Speculation about a deal with the Conservatives has propelled the UK Independence Party (Ukip) into the headlines as delegates meet for their annual conference.
YouGov polls put support for the party, which wants Britain to pull out of the European Union, at around 7 per cent this week.
But Ukip’s popularity with voters has nudged 10 per cent this year, making the party more popular than the Liberal Democrats at times.
That kind of support has led to talk of a possible pact with the Tories, where leader Nigel Farage’s party would agree not to contest seats in exchange for the promise of an EU referendum “written in blood”.
In the absence of any concrete deal, the party insists it is still a serious electoral force, and Mr Farage took to the airwaves today to sketch out Ukip policy on crime, education, tax and other non-Europe matters.
We FactChecked the party’s London election manifesto earlier this year and found it wanting on a number of counts.
Will Ukip’s vision for Britain stand up to the same kind of scrutiny?
Clearly it’s a matter of opinion as to whether the UK would be better off in or out of the EU, but we have two factual issues with Ukip’s position.
An oldie but goodie, this one. Mr Farage originally based this on a mistranslation of the words of the then-European Parliament President Hans Gert Poettering in 2009.
Mr Poettering did not say that the EU was behind three quarters of laws passed by member states, he said the European Parliament was behind three quarters of EU laws.
Ukip have stuck with the claim but changed the justification. They now say the 75 per cent figure is inspired by a German study in 2005, which said 84 per cent of legislation in Germany came from EU regulations and directives.
A party spokesman said Ukip believes the figure would be a bit lower in the UK as laws relating to the single currency don’t apply here, giving a ballpark figure of around 75 per cent.
Apart from the obvious vagueness of this, it would silly to pay too much attention to that German study, as it makes no allowance for the relative importance of different laws passed.
An EU regulation on the bendiness of cucumbers has less impact on our daily lives than the Health and Social Care Bill, but in comparisons like this they each count as one law.
Do you count every one of the vast number of trivial, technical, EU regulations passed each year when you do the calculations? You could argue that many of them are not technically “laws” anyway.
A much-misreported House of Commons library study into the amount of our legislation that comes from Europe said it was “possible to justify any measure between 15 per cent and 50 per cent or thereabouts” depending on how you looked at EU regulations”.
But the study concluded: “There is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU.”
Ukip are counting the supposed cost of EU membership here, but ignoring the benefits. We’ve had a look at this before, and there was no expert concensus as to a net gain or loss.
We know that there are millions of jobs dependent on trade with Europe. That’s not to say that they would automatically be lost if we pulled out of the EU, but it would also be naive to think that there would be no economic cost.
A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that there would not be the mass unemployment predicted by Europhiles, but there would be a small net loss to the economy if we left Europe.
One of Ukip’s most intriguing proposals is to to merge 20 per cent basic income tax with 11 per cent National Insurance to create a 31 per cent flat tax on all earned incomes over £11,500.
So a millionaire would pay the same percentage as a nurse, but a substantial number of people on the very lowest incomes would be lifted out of tax altogether.
Ukip also aims to abolish employers’ national insurance across the life of a parliament, which “will undoubtedly boost employment and simplify the process of employing people”.
A flat tax rate is a bold proposal. No other major Western economy has one. Many former Soviet countries do, and fans point to high GDP growth in Russia and the Baltic states as proof that flat taxes can stimulate an economy.
On the other hand, those countries might have seen growth rates rocket regardless of their tax system. And Ukraine has experienced chronically poor growth despite its flat rate.
Stuart Adam from the Institute For Fiscal Studies told us that merging income tax and national insurance would be “a big simplification and a good idea”.
But he doubted whether abolishing higher tax thresholds would simplify the system very much, or whether there would be enough of a boost to employment to make up for the loss of revenue.
He also pointed out that abolishing employers’ national insurance was “a huge deal”.
“That’s like a £50-60bn tax cut – significantly bigger than if they just abolished corporation tax. It would undoubtedly boost employment, but it would be impressive if it generated enough extra employment to make up for that kind of revenue.”
Aside from the economics, the idea will naturally spark a debate about fairness and wealth distribution.
Law and order
Ukip policy is to double the number of prison places “to enforce zero tolerance on crime”.
Again, whether that’s a good or bad idea is a matter of opinion.
But we would point out that a) the prison population of England and Wales has already almost doubled in 20 years b) such a move would cost the taxpayer more than £3bn and c) England and Wales would have the highest incarceration rate in western Europe and the ninth biggest prison population in the world.
By Patrick Worrall