With only 22 days to go until the EU elections and a status-quo shattering poll out this past weekend showing UKIP to be on track to win, now is a more crucial time than at any other since the 2010 General Election to pick through the murky world of polling and figure out what is really going on.

Authoritative pollster, YouGov, announced that their latest survey of how people intend to vote for the new make-up of the European Parliament on 22 May would see UKIP score 31 percent, Labour 28 percent, and the Tories and Lib Dems 19 and 9 percent, respectively.  An even more sensational poll from ComRes put UKIP’s lead over the next nearest party at 11 percent –  an outlier poll, perhaps, but it’s increasingly not too far off-trend. As noted by Lord Tebbit, it will be the first UK-wide election since the First World War not to be won by either the Conservative or Labour party if proven to come into fruition.

Perhaps it’s thought by the British Left that losing roughly 10 percent of their former vote to Nigel Farage is insignificant, so long as the Tories lose more – but what if the Conservative strategy finally pays dividends?

Tides always turn in politics and it’s a matter of when they turn which decides elections.

But what does this mean for the all important General Election, now just a year away? There are underlying causes for relief among established Westminster circles, with the same EU poll showing that only 20 percent of the public believe UKIP to have “workable policies” in respect of running the country. This contributes to the general consensus among commentators that despite a possible victory on 22 May, UKIP will still be unable to convert their current popularity into winning any seats in Westminster.

Indeed, whilst our Real Votes tracker shows UKIP to perform strongly across the board in individual local by-elections, this actually seems to inhibit their ability push past the necessary 35-40 percent mark to come out in poll position in any one seat.

For balance it should be noted that UKIP are picking up local council seats across the country, but it’s in the marginal seats that they need to perform if they are to have hope of overturning any incumbent majority to return an MP come 2015. As our tracker of these vulnerable seats show, no matter how often UKIP score an impressive mid-25 percent of the vote, it will never be enough to win under our winner-takes-all electoral system.

RVT image
[The bars represent the most recent local ward result from by-elections in our Top 40 marginal seats, with the lines tracking their position in the national polls].

The core question here is whether we can really measure the UKIP drag-effect on what the mainstream parties would otherwise be able to poll.

If we look at the most recent Real Votes result from the Belle Vue ward of Conservative marginal Carlisle, we seem to see a simple story of all contesting parties performing slightly better than their national polling position at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, who didn’t stand. If we examine the changes from the same local by-election which took place just a year before, however, the changes are quite remarkable.

Labour, which had scored a stunning 65.9 percent of the vote in 2013, won again this month but with a share of the vote 20 percent lower, with the Conservatives gaining by one point and UKIP, which stood for the first time in the ward, hoovering up the remaining 19 percent.

The national polls for the 2015 General Election paint a similar picture.

YouGov’s voting intention survey for Westminster from the start of this week shows the Tories on 31 percent, Labour on 36, UKIP with 15 and the Lib Dems trailing on 9 percent. But delving deeper into the polling data again yields a fascinating insight.

Whilst 17 percent of 2010 Conservative voters have said that they’ve defected to UKIP, an additional 9 percent of Labour’s 2010 flock and 10 percent of those who voted Liberal Democrat also now side with UKIP. This shatters the illusion that Nigel Farage is just a Right Wing headache, and indeed when Miliband and Clegg’s losses are combined, shows that the Left is ceding ground just as significantly as the Conservatives. Of course, where these losses are felt will vary ad hoc from seat to seat, with UKIP drawing from just one mainstream party, or indeed from all.

To emphasise the point, let’s take a snapshot of the same poll taken at the same time both last year and the year before and compare it with this weeks’ voting intention.

Whilst there have been blips in support in the interim polling periods, these three surveys are in-line with the averages of all polls at that relevant time. What is most striking is how Labour’s lead has shrunk – not owing to a rise in Conservative support but rather through an attritional bleeding to non-mainstream parties.

UKIP gaining on the Left polls

Pollsters say that anything within a 2-3 point change is open to a margin of error, so whilst Conservative or Liberal Democrat changes indicate a steady showing, the Labour and UKIP story continues to be compelling.

Labour have fallen 7 points from their polling position of 43 percent two years ago, and UKIP have risen 6 points from 9 percent. Our tracker of every YouGov poll since 2010 on our Cicenomics page clearly indicates the same shift of Labour’s long downward trend being compensated not by a rise in Conservative or Liberal Democrat support, but rather a rise in the UKIP vote.

A final important point here is that “Others” – the collective used to describe parties not of the “main three” – now stands at 24 percent of the vote, when including UKIP. This makes for chilling reading for both the Conservative and Labour camps, particularly given that fifty years ago it was commonplace for them to collectively hold close to 100 percent of voting intention. These shifts inform the argument that whilst the battle for the centre-ground over the last two decades has seen the main parties compete on various issues of material gain for the electorate, a vacuum of excitable political ideology on the fringes has been gradually cultivated for plunder.

The bottom line here is that whilst the Conservative vote has yet to significantly improve (as may be expected given the improving economy), they have in the very least held their ground whilst the UKIP surge has gained momentum over the last 24 months. Of all the parties to experience a protracted downward trend over this period, it has been Labour. With no single argument able to fight the flames of disaffection which clearly exists on the periphery of both wings of the political spectrum, it’s for each mainstream party to entice their former voters to return through different leveraging strategies.

The electoral clock is ticking ever louder. What is most worrying for the British Left (and particularly so for Labour) is that they are well over a year behind the Tories in producing any effective countermeasure to the UKIP threat. Perhaps it’s thought that losing roughly 10 percent of their former vote to Nigel Farage is insignificant, so long as the Tories lose more – but what if the Conservative approach finally pays dividends electorally?

Tides always turn in politics. It’s a matter of when they turn which decides elections.

Nigel Farage” by Global Panorama is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.