Will UKIP have two MPs in the House of Commons before 2015?
No, I don’t think they will. I don’t think they’re even likely to have one.
Despite Daily Mail fantasies of all white working-class people being racist, UKIP clearly present a threat to the Tory party and thus possible electoral benefit to Labour by splitting the right-wing vote, as I think we will see proved when the Rochester and Strood byelection date comes round.
Douglas Carswell was the Tory MP for Clacton (previously Harwich): he won the seat – just – from the Labour incumbent in May 2005 (Carswell got 21,235 votes / 42.1%), and won again by a very comfortable margin in May 2010 (with 22,867 votes / 53%). He got a larger share of the vote in 2010 – but not that higher a number of votes. (A 62.6% turnout in Harwich in 2005 was 50,408 votes: a 64.2% turnout in Clacton in 2010 was 43,123 votes. UKIP didn’t run against Carswell in 2010: in two previous elections UKIP had got just over or just under 5%.)
An incumbent MP has some advantages if he’s been a good constituency MP and people will vote for him regardless of party. Carswell may believe he has been such an MP over the past ten years, at least to the coastal towns – aside perhaps from the poorest ward in the UK, Jaywick Sands.
On 9th October, both UKIP and the Tories will be desperate to win Clacton. Electoral Calculus estimates UKIP’s share of the vote as just over 10%. Is Carswell such a good constituency MP that he can boost his party’s vote with the Conservative Party fighting hard for Giles Watling to win – and the local UKIP candidate, Roger Lord, cross that Carswell has been allowed to run instead of him?
Giles Watling was Oswald the vicar in Bread, twenty-three years ago, and has been a Conservative councillor in Frinton-on-Sea since 2007. I think Giles Watling will win – by a 10%+ margin of victory.
If Watling wins, Cameron will be quick to set the date for the next by-election, Rochester and Strood. (If by unlikely chance Carswell wins, there will be some delay while the Tories figure out their strategy for this constituency.)
Carswell has a better chance than Reckless does of having incumbent-MP advantages in getting the vote, but Rochester and Strood is a more interesting test for what will happen for May 2015 in constituencies where the Conservatives have a comfortable margin but Labour is the second-largest party. The more votes Mark Reckless can win away from the Conservative candidate, the better chance Labour have of winning in first-past-the-post.
In 2010, with a 64.9% turnout, Reckless got 23,604 votes for the Conservatives (49.2%) and Teresa Murray, the Labour candidate, got 13,651 (28.5%). Electoral Calculus guesses that UKIP could get above 11% of the vote: if the LibDem vote from 2010 swings even partially to Labour (7,800 votes – 16.3%) and Reckless can win a few more thousand votes for himself and UKIP away from the Tories, then Rochester and Strood could be the canary for May 2015 – that UKIP and the Conservatives will tear each other apart and Labour win with a comfortable majority.
Update, 10th October
I was wrong, and not even a little bit wrong. Douglas Carswell won Clacton handily, beaten only by apathy.
In 2010, there was a 64.2% turnout: in 2014, 51%.
In 2010, Douglas Carswell got 22,867 votes (53%) – in 2014, he got 21,113 (59.7%).
In 2010, the Labour candidate Ivan Henderson got 10,799 votes (25%) – in 2014, Giles Watling got 8,709 votes (24.6%) and Labour’s Tim Young got 3,957 votes (11.2%). Green came slightly ahead of LibDem but they both got a few hundred votes only and lost their deposit.
I read that as many Labour voters who turned out holding their nose and voting Conservative, while most Conservative voters who turned out happily voting for Douglas Carswell, again. The Tory voters in Clacton didn’t perceive enough difference between Tory and UKIP to keep them away from Carswell.
33,952 of those registered to vote did not turn out. In any election where UKIP has won a seat, apathy has always been the real winner.
The Heywood and Middleton by-election, being hailed as an “earthquake” because Liz McInnes won for Labour by only 617 votes, had a turnout of 36% (57.5% turnout in 2010) and the 11,016 votes the UKIP candidate got (38.7% of the vote) would have been only 23.8% of the vote in 2010. This is not seismic: it merely proves again that in elections with very low turnouts, UKIP’s share of the vote looks bigger than it is.