A few points to note from the leak of UKIP’s target seats:
- The 12 seats are: South Thanet, North Thanet, Boston and Skegness, Great Grimsby, Eastleigh, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Forest of Dean, Aylesbury, Great Yarmouth, East Worthing and Shoreham, Thurrock and Portsmouth South.
- So much for UKIP’s much-vaunted claims to threaten Labour. 9 of the 12 are Conservative-held, two are Liberal Democrat and only one – Great Grimsby – is currently held by Labour, and that is a seat where the Conservatives came in a close second in 2010.
- Similarly, so much for the claim that they are interested purely in unseating europhiles or insufficiently pure eurosceptics. Gordon Henderson, the Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP, is a signatory to Better Off Out. Not only does that put him on the same level of anti-EU opinion as Nigel Farage, who is also a signatory, it is a breach of the promise that Farage made not to oppose Better Off Outers from other parties. How would the “national interest” be served were Henderson to be unseated?
- The party has clearly used the local and European election results as a massive opinion poll to choose their target seats. This also signifies a change in strategy, picking a handful of seats where they believe victory is possible to focus their resources (though they will also stand in the majority of constituencies nationally).
- One of the key determining factors in whether somewhere is UKIP territory is whether it is on the coast. 10 of the 12 constituencies are on the seaside (South Thanet, North Thanet, Boston and Skegness, Great Grimsby, Eastleigh, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Great Yarmouth, East Worthing and Shoreham, Portsmouth South and Thurrock). As I wrote last summer, the combination of economic struggles, a collapsed fishing industry, high retired populations, infrastructure neglect and under-employed working class demographics all make the seaside rich pickings for UKIP.
- There are some other considerations at play, too. Three ministers are targeted – Brandon Lewis, Mark Harper and David Lidington. Lewis’ seat, Great Yarmouth, fits the demography and geography of UKIP’s core support. The other two are apparently chosen for political reasons – Harper famously resigned after his cleaner turned out to be an illegal immigrant, while Lidington is the Europe Minister. UKIP are evidently hoping that those issues will give them a boost on the campaign trail, while being a minister hobbles the MPs from defending themselves – they couldn’t announce they want to leave the EU, for example, without breaking the terms of their service on the front bench.