CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
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.