Do UKIP and the BNP Really Damage the Conservatives?
One problem that David Cameron has to contend with, in contrast to Tony Blair in the 1990s, is that disgruntled Conservatives have somewhere to go. Neither UKIP, nor the BNP could be regarded as a serious challenger for political power, yet each party has shown that it can obtain significant votes, in individual constituencies.
In 2005, UKIP won 620,000 votes, and saved 35 deposits, and the BNP won 191,000, and saved 36 deposits. Yougov regularly shows each party with 3-4% of the vote, enough to significantly affect the outcome in key marginal seats, although not enough for either party to have a serious chance of winning Parliamentary seats in its own right (with the possible exception of Barking).
I know plenty of former Conservative activists who have joined (or at any rate voted for) UKIP, and one who has joined the BNP. There is no doubt at all, to my mind, that UKIP does do damage to the Conservative Party at the margins.
In all likelihood, there are half a dozen or so constituencies that would have been won by the Conservatives in 2005, without UKIP intervention. Indeed, one of my acquaintances is very proud of the fact that (in his opinion) he won enough votes as a UKIP candidate, to prevent a Conservative from being elected.
I cannot think of any constituency that might have been won by the Conservatives were it not for BNP intervention, but I think there are a couple in West Yorkshire where the Conservatives would have run Labour closer, were it not for such intervention.
Nevertheless, it is politically sensible for David Cameron to concentrate on trying to win over Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, however irritating it might be for him to lose votes on his right flank (so long as he doesnâ€™t lose too many).
In no constituency does either UKIP or the BNP have a realistic chance of unseating a sitting a Conservative. Where Conservatives are under threat, the threat comes from either the Liberal Democrats or Labour.
Likewise, the seats that the Conservatives must win are almost all held by the latter. Any vote gained from the Left is therefore worth two votes lost to the Right. Even if the Conservatives were to finish up with no higher a percentage vote, at the next election than they had in 2005, they would still benefit if their gains from the Left matched their losses to the Right.
There were five local by-elections yesterday.
Ryedale District Council, Sheriff Hutton. Conservative 348, Independent 299. Conservative hold.
Gloucestershire County Council, Lansdowne Park and Warden Hill. Conservative 2,205, Lib Dem 1,605, Labour 226, Green 184. Conservative hold. Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote shares rose sharply here, compared to 2005. This division is located in the ultra-marginal Liberal Democrat seat of Cheltenham, and may point to a very tight contest at the next election.
Portsmouth City Council, Fratton West. Lib. Dem 1,196, Conservative 496, Labour 144, English Democrat 131, Green 56, Independent 17. An easy hold for the Liberal Democrats.
Blaenau Gwent Unitary Authority, Blaina. Independent 381, Labour 315, Independent 310, Independent 149. Independent hold. Apparently, the Independent who won is a real Independent, and the Independent who came a close third is a supporter of Trish Law and Dai Davies. I still have difficulty getting my head around the idea of Blaenau Gwent being a Labour target seat.
Aberdeen City Council, Midstocket/Rosemont. SNP 873, Conservative 821, Lib Dem 693, Labour 518, Solidarity 31, Independent 20 (first ballot). SNP 1258, Conservative 1122 (final ballot). SNP gain from Conservative. This was the first local by-election under STV to be held in Scotland. The Conservative vote share held steady, but the SNP gained from Labour sufficiently to win the seat. In the final round of voting, Liberal Democrat voters split almost evenly between Conservative and SNP.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist