Bill Carmichael: Ukip revels in its poll position

IT is hard to say which party is dreading next week’s local elections more fervently – the Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats. But one party is smacking its lips with relish at the prospect of the ballot – and that’s Ukip.

Derided by David Cameron as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, Ukip has been riding high since its astonishing performance at the Eastleigh by-election in February when it beat the Tories into third place and came close to winning the seat.

One poll last week put Nigel Farage’s party at 16 per cent and some experts are predicting the Ukip surge could cost the Conservatives as many as 600 seats in the true-blue shires.

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The Cameroons bet the farm on the vain hope that by adopting trendy stances on green taxes, windmills and gay marriage they could persuade Guardian readers to stampede to the polling stations to put their cross next to the Conservative candidate.

Eastleigh pretty much killed that notion stone dead, and the Prime Minister may be about to find out that if he keeps kicking his party’s natural supporters, one day they are going to turn around and kick him back – hard. Meanwhile, the performance of the economy where the real electoral battles are won and lost – has been woeful.

Taxes, debt and spending have all increased. The Tories have even managed to gain themselves the reputation of hard-hearted gradgrinds and oppressors of the poor while actually increasing public spending, including on benefits.

With the Conservatives in such a dreadful pickle, and the Liberal Democrats very much in the doldrums, you would imagine Labour would be making hay and racing ahead, but that hasn’t happened.

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Polls over the last six months show Labour slipping back slightly to about 40 per cent, with the Conservatives stuck at 32 per cent and the Lib Dems on about 10 per cent. The real movement in the polls comes under the label “other” – and that, of course means Ukip. Like the Conservatives, Labour has abandoned its natural supporters. Ed Miliband has opposed every attempt to curb the out of control benefits bill – despite the cuts being immensely popular in working class areas – and the party’s stance on immigration and Europe is so vague as to be entirely irrelevant.

Now comes hints that Miliband might be about to commit Michael Foot-style electoral suicide with a far left programme of more taxes, more spending and higher benefits. If that happens, the Conservatives may still win an outright majority in the next general election. Either way, Ukipers have their tails up, with some in the party suggesting they will do well next week not just in the rural areas, but in Labour’s strongholds in urban areas of the North.

One Tory I spoke to last week said: “At a general election we can rely on our loyal supporters not to abandon us for fear of letting Labour back in, but in the local elections I am afraid that some of them are looking forward to giving us a drubbing.

“And unless we turn things around next year’s European elections are going to be even worse.”

Alarm call

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In a move described in 2010 as “a major move forward”, South Yorkshire Police spent more than £1m on 3,000 new BlackBerry smartphones to help officers work more efficiently – and this week it announced they all have to replaced because they are out of date.

I know technology becomes obsolete at a rapid rate these days, but to burn through a million quids’ worth of kit takes some doing. But don’t worry guys – it’s only taxpayers’ money. Apparently the problem is that some officers have to enter a lengthy password and they found the buttons on the phone too small.

Here’s a tip, fellas – take your gloves off before using your phone.