One of the big questions ahead of next May’s general election is this: just how well are UKIP going to do in the end? Will they achieve anywhere near the fourteen percent nationwide that they got in this week’s ICM poll? Or will their vote collapse, mostly heading back to the Tories? Actually, as interesting as these questions are, they aren’t the real ones we should be asking. What we should be asking is: how many seats will UKIP end up with? After all, under First Past the Post, you’re much better off getting 1% of the vote nationally but ending up with two seats, than get 10% and ending up with none.
So I’ve looked at the “super-12” UKIP targets, as revealed by Sky this summer, and taking on board the two they already have, I will now predict how these fourteen seats will turn out. I could try and do all of UKIP’s core thirty target seats, but really I don’t have that kind of free time on my hands and besides, these core fourteen should tell us a lot about how UKIP are going to do overall anyway.
THE CURRENT UKIP SEATS:
Current MP: Douglas Carswell, UKIP
Carswell is incredibly well-liked locally and the by-election wasn’t just Tory voters sticking two fingers up, thinking it was a freebie with the intention of going back to the Tories in May. These folks are sticking with Dougie.
Prediction: UKIP BY A LANDSLIDE
ROCHESTER & STROOD
Current MP: Mark Reckless, UKIP
Think of this as the anti-Clacton, if you will. This really WAS Tory voters sticking two fingers up at the Tories as a freebie, with the intention of returning to the fold in May. Polling on the day of the by-election had Reckless winning by between twelve and fifteen points; in the end, he won by seven. And the polls even on the higher margin of victory still foretold of the Tories getting the seat back at the general election. Reckless is toast.
Prediction: CONSERVATIVE GAIN
SUPER-12 UKIP TARGET SEATS:
Current MP: Roger Gale, Conservative
Two of the twelve core target UKIP seats are North Thanet and South Thanet. We are constantly told that this is prime UKIP territory. And yet the council has 56 members of which, only two are UKIP. Weirdly, it’s Labour controlled, only just, but the two Westminster seats are very safe Tory seats. Note the Rt Hon Gale’s majority. Unless the sitting MP defects, this seat is going nowhere.
Prediction: COMFORTABLE TORY HOLD
Current MP: Laura Sandys, Conservative (standing down – Craig Mackinlay standing for Tories in May)
Another safe Tory seat in Kent that UKIP think they can swipe. Part of Farage’s decision to stand here was down to Laura Sandys and her pro-European viewpoint. But she’s stepping down, and the Tories are not dicking around at all with her replacement: Craig Mackinley used to be in UKIP. In fact, he used to be the Deputy Leader of UKIP. He’s staunchly anti-EU, as you would imagine, and as an ex-Kipper will be able to speak with authority about what a shambles they are. Farage has chosen very badly here – he’s going down in flames. The Tories might even be able to increase their majority. Current Ashcroft polling has the Tories ahead of Farage by five. Expect that gap to widen as May 2015 approaches.
Prediction: HARD FOUGHT BUT IN THE END SIZABLE TORY HOLD
SITTINGBOURNE AND SHEPPEY
Current MP: Gordon Henderson, Conservative
Another Tory seat in Kent, with a sitting Tory MP who is vocally anti-EU and has a whopping great majority. I suppose in UKIP’s defence, this was very recently a Labour seat (it was in fact, a 2010 gain). But that was during the New Labour era, with a very popular ex-rugby player in Derek Wyatt as the MP, and is almost certainly going to be Tory for the foreseeable future. Labour are wise to this; this constituency does not feature at all in their top 125 target seats. If only UKIP had been so wise.
Prediction: COMFORTABLE TORY HOLD
Current MP: David Lidington
Finally, some method to the UKIP madness. David Lidington, who has been Minister for Europe this entire parliament, is a Euro-realist who nonetheless sounds like a raving pro-European to the UKIP squad. But then let’s look at the facts on the ground: Aylesbury council has 59 councillors. Guess how many are UKIP. One. Tories? They have 36. Didn’t UKIP pick up a bunch of local seats around the country last time out? Why not target those seats, the ones where they have some infrastructure to go with? The UKIP candidate, Chris Adams, is local (he’s the one councillor I mentioned earlier) and seems okay, by UKIP standards anyway. But, seriously, no chance. UKIP think the fact that they did very well here in the Euro elections means something. It really doesn’t.
Prediction: TORY HOLD, WITH A REDUCED BUT STILL SIZABLE MAJORITY
EAST WORTHING AND SHOREHAM
Current MP: Tim Loughton, Conservative
UKIP target another very safe Tory seat (even in 1997, they won by 10 points), with a socially conservative, anti-EU Conservative incumbent sitting on a massive majority. Next.
Prediction: VERY COMFORTABLE TORY HOLD
Current MP: Brandon Lewis, Conservative
This is a bit more like it: a genuine Lab-Con marginal, this one is going to be a hard fought, three-way race. UKIP genuinely have a chance here, and in Alan Grey they have an ultra-local candidate. This one is very tough to call.
Prediction: CURRENT POLLING SUGGESTS LABOUR GAIN, WHICH I’M GOING WITH. BUT COULD GO UKIP OR TORY
Current MP: Jackie Doyle-Price, Conservative
Majority: 92 (that’s not a typo by the way – it really is a wee ninety-two)
Like Great Yarmouth, reasonably well chosen by UKIP. In Tim Aker, a decent candidate as well. But they still aren’t going to do it. Labour are really going for this one, and in Polly Billington they have a great PPC going for them.
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
FOREST OF DEAN
Current MP: Mark Harper, Conservative
Former Minister of Immigration Mark Harper is one of the future stars of the Conservative Party. Steve Stanbury is an ex-Tory mid-ranks Reckless type. No chance on Earth.
Prediction: COMFORTABLE TORY HOLD
Current MP: Mike Thornton, Liberal Democrats
This seat is UKIP in a nutshell. They run Diane James, easily one of the most presentable, credible candidates ever to stand with a purple rosette on in the February 2013 by-election. They come within five points of winning the seat, getting a massive 27% of the vote (from 3.6% at the 2010 general election). In the next by-election, UKIP run….Roger Helmer. Okay, I guess they were saving James for Eastleigh, for 2015. Nope, she’s not running here again. And so, UKIP’s ray of possible light is snuffed out yet again.
Prediction: LIB DEM HOLD, WITH A SLIGHTLY INCREASED MAJORITY FROM THE BY-ELECTION
Current MP: Mike Hancock, Independent (ran as Lib Dem in 2010, had the whip withdrawn for disciplinary reasons. Gerald Vernon-Jackson is standing for the Lib Dems in 2015)
It’s a funny seat this one: a Tory very safe constituency forever, it went SDP in a 1984 by-election, went back to the Tories in the 1987 general election, and then Hancock got it for the Lib Dems in 1997 and has kept it since. He’s stepping down after a scandal and everyone assumes the Lib Dems will lose this one now. I wouldn’t underestimate the campaigning skills of Jackson-Vernon or the fact that a UKIP insurgency here just might split the vote enough for the Lib Dems to keep it. But I don’t think so, much as I’d like to think so. I think the Tories will take this one back. Either way, UKIP have no real chance here.
Prediction: TORY GAIN
BOSTON AND SKEGNESS
Current MP: Mark Simmonds, Conservative
We’re told constantly that this is basically THE UKIP seat of all of the possible ones. Rumour had it that Farage seriously thought of standing here before deciding on South Thanet. Too bad for UKIP – I think Farage just might have pipped this one. Without him, they’ll squeeze Simmonds’ majority, but the Tories will keep the seat.
Prediction: NARROW TORY HOLD
Current MP: Austin Mitchell, Labour
We are told all of the time about what a threat to Labour UKIP poses. And yet, this is the one Labour held, northern town on their whole core list. That’s silly on their part; they would have been so much better off aiming at a few more Heywood and Middleton type seats. I could have seen them fluking a few of those. All those Kent, Tory safe seats they just have no chance in, at least in 2015. So could they pull it off in Great Grimsby? It is prime UKIP territory in many ways. But Labour know that and have sent in Melanie Onn, a very promising candidate who is no carpetbagger, having grown up in Grimsby. I think she’ll be able to hold it – just.
Prediction: NARROW LABOUR HOLD AGAINST UKIP
So, as you can see, I don’t think UKIP are going to do all that well, if how I think they’re going to do in their main target seats is anything to go by. I do want to say here and now that they will have a massive affect on the general election, probably ultimately costing the Tories a majority. But they won’t reap the rewards themselves, in my opinion. And had they chosen their main target seats better, at least they could be looking to build on something for 2020. As it is, I think they’ve wasted a golden opportunity.