by Stephen Tall on July 24, 2014
This week saw the latest in Lord Ashcroft’s polls of the marginal battleground seats that will decide the result of the next general election. This crop focused on 14 marginal Conservative-held seats where Labour are in second place.
The overall news was half-encouraging for Labour. As it stands, Ed Miliband’s party is poised to win 11 of these 14 seats next May. The average swing from Tory to Labour of 4.5% would be enough to win 53 Tory seats, which, as as Ashcroft notes, “combined with the 17 seats my recent polling suggested they could gain from the Lib Dems, would be enough for a small overall majority”.
Of course, this poll is a snapshot, not a prediction (as Ashcroft repeatedly stresses). A similar exercise conducted by Ashcroft for PoliticsHome in 2009 pointed to a Tory majority of 70 seats and we all know how that turned out a few months later. Usually the governing party picks up support as the election nears, while the opposition party loses support. We’ll see how that historical pattern bears out in Coalition conditions and as voting becomes yet more fragmented between five national parties, as well as the nationalists in Scotland and Wales.
But the most newsworthy finding from Ashcroft’s poll was that Ukip would win two Conservative-held seats, Thanet South and Thurrock.
In Thurrock, where the party won five councillors in May, Ukip has already selected a candidate, Tim Aker MEP. The poll finds Ukip support at 36%, ahead of Labour on 30% and the Tories pushed back into third place on 28%.
Thanet South, where Ukip won seven out of eight councillors in 2013, is expected to be the seat for which Nigel Farage finally plumps. There Ukip support stood at 33%, with Labour and the Tories tied on 29%.
If I was a betting man — and I’m not: my one and only political bet was on Iain Duncan Smith being elected Tory leader at 14/1 so I decided to end my betting career on a high — I’d bet against Nigel Farage being elected anywhere as an MP in 2015. Quite simply, he’s too toxic to too many voters.
There were some who claimed that had he stood in Eastleigh in the February 2013 by-election, Ukip would have won. It is far more likely, though, that one of the reasons Ukip came so close to winning was because Nigel Farage didn’t stand. Instead, Ukip wisely selected the sensible-sounding Diane James.
In the recent Newark by-election, Ukip did select a high-profile candidate, Roger Helmer. Though they did well to come second, they once again fell some way short of polling even 30%, the minimum share of the vote needed to win a seat. As I noted then:
There is anecdotal evidence that Ukip, the new protest vote party, has generated its own protest vote: both Labour and Lib Dem canvassers reported voters saying they would hold their noses and vote Tory to make sure Nigel Farage was thwarted.
If that were true of Mr Helmer, it will be true in spades of Nigel Farage. It’s true that in Newark the by-election soon became a two-horse race between the Tories and Ukip, whereas both Thurrock and Thanet South now appear to be three-way marginals which complicates anti-Ukip tactical voting. It is possible, therefore, that Mr Farage could slip through the middle. But overall I think it’s far more likely that his presence on the ticket will solidify support for both Labour and the Tories (the latter of which has savvily selected a former Ukip leader as their candidate in Thanet South).
So yes, Ukip may well get an MP (or more than one) elected next May. Just don’t expect the name Farage to be on their roll-call of honour.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.