Oldham revisted. The lesson from last week’s by-election in Oldham was that by-elections don’t contain many lessons – so I don’t want to overstate the significance of the result here. It did, however, get me thinking about how strong UKIP actually is in these seats. We heard so much about their ascendancy into a swathe of second-place finishes behind Labour in the general election, we ought to ask: is it all it’s cracked up to be?
UKIP’s advance… For the sake of context, I’ve produced the chart at the top of this post (click for a larger version). It shows all the constituencies where UKIP came second behind Labour in May – or, in the case of Oldham West & Royton, last week – along with the distance between the two parties in votes and in terms of percentages. The first thing that stands out is the sheer number of them. UKIP are the closest challengers in 44 Labour constituencies, which is considerably better than the sum of 0 that they achieved in 2010.
…to nowhere? But what also stands out is the length of some of those bars. Apparently, the average majority across the country is around 11,480 votes, but Labour’s majorities over UKIP exceed that in 27 of the 44 constituencies – which it to say, they’re above average in three-fifths of cases. Only nine are below the 10,000 mark. Only one is below 10 percentage points. UKIP have excelled at coming a distant second.
The challenge. None of this is to say that UKIP won’t take seats from Labour in 2020. The leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, which will be highlighted during a general election campaign, could well boost their vote. And the great disruption that is the EU referendum will have happened between now and then. But this post’s chart does suggest the difficultly of the challenge for Nigel Farage and his party. He isn’t nipping at Labour’s heels, so much as staring at them longingly from down the street.
Looking ahead. And what about the Conservative constituencies where UKIP are second? There are actually more of them: 75 to Labour’s 44. They will be the subject of Thursday’s To The Point post.