Saturday, 31 May 2014

The embers next time

A final (maybe) word on UKIP and the fallout from the European elections...

The Daily Telegraph reports a poll suggesting '86 per cent of people who voted for Nigel Farage’s party will do so again next year'. I'm not sure this is a particularly valid reading of the poll (commissioned, incidentally, by UKIP's financial backer Paul Sykes). What the poll results actually show is that 37 per cent will 'certainly' vote UKIP at the next general election, and 49 per cent said they were 'likely' so to do. I think we can assume that a fair chunk of that second group shouldn't be taken for granted.

But let's start by taking the Telegraph interpretation at face value. That would give UKIP the votes of 3.76 million people at a general election. A very impressive result, four times as large as the vote they got in 2010. And if the Lib Dem support collapses from the 6.8 million achieved last time, it might be enough to put UKIP in third place in the popular vote - though almost certainly not in number of seats.

On the basis of this poll, there are Conservative MPs and some rightwing commentators (such as Simon Heffer) suggesting that the Conservatives need to make some kind of electoral pact with UKIP.

This would be a mistake for UKIP. The point of a third party in the British electoral system is to provide a repository for protest votes from across the political and class spectrum. As soon as such a party does a deal with one of the two major parties, it removes a large chunk of that support. That's the problem the Lib Dems are now suffering from. All those who cast a vote for the Lib Dems from the left now feel like they were betrayed. That would have been mirrored - to a slightly smaller extent - on the right if the party had gone into coalition with Labour. Why would UKIP want to drive away those voters who want nothing to do with the Tories?

And for the Tories? A governing party doing a deal with a party that has no MPs hardly looks like a statement of strength. Heffer argues that a precedent exists with the relationship between the Conservatives and the National Liberals in 1951, but it's not very convincing. Apart from it all being a long time ago, in a different political world, the Tories were then in opposition, and the National Liberals had sixteen MPs to bring to the feast. Oh, and the Conservative Party was led by Winston Churchill - the electorate didn't believe for a second that he was a dog that any tail would wag. To put it mildly, David Cameron is not as convincing a leader.

Some sort of electoral deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems is possible, but not between the Tories and UKIP. Which, despite all their denials, leaves the latter as a passing protest.

In the excited heat of the moment, comparisons are being made in some quarters between UKIP and the SDP/Liberal Alliance three decades ago. But the Alliance got around 7.5 million votes in 1983 and in 1987. That's well out of reach. Here's my guess for the 2015 election. UKIP will get around 2.5 million votes and fewer than five MPs (quite possibly none at all).

No comments: