UKIP can probably feel quite smug in themselves leading up to these local election times, seemingly surpassing the Lib Dems as the third most popular party in the UK at this time, with multiple polls over the course of a week putting them in that position. How much of this is down to recent events, the budget for example, and how much is down to the increased publicity in the build up to local elections, it seems a bit early to tell.
One thing that is very clear, is that this is not about the Lib Dems vs UKIP. While both parties clearly dislike each other, UKIP's (in my opinion) selfish libertarianism versus the Lib Dems more social liberalism don't gel well at all, this change in standings isn't because current Lib Dem supporters are moving to a different small party.
The history of polling, YouGov's being most regular, shows that as Lib Dem fortunes rise and fall by mere percent over the course of the past months, so too does Labour's. In fact the Labour vs Lib Dem polling has barely changed in over a year.
What has changed is the Tory numbers. For most of that last year they've polled in the mid to high 30s, but recently, certainly since the budget, they are residing more in the low 30s. If the Lib Dem vote has barely collapsed in the same period, and the Labour vote has done little in increasing beyond the small losses the Lib Dems are seeing, then where are the Tory votes going?
Surely it makes sense that it's going to our new third place party of the moment, UKIP?
If things remain the same going through the next few years then we're going to see the Lib Dems fighting to regain swing Labour supporters, while the Tories fight to regain swing UKIP supporters. I have said before I don't trust the Lib Dem machine, but actually things are set up to be kind to them.
I say this because the Tories are also going to have to fight Labour, to not do this would be negligent. This means that the Lib Dems can probably piggyback off of any government heightened defense or attack against the main opposition. What the Lib Dems aren't going to care about are UKIP, there is quite frankly not a single area where the Lib Dems are going to need to worry about UKIP taking a seat away from them.
By contrast, UKIP can drain votes away from the Tories, in the form of protest votes and from those that simply don't think that the Tories are being conservative enough. In the areas where the Lib Dems are really fighting marginals, they are fighting the Tories, who will not want to be losing seats to UKIP. In these areas they're going to have to simultaneously denounce their coalition partners without sounding like hypocrites and ungrateful, while not moving too far to the right as they'll also have to portray UKIP as too extreme for UK interests.
Even with boundary changes there is a lot of work that the Tories need to do in 2015. Fighting the Lib Dems does very little to help them, UKIP may cost them marginals that are no longer going to be so marginal if the Lib Dems are weak in those areas against Labour. I'd go as far as to say that if the Tories want power in 2015, coalition or otherwise, they'll need to support the Lib Dems in regaining voters.
Come 2015 I wonder how much the Tories are going to regret putting so much money to fighting AV, we predicted that it may come back to bite them, and I certainly won't be crying for them if they end up losing power, or having to endure worse coalition conditions, because of their anti-democratic stance in 2011.
Either way, while the partisan, nausea-inducing, guffawing at which party resides in which position of popularity may see UKIP goading Lib Dems right now, it's all just childish games that makes little difference to the extremely interesting political landscape that we could find ourselves in...where UKIP are going to care a whole lot less about the popularity of the Lib Dems, and vice versa.