UKIP managed to spoil the county council elections last time for the Conservatives. The 2013 results saw the Conservatives hold up pretty well against Labour – for instance holding on to Staffordshire. But the UKIP gains meant the Conservatives lost overall control in some unexpected places – Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex and Lincolnshire.
In Oxfordshire and Warwickshire we saw UKIP have an important role in denying a Conservative victory; even though UKIP didn’t win any seats they got enough former Conservative votes to allow Labour and Lib Dem gains. No good complaining. That’s democracy for you. There were also some complacent Conservative incumbents who made the mistake of taking the electorate for granted. Yet that was the reality of what happened in 2013 – and now the Brexit decision obviously changes the climate.
Furthermore there were cases of UKIP councillors propping up Labour and the Lib Dems – in Norfolk for example. Vote Purple, Go Red.
The extent of UKIP’s impact surprised even some of UKIP councillors who found themselves elected. There were apparently cases of UKIP candidates who did not deliver leaflets or attend the election count who found in disbelief that they had won. Some have since resigned or defected (usually to the Conservatives). Others have continued but proved ineffective representatives. So there will be all sorts of local reasons why UKIP will struggle to retain their seats.
We already know that UKIP is fighting far fewer seats than last time. They are putting up candidates for 48 per cent of seats – instead of 73 per cent of seats last time. So that limits the potential to split off votes from the Conservatives even before the polls have opened.
Does this mean that UKIP faces a wipe out? Not necessarily. They are hoping to retain some seats in places such as Kent and Essex. The complication may be that they are different from the seats they have at present.
Let us consider the situation in Kent where there are 17 UKIP councillors – their highest tally in any county and leaving them as the largest opposition group to the Conservatives. I am told that the Labour vote in north Kent is collapsing – places like Dartford, Gillingham, Raynham, Gravesham. Some traditional Labour voters will switch to the Conservatives but others will find it difficult to do so for sentimental reasons. For them a switch to UKIP is easier. Perhaps UKIP will pick up a seat or two from Labour even if their overall tally falls sharply.
In Scotland and Wales there is the chance of a few UKIP gains – as they start from scratch.
With regard to England I do not expect a UKP wipeout. But there will be big losses from them to the Conservatives offset by more modest gains from Labour. More significant is what will be happening beneath the surface as the vote shares are examined.
The curse will be lifted of UKIP attracting enough Conservative votes – in county after county – to allow Labour and Lib Dem candidates to win.