I have enough of my past (and an enduring bit of my present) invested in the Aul’ Sod to frequent regularly the Irish and Northern Irish chat-rooms. That means politics.ie and Slugger O’Toole can be dropped down from the menu bar.
This morning the politics.ie thread on UKIP, neatly headlined Herding cats, had run into the sand. It evidenced considerable, if naïve acceptance that UKIP was a continuing, coming force.
I have severe doubts; so it set me to thinking, which is done mainly through this keyboard.
This is what came out:
The usual political forums have quite serious discussions of what UKIP is, is not, what it means in the middle-term, and where it and the UK electorate are going. Despite a valiant attempt in Sync‘s headline piece (just a trifle too jokey and whataboutery, perhaps — but I doubt I could do better), this thread hasn’t reached the standard required.
First of all, if UKIP didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. It is the epitome of anti-politics politicking. With the demise of LibDems as the dust-bin of frustrated votes, dissident Little Englanders needed a substitute. In a time when “austerity” sado-monetarism is cutting into living standards (except for the protected and privileged few), many are thrashing around for an Aunt Sally at which to chuck ordure — the EU being just the distant, easily-misrepresented target-woozle required.
And yet … and yet …
Perhaps the Kipper phenomenon has peaked. Or perhaps there is no pattern at all, at all. Let’s have a few facts — and I would never want local council by-elections to cloud the Big Event: they are totally unpredictable. and a few dozen votes swinging either way do not make a Big Story.
There have been six by-elections in this parliament:
- 29 Nov 2012 Rotherham, Denis McShane’s Labour seat, and the by-election a fall-out from the expenses scandal. On a 33% turn-out, Labour achieved a slight vote up-tick (>2%) but their majority down by 3%. The beneficiary was UKIP, whose vote surged by nearly 16% to come second with nearly 22% of the valid vote.
- 29 Nov 2012 (same day) Middlesbrough. Vacancy caused by death of Sir Stuart Bell, long-serving — and notoriously absentee — Labour MP. Good heave for Labour vote (up nearly 15% to a plurality of 60%+), UKIP second with not-quite 12%.
- 29 Nov 2012 (same day) Croydon North. Vacancy caused by death of Malcolm Wicks, who had been the Labour MP since 1992. Another plurality for Labour (nearly 65%, up by nearly 9%), Tories second (down 7%), UKIP third with less than 6%.
In all three cases, the ConDem vote fell sharply — particularly so for the LibDems. And so we come to:
- 5 Feb 2013 Eastleigh. This was the Biggie. Chris Huhne resigned, as he changed his lying-about-speeding-ticket plea to guilty. This ought to be a cast-iron LibDem patch: they hold every single council seat, and have squeezed the natural 20-25% Labour vote to extinction (and that wasn’t going to alter). Only the Tories could have a hope. Farage had been tarting-his-mutton locally for years — at the last, he turned chicken, and the Kippers put up a carpet-bagging incomer. The Tories put up their defeated (about 7% behind Huhne) General Election candidate: under greater media scrutiny she showed to be a very flakey candidate indeed. Since this is a constituency any London journo can visit on a day-return ticket, much raking over was done. Between them the Daily Mail and Murdoch press sponsored half-a-dozen opinion samplings — which showed a persistent seepage of Tory voters going Kipper. In the outcome, UKIP squeaked second (but up 24% to a very creditable 28%) ahead of a dismal 25% (down 14%) for the Tory. Result: LibDem hold, but still badly down (by —14%)
Eastleigh was the Kipper high-water mark. Then, on the same day as the English local elections, we had:
- 2 May 2013 Soth Shields. An iffy one for Labour, caused by David Miliband huffing, upping and offing. Labour, wisely, put up a local woman councillor (though there were behind-the-scenes shenanigans when the ‘natural’ succession was withdrawn late on in the selection) — and Labour held its bare plurality (down about 1½%). The Tories faded badly (— 10%) and the LibDems evaporated to come 6th. From nowhere UKIP took 24% of the vote, as the only repository for non-labour votes.
Which brings us to last night, and as I was thinking the morning sparrows were still … clearing their throats:
- 13 Feb 2014 Wythenshawe and Sale East. Despite “Lord” Ashcroft’s poll, Labour achieved a natural 55%, and the Tories slumped to 14½%. That’s the predictable 11% swing back from 2010 — not spectacular, but not to be sneezed at. The story was supposed to be the UKIP onwards-and-upwards: not quite 18% isn’t that. Which is why Farage is screeching about “dirty tricks” (though, on the ground, the complaints were going the opposite way).
And there’s more:
These numbers are the best we have to go on.
I’d not get hung up on opinion polling, at least in the UK context. There’s simply no real “quality check” outside the few days before a General Election. Not for nothing was one pollster satirised as “What d’ya Want, Gov?”
The US seems even dodgier, as we saw in the last Presidential: samples of 800-1000 across an electorate that size have margins of error of 3% (i.e. anything between 97 and 103 = 100).
All that said, and much more unsaid, where is there concrete evidence the Labour lead is narrowing? On the contrary, has the 6-8% lead that persisted throughout the previous 15 months, reappeared in the last few days? Since there is little likelihood of “trickle-down” improving living standards by 2015, what chance of selling the Great Osborne Economic Wonder? Or, by implication, that the position will narrow to the point of a 4-5% Tory lead, to give Cameron a majority in May 2015?
We have to recognise that, thanks to the LibDems taking revenge for the AV-vote by denying the reduction of the size of parliament and a heavy redistribution, if Labour polls 35-36% in 2015, that is almost certainly a majority.
Which is where the other factors become very, very interesting:
- What about the Scottish factor? If #Indyref goes one way, there would likely be no Scottish seats in the next parliament. If it goes the other, is the SNP — at least in the world outside Holyrood — dished for a generation; and does that restore the two-parties Old Firm Derby?
- Has the LibDem vote imploded? Despite what the Tory blog-artist and commentator, Iain Dale, was asserting, I’d hesitate to suggest there would be 30-35 LibDem MPs next time round. The student vote has gone AWOL over the fees betrayal. The Iraq stuff (where, especially in places like North London, the LibDem propaganda was undistinguishable from the Socialist Workers) no longer works. In suburbia, why vote middle-man LibDem when the wholesaler Tory has the next-door stall? The bottom line: what is the LibDems’ “Unique Selling Point”?
- Just what will the Kipper vote be in May 2015? All the bean-counters suggest, up to around 20%, it cuts disproportionately into the Tory vote. That was the experience at Eastleigh. Until we get a by-election in a natural Tory seat, that remains merely theoretical.
If you’ve already had that earful, courtesy of politics.ie, my apologies. I’d guess you didn’t persist this far along.
Remember, too, the (non-UK, but politically aware) audience to which this was pitched. The cutting-edge of political perspicacity this is not — but in STV-Ireland, one should never underestimate the “cuteness” available.
I post it here, more as a memorandum than Great Thoughts.