Ukip is proving a tough nut to crack. Three polls on Sunday gave it ratings of 13, 14 and 18 per cent, still comfortably high enough to damage the Conservatives in marginal seats and hand victory to Labour candidates.
This was not meant to happen. Support for Ukip was first meant to fade after the European elections a year ago, then after its victories in the Clacton and Rochester and Strood by-elections. But although Farage’s party has lost a little bit of ground since the turn of the year, it is still clocking up an average of 15 points on the poll of polls. Many Tory MPs left Westminster four weeks ago predicting that Ukip would be down in single figures by now as it was squeezed out of the picture by the sheer muscle of the two big parties.
Farage is still there despite the bad back that has curbed his natural zeal for the fray. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP remains on course virtually to wipe out 41 Labour and 11 Lib Dem MPs.
This week, as time starts to run out, David Cameron will revert to Plan A, hammering home his message that only the Conservatives will complete the economic recovery and that now is no time for the country to hand the car keys back to the people who crashed it in the first place.
But Cameron will also be pushing Plan C – the warning to English voters that by supporting Labour they could find themselves lumbered with an alliance of the Left and the far Left and a certain return to the policies of tax, spend and borrow that wrecked the economy in the 1970s and more recently under Gordon Brown.
A Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday lent weight to this argument, finding that 44 per cent of English voters would support England breaking away from Scotland if they were faced with a Labour government in hock to Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP. Home Secretary Theresa May dramatised the numbers, claiming that a Labour-SNP pact would confront the country with its worst constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.
May’s warning has force. Not only would the country be faced with an economic blizzard it would also confront grave questions of democratic legitimacy. A minority Labour government dependent on vote-by-vote support for its survival would amount to a febrile hybrid administration, one part of which would owe its ultimate loyalty to the United Kingdom and the other part of which would be dedicated to the break up of that self-same sovereign entity.
At its simplest, one part of the government of the UK would be committed to working actively for the overthrow of the UK. Talk about a fifth column.
The Survation poll probed this constitutional monstrosity. By 51 to 28, people across the UK thought that in such a situation Sturgeon would have the upper hand over Miliband; by 44 to 31, English voters thought England should break away from Scotland; and nearly half of those English voters expressing an opinion (34 to 35) thought that the election result would not be legitimate if it produced a Labour-SNP alliance.
It would seem Mrs May has a point. The majority of people in England would have grave difficulty accepting the result of the election if it ends the way the pollsters now expect.
Cameron’s campaign is under fire for a lack of flair and passion. Tory donor Peter Hall went public in The Sunday Times bemoaning the lack of energy in the Tory pitch for power, urging the PM to “get down and dirty”. Another donor Hugh Osmond said he had no idea what a future Cameron government would look like.
One other key finding of the poll was the suggestion that about a third of Ukip voters would consider voting Tory to stop a red-tartan alliance.
And here is a ray of light for the PM as he struggles to gain the upper hand in the short time left to May 7. Forget about 10 days to save the NHS. How about 10 days to save the UK?
Yes, Ukip is a tough nut to crack and many of the former Tories who account for much of its following are deeply distrustful of Cameron. But some, at least, are clearly open to persuasion. The question is can the languid Old Etonian Tory leader stiffen his sinews to confront the country with the nightmare that awaits it after the election?