UKIP and the next general election

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.


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Initial thoughts on UKIP’s advance in the Euro elections

So UKIP topped the poll in the UK’s 2014 euro elections, returning 24 MEPs compared to Labour’s 20 and the Tories 19, with Lib Dems holding onto just 1 seat (they used to have 11).

Even with the surge of anti-EU parties elsewhere, it is unlikely this will have a big effect in the European Parliament because the pro EU parties still easily outnumber the anti-EU/EU sceptic parties there. However in terms’ of the UK’s domestic politics, and the debates about EU and immigration (the two main themes of UKIP’s campaigning) there could be a significant impact in various ways:

  • The Lib Dems, the most consistently pro EU of the major parties in Britain, who took Nigel Farage and UKIP on directly in the campaign and positioned themselves as “the party of in”, have had a disastrous result. They were lucky to hold on to their single MEP and fell to fifth place behind the Greens.  Those who believe in the EU should be concerned that the one party that was unashamedly, full throttle, pro EU got a drubbing after taking on UKIP in a high profile manner.
  • UKIP are unlikely to win more than a handful of Westminster seats at the next general election, due to the vagaries of first the post, the higher turnout, the fact we’ll be electing a government, and the likelihood they’ll fall back to at best 3rd place in share of vote. However, I’d expect the other parties to pander more strongly to the concerns of the voters who voted for them. Expect more talk of immigration controls, reform of the EU or pledges of referendums on EU membership.
  • A bigger impact may come from the reaction in Scotland to these Euro election results – Scottish politics has swung to the left of British politics generally for  as long as I can remember.  With UKIP’s perception as a party to the right of the Tories, the prospect of UKIP influencing Westminster politics may give a boost to the “Yes” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. If that boost is big enough for “yes” to win the referendum, then British politics will have the biggest shakeup it’s seen for centuries as Scotland negotiates independence. The fall out would make the next Westminster general election unpredictable.