In my previous article I commented that I didn’t expect UKIP to gain more than a handful of seats at the next general election. Here I shall expand on the impact I’d expect UKIP to have, assuming a “no” result in the Scottish independence referendum. I make this assumption simply to narrow the scope of this article – the fallout from a “yes” result is rather unpredictable and would be best discussed in article of its own.
I expect UKIP’s share of the vote to fall back to at least 3rd, if not 4th place, for various reasons. Euro and local elections do not determine who is in government and thus people’s motivations for voting the way they do or for staying home won’t be the same as for a general election. For example, the results we saw are likely to be in part the consequence of a protest vote that won’t replicate in the general election, and the higher turnout of a general election will probably see the major parties voters coming out more strongly, which may be enough for the Lib Dems to retain 3rd place for example.
That said a recent poll indicates that 86% of those who voted UKIP in the Euro elections intend to do so at the general election. At the Euro elections UKIP got 4.3 million votes. If the poll is correct and UKIP retain 86% this would amount to ~3.7 million votes. In the 2010 general election UKIP got 919 thousand votes, so this would represent a 4 fold increase, and 12.45% of the vote (assuming the same number of voters as in 2010). In such a scenario, UKIP would probably get a few seats at Westminster, and if the Lib Dems implode badly, they might even supplant them as the third party, but this would be based in the Lib Dems losing most of the 57 seats they currently have. More likely is UKIP gets a handful of seats, the Lib Dems lose a few but retain their 3rd party status. The Lib Dems are the masters of carefully targetting their campaigns and will also benefit from incumbency so I don’t expect the number seats to decline dramatically even if their share of the vote drops a lot.
I thus think the impact UKIP will have more to do how they impact on the other parties votes, particularly in the marginal seats, than with the number of seats they might win. A recent article in the Telegraph points out that there are places where UKIP won lots of councillors in the local elections and which are also marginal Westminster seats for each of the 3 main parties. In these seats, even a small UKIP surge could upset the balance and result in a change of party even if UKIP themselves don’t get elected. It is for this reason that I’d expect some pandering towards the people who’ve voted UKIP will be done by the major parties in an attempt to prevent such cases arising. Indeed I think we’re already seeing signs of this happening.
Of course if UKIP win some Westminster seats it is possible they might form part of a new coalition government. I’d expect them to win less than 10 seats, so it would require a party to be just short of a Commons majority for UKIP to take them across the threshold. This seems somewhat unlikely to me – it would be a knife edge coalition and the Lib Dems would probably offer a coalition with a bigger majority and lower likelihood of flaky demands.