Does the demise of UKIP offer a lifeline to embattled Tories?

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Will the Tories replace UKIP? Pic credit: Matt Dent; A mad man with a blog

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The performance of UKIP  in the polls has  been pretty disastrous for some time now. But if the party dies this weekend which other party is going to benefit from its demise.

After losing their only MP at the general election the party performed very badly at local level and is continuing to do so. And ironically Britain’s departure from the European Union will destroy its biggest base which is in Brussels. So by 2019 when we leave it is possible that UKIP will have completely disappeared from the political scene. It is very much a case  of don’t get what you wish for.

But the destruction of UKIP  at the moment appears to be more of a problem for Labour than the Tories. It is a considerable dilemma for Jeremy Corbyn on how he handles Brexit and suggests he, as well as Theresa May, is caught between a rock and a hard place over this issue.

Younger Labour Party voters – particularly in London and the South – are very strongly pro Remain – welcoming the diverse nature of the UK and enjoying the reality of visa free travel across most of Europe.

But Labour voters outside this group – in the North, Midlands, East Anglia and parts of Kent- are pro Brexit. And furthermore the former UKIP voters are obviously keen for Britain to leave.

So for Labour to get back these working class voters it has to be seen to be  both supporting Brexit and sympathising with Remain  at the same time. It also means the party – which has had success particularly at the last election – has highlighted domestic issues like the NHS, education, transport, housing and student loans rather than Brexit.

Labour’s dilemma is shown up in a scattering of local council by-elections across the country this month. Of course one should not put too much score on local election results – because of low polls and because simply that they are local.

But one trend has emerged where UKIP had a previous strong showing.in local areas and either doesn’t stand or puts up a candidate who is trashed by the electorate.

What appears to be happening  is that both Labour and the Tories are gaining votes – but the Tories are getting the lion’s share. This means that either Labour cannot win the seat or as in Bolton last night – they lose a seat to the Tories.

The results in Thanet in Kent –  a former UKIP stronghold where they got control of the council – is a case in point. It has seen the Tory and Labour vote go up – but has allowed the Tories to retain their seats with a bigger majority. Roughly two in three former UKIP voters seem to have switched to the Tories compared with one in three supporting Labour.

In Bolton where on a  nearly 30 per cent poll – the Tories took a seat off Labour – the result again showed  both the Tories and Labour gaining votes – but the Tory share of the vote went up 16.7 per cent to take a seat in a safe Labour Parliamentary constituency. Again UKIP had polled very well in the ward in the past.

Similarly in Newport Pagnell, a council seat on Milton Keynes council  where UKIP had got a big share of the vote last time – the Tory share jumped over 15 per cent – while Labour jumped just under 12 per cent. UKIP got  nearly a quarter of the votes last time but didn’t stand.

These actual votes may explain the closeness in the polls between Labour and the Tories – the Tory vote is simply being buoyed up by former Kippers. It may also explain why William Hague, the former Tory leader, would like to see UKIP wound up as the best chance for the party to stay in power.

It is also quite clever  of Boris Johnson to raise the issue that the NHS would get even more money after we leave the EU – it is aimed at those people keeping faith with Brexit believing the country will enter a Shangri La once we are out.

I personally don’t believe a word of it – but to my mind it does suggest to me that Labour should not take the next election for granted. They have to continue to work on these voters by offering a much fairer society. But it also leaves them with a very delicate balancing act over Brexit.

 

 

 

Corbyn’s Progress: How council by elections are now panning out

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LLoyd Russell-Moyle. Victorious Labour candidate in Brighton council by-election last week. Pic credit: Twitter

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The mainstream press has been universally hostile  in reporting Labour’s performance in council by elections. The results either go unreported or they report only Labour defeats. Or they ridicule Corbyn when he chose to mention a Labour gain from UKIP on Ramsgate Town Council ( admittedly he could have cited better examples including  gains in Staffordshire and Essex on bigger councils).

So how exactly are Labour doing. Remember one has to take local council by elections with a degree of scepticism. The polls are lower and local factors play a part  which can distort the result. Nevertheless these are not opinion polls – they are results from people actually bothering to go out and vote. They also tell you something about the state of party organisation whatever is happening at  national level.

I am drawing my conclusions from two websites – http://election-data.co.uk/  – written by Andrew Teale which provides pen portraits of forthcoming by-elections and Vote UK Forum – which produces  detailed results and analysis along with the Twitterfeed @britainelects.

Since the referendum.there have been a rash of by elections across the country. Contrary to what little appears in the press Labour have not done badly. They have recently in rural areas been outclassed by the Liberal Democrats who are winning seats from the Tories, Independents and UKIP with double digit increases in the share of their vote. But most of these seats are not natural Labour territory.And where the Liberal Democrats challenge Labour they make little progress.

So what is really happening? Critics of Corbyn say all Labour is doing is building massive majorities in areas they already hold.

There is evidence for this in a spate of by election results in places like the London boroughs of Haringey, Hackney, Newham, Manchester where Labour have easily held  seats-sometimes with an increased majority.

An example last Thursday in Sussex  was the East Brighton ward  which covers Kemptown and a working class estate called Whitehawk – a traditional safe Labour seat. Labour’s share of the vote went up by over 11 per cent to 57.5 per cent. They had a strong candidate in  Lloyd Russell-Moyle who fought Lewes at the last general election and is a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. But this is a ward they would not be expected to lose.

But what in other areas where they need to win. In Staffordshire they have taken two seats recently-including one last Thursday with a 19.5 per cent increase in the share of the vote- from UKIP. The seats they are taking back were originally won way back in 2003 before UKIP achieved such prominence.and guess what- UKIP in Staffordshire is a mess. They are split with some resigning the UKIP whip and becoming Independents. A warning to Labour not to do the same.

The other interesting result was in South East Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is solid Tory territory since 2000 yet a 18 year old Labour candidate  Patrick Wilkinson,  managed  an increase of 7.9 per cent share of the vote  to run the Tory close – cutting the majority. He has been a member of the party for two years and is an avid supporter of  Corbyn. If the Tory share had not increased by.3.6 per cent it would have been a very close run result. Interestingly UKIP who were second last time saw a big drop in their share.

Yet an error by a young enthusiastic candidate in Totnes, Devon, who hadn’t been a member of the Labour Party long enough to stand for the council, cost the party its only seat on South Hams council in Devon when she had to stand as an independent and gifted the seat to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour is still losing ground to UKIP in Kent, with a working class area of Ashford, Beaver, resulting in a UKIP gain. But UKIP in general are doing badly in almost every seat they stand – and this result seems different to most.other parts of the country.

The jury is still out on whether a Labour party led by Corbyn can succeed or just pile up votes in Labour strongholds.For those voting in the leadership re-election  it will have to be a gut reaction – either stick with Corbyn and see whether his  approach eventually succeeds against a right wing Tory government. Or go for Smith and  return to a more consensual  politics but risk losing these new  energetic members who can  galvanise people to vote.

But what is clear is that a divided Labour Party will eventually fail – luckily at the moment the rows in Westminster are not showing up in local town halls.