UKIP won’t win anything like the 27 per cent of the vote it won in this year’s European elections in next year’s general election. Its vote will fall as voters currently protesting against the thee main parties return to them. But it won’t drop to the three per cent it gained in 2010 – and perhaps not to anything like that total.
Those Euro-elections and the publicity boost they gave to Nigel Farage’s party are now the best part of three months old. UKIP’s last five national opinion poll ratings recorded by Anthony Wells of YouGov have been 13 per cent, 17 per cent, 13 per cent, 17 per cent and 17 per cent. This is a buoyant showing.
It also now has over 200 local councillors nationwide, including sizeable groups in the blue counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Kent. UKIP is especially dug in the east of England: Sean Thomas explored the parallel with the Eastern Association counties of the civil war era last year. The party is also hurting Labour: it is the official opposition in Rotherham, for example.
UKIP will also gain a publicity hit from the election campaign itself. This has far less to do with the impartiality requirement on broadcasters than the party being a great election story: it has broken through into mainstream political coverage since 2010. Farage has acquired the outsider status also enjoyed by Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond. He will make the most of it.
Can UKIP follow where the Liberal Democrats once led – by building on good local results to win Commons seats? Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll of marginal seats, published on this site yesterday, helps to explore the question. Because it covers Tory seats with Labour second, it doesn’t probe all constituencies that are arguably vulnerable to a UKIP surge – such as, say, Boston and Skegness.
It therefore also doesn’t show the current state of play in some of the Labour-held seats that are exposed to UKIP, such as Walsall North – where UKIP’s vote share came higher than any other marginal seat in the last Lord Ashcroft poll of marginals. (And where the sitting Labour MP, David Winnick, will be 82 next June: he has been reselected.)
However, it does show UKIP ahead in two Conservative-held seats, South Thanet and Thurrock – the first by two points over the Conservatives, and the second by eight points over Labour. The question is to what degree the protest voters whose support is swelling those totals return to the three main parties during the run-up to next May.
That two point lead in Thanet South is slender. The eight point one in Thurrock is more pronounced. Nigel Farage’s candidacy for his party in either seat would presumably boost its chances. (In Thanet South, he would be taking on Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative candidate – which would pitch a former UKIP leader against the present one.)
As Lord Ashcroft and this site never cease to point out, polls are a snapshot, not a prediction. But if they keep turning out UKIP leads on the same scale in Thurrock, and those leads are larger than elsewhere, the party’s first MP could be Tim Aker, its candidate there. I still think that UKIP won’t win a single constituency next May. But I could well be wrong.