse. He is thus fair game for scrutiny. Despite that, though, there is a voluble band of his fans which seems to think that he, and his party should escape any form of scrutiny, and be immune from criticism.
That same merry band of brothers, though, might care to consider the implications of the survey highlighted by Autonomous Mind which identifies whether voters have a positive or negative view of political leaders. From this, we see that Mr Cameron scores –16, Mr Miliband -27, Mr Clegg –45 and Mr Farage –24.
In addition to these personal ratings, AM notes that 36 percent of respondents said they would never consider voting for UKIP, which is more than the 33 percent who would never consider voting Conservative, the 32 percent against the Lib-Dems and the 23 percent against Labour. This means that, for UKIP, Farage is more unpopular than his party.
AM suggests that the message looks pretty clear. If UKIP are basing a strategy to build more support on the back of a Farage personality blitz, they are going in the wrong direction. Mr Farage is not the electoral asset his fans think he is.
What actually matters more, though, is how this score would translate in any referendum campaign. And, on the face of it, Cameron's message would be better received than anything Farage had to offer. Fortunately, any advantage there is largely offset by Messrs Clegg and Miliband.
But what we must do is recognise that the "surge" in support for UKIP at the county elections only amounted to around eight percent of the electorate. The cold, hard figures are telling us that the eurosceptic message is not sweeping all before it.
Contrary to what some might aver, to point this out is not an "attack" on UKIP, or even Farage. The analysis is intended, as much as anything, to identify our own weaknesses, in the – sometime vain – hope that we can improve our performance and strategies.
Here, though, the point about Farage is that he has always been resistant to alternative points of view. Thus, we have in him a man who, after twenty years of UKIP's existence, has still not crafted a credible exit plan from the EU, leaving him to rely on vague aspirations and slogans.
In this context, I liken him to a instructor, who is taking student for a skydiving trip having convinced them that parachutes are not necessary. It will only be a matter of time, however, before his charges discover that leaving (the aeroplane) was the easy bit. It is the landing that will present the difficulties.
As I have pointed out earlier, ten years ago we were telling Farage that we needed the equivalent of parachutes – our exit plan – in order to mastermind a safe exit from the EU. Farage's response, then and now, was and is to ignore the advice – and to get rid of those close to him who advocated the need for a plan.
Sadly, while this may be history, the problem continues to the present. The fact that ten years ago we were calling for a credible exit plan, and that we have wasted ten years or more, does not remove the need in the present. And, as the possibility of a referendum grows closer, the need becomes ever-more urgent.
Thus, the point will continue to be made in this blog, and elsewhere. And for those who have difficulties coming to terms with that, they may care to reflect that proper response to criticism is not to complain, but to respond to it.
For our part, we will continue to speak plainly. In our view, without a credible exit plan, Farage is a liability, as that represents a failure to address the status quo effect. And, in any referendum campaign, that could be fatal. Mr Farage could thus lose the referendum for us. That makes him part of the problem - and a legitimate target for criticism.
For all the rhetoric emanating from the Conservative Party, and the machinations of the back benchers, Philip Hammond and William Hague both bring their colleagues down to earth with a bump, telling them that the parliamentary party does not have enough votes in the Commons to force through a Bill on an EU referendum.
Mr Hammond said it was "the simple reality" that a Bill would be impossible to get through parliament in the face of opposition from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, a comment endorsed by Hague, who declares: "All Conservative MPs have to bear in mind that key point I'm making: we don't have a majority in the House of Commons".
As to whether the Lib-Dems would help the Conservatives out, Simon Hughes, the Lib-Dem deputy leader, is clearly ruling that out. It would be "madness", he says, to hold an EU referendum before the next general election in 2015. People's concerns, he says, are the economy, declaring, "I think it would be madness to have a referendum and spend all our time thinking about whether we should be in or out of Europe when the priority is to sort out the economy".
This is not going to put the chatter about a referendum to bed, but the reality is that we are not going to see an EU referendum this side of the general election. That, of course, leaves the Farage Party to turn the euro-elections into a pretend referendum on continued membership of the EU, and proclaim a moral victory when it comes in with the most number of seats. Moral victories, though, don't butter the parsnips, as they say.
Nevertheless, if Farage has his way (and he usually does), his victory line-up will include Tory re-tread Neil Hamilton, imposed over the heads of grassroot members, who complain about being "totally ignored" over selection choices. Then, that always was the case, with The Great Leader rigging the lists whenever he could get away with it.
All of this will get us no closer to actually holding an EU referendum, much less an in-out referendum, and it remains the case that, if the Tories actually get into office again at the general – with or without the Lib-Dems – it will be in spite of the Farage Party. Even though it may draw some support from erstwhile Labour voters, the bulk of UKIP's support (apart from ex-BNP) will come from former Tory voters.
If Labour, with the assistance of UKIP, gets into office, the likelihood is that we will not get an in-out referendum, which is perhaps just as well. We are not in a position to win one. Thus, it is a choice of "vote UKIP" and don't get a referendum, or "vote Tory" and possibly get a referendum, even if it is one we can't win, or one which is irrelevant anyway.
All the time the timetable is slipping and, having given the electoral route the best part of twenty years to deliver, without a result, not a few are beginning to take the view that more direct action is needed. Certainly, those who have expectation of the Golden Boy becoming prime minister, or his forging an electoral pact with a resurgent Tory Party, and leading us to the sunlit uplands, are in for an even longer wait.
Thus, as we stir the turgid electoral swamp, a great deal of gas is released, but nothing actually gets us anywhere near our objective. Right across the board, there is a failure to deliver, leaving many to wonder quite what it is we have to do to get us out of the EU.
COMMENT: COMBINED ELECTION THREAD
Says The Times peeping from behind its paywall: "A swaggering Nigel Farage told jittery Tories that he might help them to retain their seats if they got rid of David Cameron".
One appreciates, though, that with the Farage-mania at its height, one is not supposed to criticise the anointed one, but the news has not reached Autonomous Mind. He is not at all impressed. Furthermore, a correspondent thinks Farage may have reached the pinnacle of his hubris.
When the dust dies down and the Conservatives stop panicking but look around, writes my correspondent, they will see that UKIP does not have all that much to offer by way of an agreement. But, more to the point, will the party members really like the idea of getting rid of their elected leader because another and much smaller and less important party is demanding it?
AM makes the point that Farage has also undermined UKIP's apparent appeal as an entity that stands apart from the discredited three main parties; for instead of occupying the high ground above the political class in the eyes of jaded voters he has instead signalled his desperation to join with them.
UKIP candidates who enjoin voters to reject the Lib-Lab-Con will now have to explain why given UKIP's plan is to cosy up to the Conservatives, AM adds. One might venture that this seems to be a case of "vote purple, get blue".
Tory MP Peter Bone certainly seems to think this is the case. UKIP's success, he says, made the case for an alliance between the two parties that would see them fielding a joint candidate.
"There was a tremendous Conservative vote", Bone adds. "There were the conservatives that voted Conservative and the conservatives who voted UKIP. The trick is to get us all together again and that's what we've got to do".
The real trick, though, is how Farage will handle his new bestist friends and their ideas for a "mandate referendum". Is the golden boy in favour of renegotiation? I think we should be told.
COMMENT: COMBINED ELECTION THREAD
I expected a certain amount of hostility when I raised the issue of turnout at the Campaign for Independent Britain meeting yesterday. But when I pointed out that the vote was shrinking, suggesting that this contradicted claims of a popular movement "on the march", I got a general murmur of agreement.
To judge by some reaction though, while Farage is to lauded for his "plain speaking" and "straight talking", that same freedom should be denied to anyone wishing to look beyond the media hype.
Even Autonomous Mind is enjoined to get behind "the only team in town" and to "stop the continual sniping at UKIP". The anointed one's party, it seems, must be exempted from the normal process of critical analysis, as we bow down and hail the stupendous victory of The Great Leader.
Actually, though, Booker is right. He sees in the "surge" for the Farage Pothole Party not any great support for the party itself, but a reaction to the behaviour of the political classes – a Europe-wide reaction which is reflected in the growth of dissident parties in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and elsewhere.
In some senses, it perpetuates the continued degradation of the voting system, which is supposed – in theory – to pick the best individual candidate to represent the voters in their areas. In some cases we have seen elected "paper" candidates with no political experience, representing a party which has no track record in local government.
In other words, the vote was not so much for UKIP as against the political classes, something which was picked up by Martin Hill, the Conservative leader of Lincolnshire county council. He acknowledges that UKIP has successfully "plugged in" to this issue of EU migrants. Unease about this social change has been worsened by a feeling that Westminster is not listening to voters or speaking their language, particularly in rural areas, he suggests.
"People feel there is a political elite a bit divorced from ordinary people", Hill adds. "On the doorstep, it wasn’t the policies, it was about the feeling of the disconnect".
This distinction is incredibly important when it comes to trying to understand the nature of the processes we are witnessing, which are otherwise swamping by the media chatter which is no more accurate nor perceptive than it ever has been.
Crucially, we see in the response to Farage, renewed calls for a referendum, and even the idea of a "mandate referendum". This some Conservatives MPs want as early as next May, in which the public will be asked whether they want the government to negotiate a "new relationship with the EU based on trade and political co-operation".
Slated as a "UKIP killer", if this gathers a head of steam, it is very dangerous for the eurosceptic movement as a whole.
To reject the very idea of such a referendum invites the claim that people are not interested in "Europe", to refuse a mandate is to suggest that we are happy with the way things are, and to vote "yes" gives the prime minister a spurious authority for something he can't do anyway.
On the other hand, the very last thing we want is an "in-out" referendum - which we would be certain to lose, setting back the movement for a generation. If Mr Cameron had any sense, he would offer just that, calling Farage's bluff and lancing the boil.
And it is here that the criticism of Farage is strongest - and rightly so. Ten years ago, many of us were arguing with the man that UKIP needed to develop a credible exit plan.
Ten wasted years later, the party still does not have a credible exit plan. Furthermore, last Thurday's "success" brings us no closer to getting one. Nor indeed does the party have a strategic plan to secure our withdrawal from the EU – other than perhaps getting the anointed one to Number 10 where he can wave a magic wand and lead us to the sunlit uplands.
Yet, to point out that a possible (and likely) outcome of Farage's long-term dereliction is to lead us blindly into a referendum contest that we cannot possibly win is seen by is growing band of acolytes as heresy and even worse.
But, without a plan, without a strategy, we lose. Farage's disparate bunch of amateurs are up against real professionals. Confronted with the might of the media, the political establishment, the wealth of corporate business and the power of the EU, our chances of winning a referendum always were slight. For all the energy and funds expended on the Farage folly, all we might have achieved is one step closer to annihilation.
In my next post, therefore, I will sketch out the bones of a plan, offering ideas of how we can actually go about getting ourselves out of the EU, ideas which I set out to the CIB yesterday.
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my list of things we must have in order successfully to secure an exit from the EU does not include the Farage Party, which is more and more looking like a cul-de-sac. And in a subliminal message which affirms that, we see the front page of the Daily Mail (left) where any news of the "great victory" is remarkably absent.
Unfashionable it may be to say in certain quarters, but to attract the support of 6-8 percent of the electorate in council elections (and 9.4 percent in a by-election) is not evidence of a wildly successful popular campaign. And this is less so when, with each passing election, the pool of engaged voters steadily diminishes, as evidenced by the declining turnouts.
As we have remarked before, the obsession with share of the vote, where turnout is in free fall, has the hallmarks of two bald men fighting over a comb – although it is more like a gang of people squabbling over its possession.
It is perhaps appropriate, therefore, that the newspaper that makes the greatest front-page display of the Farage Party success is the loss-making Guardian. This left-wing newspaper is only too well aware that the only way of resuscitating the flagging Labour campaign is to big-up UKIP in the hope of damaging the Conservative Party.
Therein lies an uncomfortable truth. However, much it may protest otherwise, at its current level of support, when it has absorbed the transferable votes from the BNP, arising from the collapse of another one-man-band, by far the greater bulk of UKIP's support comes from disaffected Conservatives.
Come the general election, which is the only election which matters to the political claque, the Left will certainly be egging on the "party of protest" in the expectation that it will continue to do disproportionate damage to the Right.
And, confronted with the challenge, Mr Cameron's Conservatives will do whatever it takes to neutralise the threat. For, if Farage has succeeded in anything, he has certainly got the attention of the political classes.
The ironic thing is that the most immediate outcome of grabbing the Guardian front page is one of two possibilities – either the election of the Labour Party to office in the 2015 general election (with or without the Lib-Dems), or resurgent Conservatives who will most likely offer as the bribe to restore their fortunes an EU referendum that we cannot possibly win.
I would find this latter even doubly ironic – for UKIP to force upon the nation a referendum for which it is wholly unprepared, where it would be completely outflanked, then to saddle us with a lost vote which will set the eurosceptic movement back a generation.
But then, whatever else, Farage has never included amongst his attributes anything approaching tactical acumen or strategic planning. Right now, though, his dogged pursuit of a twenty-year-old game plan might now look on the threshold of a breakthrough. But the truth is that it has no better chance of success now than when he first scribbled it on the back of a beer-soaked bar mat, at the end of a boozy planning session.
Perhaps that "plan" emanated from the Grand Old Duke of York pub, because Farage is marching his troops to the top of the hill. Too soon, he will be marching them down again, back into the intellectual cul-de-sac from which his "cunning plan" originated.
And that is what I will be telling the CIB today, plus a few more home truths. Those views won't necessarily be welcome, but I suspect there may be a few there capable of straight thinking and I won't have to make a quick dash for the exit. We shall see.
COMMENT: COMBINED ELECTION THREAD
If ever there was a justification for central government intervention, it would be over the scope and presentation of local election results on official local authority websites.
Rarely does one find any detail of size of electorate and the number of votes cast, information necessary to calculate the all-important turnout. Some counties give information by ward, in varying levels of detail, but it is incredibility difficult to find one site for the raw data that one needs for analytical purposes, from which to draw conclusions as to the state of play.
Local newspapers are of some value though, when following through individual counties. For instance, Derbyshire County Council information is here which, with the official site (plus here) and Wikipedia, gives one the basics.
From these, we can calculate the votes cast, which stand at approximately 203,112, from an electorate 581,982 – yielding a turnout of 34.9 percent. This compares, incidentally, with a turnout in 2009 of 38 percent, when the Tories won overall control, and in 2005 of 63 percent – which coincided with a general election.
In this current election, Labour has regained control, taking 43 seats, with a a 42.8 percent share of the vote, against the Conservatives who took 18 seats (losing 13) with 28.8 percent of the vote. UKIP gained 18.7 percent of the vote and took no seat, alongside the Lib-Dems who also failed to score, with 7.6 percent of the vote.
Looking at the all-important "mandates", we thus see that Labour walks away with 15 percent, the Conservatives with ten and UKIP with 6.5 percent. In terms of its electoral reach, therefore, UKIP managed to induce less than seven percent of the electorate to vote for it, while the ruling party command the council with the just slightly more than double that.
Derbyshire is interesting because it is one of the councils that have actually changed hands, but it can hardly be said that the result is "groundbreaking" for UKIP – at several levels. It has not only failed to induce more than one in fifteen to vote for it, its effect on the contest has not managed to enliven the electoral process, pushing up the turnout.
Looking at another county council, this time Essex, we see UKIP gaining nine seats, with a 26.1 percent share of the vote. With a turnout of 27.6 percent (328, 435 votes cast from an electorate of 1,081,428), this gives the party a 7.2 percent proportion of the electorate that voted for it.
Interestingly, 6.5 percent in Derbyshire gets no seats, yet 7.2 percent in Essex gives UKIP nine. However, the Conservatives in Essex, with only 9.4 percent of the electorate behind it, get 42 seats. And, to compound the anomalies, Labour, with 4.6 percent of the electorate, also get nine seats, as to the Lib-Dems with the support of a mere three percent of the electorate.
For another home counties authority, Buckinghamshire, I am unable to find details of the size of the electorate (as a single figure), but from the official website, we see that the winning Conservatives get 41 percent of the vote, on a turnout of 30.3 percent. That gives them a mandate of 12.4 percent – the support of just one in eight of the electors.
For UKIP, we see a gain of six seats, from 27 percent of the vote. On the turnout of 30.3 percent, it thus succeeds in attracting a "mandate" of 8.2 percent. Only one in twelve of the electorate were sufficiently enthused by this protest party to go out and vote for it.
Going southwest to Hampshire, we see there a turnout of 31 percent, with the Conservatives leading on 37.5 percent of the vote, which brings them 45 seats for a mandate of 11.6 percent of the electorate. The Lib-Dems, who come second, gain 17 seats with 21.7 percent of the vote, giving them a mandate from 7.2 percent of the electorate. UKIP draw down ten seats with a 24.6 percent of the vote, giving them a mandate of 7.6 percent of the electorate. Labour manage four seats on a mandate of 3.1 percent.
In the supposedly strongly contested Lincolnshire County Council election, however, turnout plunged to 29.7 percent, the votes cast recorded at 161,315 from a possible 542,759. This was seven percent down on the figure when voters last went to the polls in 2009 although, in some of the areas in the current poll, the turnout was as low as 14 percent.
Out of 77 seats in the county, the Conservatives lost 25, losing control of the council in the process, ending up with 36 seats from a 36 percent of the vote. That gives them a mandate from a mere 10.7 percent of the electorate. UKIP, which came second with 16 seats from 24.3 percent of the vote – have the support of a mere 7.2 percent of the electorate, the same as in Hampshire.
This is the county plagued with migrant workers from EU countries, where immigration is a real issue. Yet, when three members of the Ransome family were elected for UKIP, one explained their success as resulting from their policy on potholes. The BBC wryly remarked that none of their vox pops had mentioned road conditions. But for now, UKIP is the pothole party.
Potholes aside, UKIP has not made a breakthrough – despite the media hype. It has undoubtedly done well, gaining 139 councillors, but it is falling short on two counts.
Firstly, with turnouts remaining stubbornly low and in some cases falling still further from the last election, the party has failed to enliven the political process and bring new voters into the fray. Secondly, with their support from the electorate ranging from 6.5 percent to a level mostly short of eight percent, attempts to create a popular movement have not succeeded.
Autonomous Mind points out that anger with the establishment parties runs deep, but it is only being expressed by those who remain politically engaged. Thus, as voters continue to retreat from the political process, the Farage party is fishing in a shrinking pool, with nothing new on offer.
As long as elections remain a spectator sport over which the denizens of the bubble obsess, leaving the bulk of the population indifferent and uninvolved, this will not be the "sea change
" in British politics - as Farage currently asserts.
COMMENT: COMBINED ELECTION THREAD
As expected, the South Shields parliamentary election gives the seat to Labour's Emma Lewell-Buck, with 12,493 votes. That represents 50.5 percent of those who cast a vote.
Understandably, the political classes and the media claque
want to focus on the percentage of the vote. But the a turnout tells a different tale. The 24,736 votes cast from a 63,765-strong constituency (38.8 percent based on 2010 figures
) give Lewell-Buck a pathetically small mandate of 19.6 percent – less than one in five of the electorate.
Thus does the "none of the above" party win again, although this does not stop the newly-elected MP from being "absolutely ecstatic". And, in a graphic illustration of the disconnect afflicting the political classes, she burbles that the result showed Labour was connecting with voters and the coalition government was taking the country in the "wrong direction".
Aside from the winner, much hype attends the performance of UKIP, with candidate Richard Elvin picking up 5,988 votes to come a poor second. He gained 24 percent of the votes cast, displacing the Conservatives, who took second place in the general.
Although this is a stellar performance for a party which did not field a candidate in the general election, the low turnout flatters all party performances. UKIP actually takes a 9.4 percent share of the electorate, compared with a 14.8 percent share at Eastleigh, and 7.3 percent of the available vote at Rotherham.
For the Conservatives, though, there was no relief. Candidate Karen Allen took 2,857 votes, compared with 7,886 polled by the party in the general. That put the Tories in a humiliating third place, behind UKIP, with a mere 4.5 percent of the electorate turning out to vote for them.
Ostensibly, this replicated the Eastleigh experience, where the Conservatives were also pushed into second place by UKIP. But there, the Tories lost 13.9 percent of their vote. In South Shields, they lost 10.1 percent of their general election vote. Marginally, this was a less worse performance, as is UKIP's performance not quite as good as it achieved in Eastleigh.
An independent Asian candidate, Ahmed Khan, came fourth, with 1,331 votes. This was 5.38 percent of the votes cast, which was enough for him to keep his deposit – a sign of the times perhaps.
At Eastleigh, there were ten other parties in the field, including the Monster Raving Loony Party, which collectively polled 2,056 votes. This time round, we only saw five contestants, outside the Lib-Lab-Con plus UKIP matrix. But, with the BNP (which did not stand at Eastleigh), they took a sizeable 3,046 votes, representing 12 percent of the votes cast. This fracturing of the vote is becoming a significant factor in electoral contests.
Within this, there was a collapse of the BNP vote, down from 2,382 in the general election, to a mere 711. This is the spectre at the feast. There is much talk about the source of the UKIP votes but – as with Rotherham where the BNP vote dropped from 3,906 at the general election to 1,804 in the 2012 by-election. As before
– it looks as if Farage's party could be the beneficiary of the BNP collapse.
The other major story from South Shields was the misery of the Lib-Dems, the party crashing into seventh place to lose its deposit with a mere 352 votes, less than half the BNP level and not so very much more than the Loony party. This compared with third place in the general, when the candidate came third, polling 5,189 votes.
We were filming in Harrogate yesterday, assembling material for the foundation video on The Harrogate Agenda – and took the opportunity to capture some election scenes. We were due to end up at South Shields, filming the count, but our press passes were withdrawn by South Tyneside Council, so we are excluded from the scene.
That brings me back home, with the result from South Shields not due until 2 am, or later – with the local authority results trickling in over the next two days. Hence, I have set up this post, which I will keep active and add to, from time to time, linking to a forum thread, to which we can all add information.
In the meantime, Peter Kellner is telling us that, if you're looking for simple winners and losers, stick to soccer. The world of politics is more difficult to gauge. You can't argue with the sense of that, other than to observe that the real losers are always the voters.
Already, though, Kellner is perpetrating his own brand of spin. As far as the national picture is concerned, he says, "vote share matters more than seats gained and lost". But that is not true. What really matters is turnout – the real measure of public engagement in the political process.
My own personal soundings, on the basis of a very limited sample, suggest that there is nothing to write home about. Despite UKIP injecting some life into the campaign, the turnout was "about normal" – i.e., low. Details of the seats up for grabs are here.
Whether my prediction holds, we will have to wait and see. As Mr Cameron is braced for a "bloody nose", we'll post more as and when we have it.