David Cameron’s Conservatives remained in third place in two opinion polls before the European Parliament election next month as the U.K. Independence Party won supporters.
Among people certain to cast ballots in May, the party led by Nigel Farage had the backing of 34 percent, compared with 27 percent for Labour and 20 percent for the prime minister’s Tories, according to a YouGov Plc poll in the Sunday Times yesterday. A ComRes tally on the same basis put UKIP and Labour neck-and-neck to win.
Farage, whose anti-European Union party has never held a seat in the U.K. Parliament, is capitalizing on the success of his performance in two broadcast debates against Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg in the past month. That momentum risks bruising Cameron in the May 22 EU and local council elections, which consistently attract lower turnouts than general elections. The next one of those is a year away.
“Farage’s two debating victories over Nick Clegg have put his party on course to win,” YouGov President Peter Kellner wrote in the Sunday Times. UKIP “has attracted not only more converts but has fired their enthusiasm” and “this is partly down to Farage himself,” he said.
On April 5, Cameron and Clegg stepped up campaigning before the May elections with appeals to voters on taxes and Europe. Cameron is seeking to tap Britain’s economic recovery and last month’s budget, which favored savers and pensioners, to draw support back from UKIP and combat Labour.
Distracting from that push was an intensifying row at the weekend on Conservative Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s parliamentary expense claims, with front-page headlines in normally pro-Tory newspapers including the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph citing pressure on her to resign.
Such a furor may play into Farage’s hands, chiming with his rhetoric criticizing the established order of the British Parliament that his party doesn’t belong to.
“Falling behind UKIP would be a blow for David Cameron and his party,” ComRes Head of Political Polling Tom Mludzinski said in an e-mailed statement. “Of course European elections are very different from general elections, but with Labour requiring a swing of just 2 percent in May 2015 to win the most seats it is likely to set nerves jangling across the Conservative Party.”
The ComRes poll for the People newspaper, citing people certain to vote on May 22, gave both UKIP and Labour support from 30 percent of adults, compared with 22 percent for the Conservatives and 8 percent for the Liberal Democrats. The company questioned 2,067 people on April 2 and April 3.
Kellner of YouGov cautioned that UKIP may still struggle to pull off the same success at a general election. People questioned on their intentions for such a vote gave Farage’s party just 12 percent support, in line with its recent average.
“Many voters regard the European elections as a chance for a one-night stand,” Kellner wrote. “In the short term the advantage lies with Farage, but the longer term prospects for his party and his cause have not -- yet -- improved.”