Will UKIP hurt Labour?

by Bob Pitt

Matthew Goodwin, co-author of the recent study of the rise of the UK Independence Party, Revolt on the Right, has been banging on about what a threat UKIP poses to Labour.

He posted an article on his blog a couple of days ago entitled “The idea that UKIP is not hitting Labour is political fantasy”, in which he asserted that the bad news for Labour is that “UKIP’s revolt is beginning to inflict significant damage on their support” and that “UKIP is hurting both the Conservatives and Labour on a broadly equal basis”. Yesterday Goodwin had a piece in the Guardian in which he claimed that UKIP is “drilling into red territory”. He wrote: “while Ukip will inflict real damage in Conservative marginals, in some areas it is entrenching itself as the opposition to Labour and has a realistic chance of winning Labour seats such as Great Grimsby.”

It is true that UKIP topped the Euro poll in North East Lincolnshire (where the Great Grimbsy constituency is situated) and, off the back of that, took seats from Labour in the local council elections. There is, however, no basis for assuming that this will translate into similarly high votes for UKIP in Great Grimsby in next year’s general election. Goodwin writes: “Research undertaken by Lord Ashcroft suggests that one in two Ukip voters will stay loyal in 2015.” By my calculation, this means that 50% of them won’t.

If we want a more reliable indication of UKIP’s general election prospects in Great Grimsby it would be better to look at Lord Ashcroft’s survey of marginal seats. Overall, Ashcroft found that UKIP’s appeal is mainly to former Tory voters – 52% of respondents who voted UKIP in the elections to the European Parliament had voted Tory in the 2010 general election, while 18% had voted Lib Dem and only 15% Labour.

From this you would predict that the upturn in support for UKIP would mostly be damaging to the Tories and far less so to Labour. And so it turns out.

In the 2010 general election Labour only narrowly defeated the Tories in Great Grimsby, by 32% to 30%, with the Lib Dems on 22% and UKIP fourth with only 6%. Lord Ashcroft’s figures for voting intentions in that constituency in 2015 show a big increase in support for UKIP, who are now on 26%. But it’s difficult to argue that it has come at the expense of Labour, who are now on 38%. It’s the Tories who have been the losers, down from 32% to 21%, along with the Lib Dems, down from 22% to 10%.

In short, while Labour only had a 2% majority in Great Grimsby in 2010, it is now 12% ahead. It would appear that the rise of UKIP, by eating into the Tory vote, has turned a highly marginal constituency into a relatively safe Labour seat.

(This is not to say that UKIP doesn’t pose any threat at all to Labour in Great Grimsby. However, that isn’t because Labour has lost large numbers of voters to UKIP. The real worry is that Tory voters may look at the polls, decide that the Tory candidate is unlikely to win and therefore cast a tactical vote for UKIP in order to defeat Labour. In other words, the danger comes from the prospect of further defections by Tory voters to UKIP. But that’s not the point Matthew Goodwin is making.)

Or take Dudley North, another highly marginal seat which Labour barely clung on to in 2010, winning 38.7% of the vote and only narrowly beating the Tories who got 37%, with the Lib Dems on 10% and UKIP on 8.5%. Lord Ashcroft’s figures for voting intentions in 2015 have Labour almost unchanged on 39%. UKIP is now on 29%, but again this has come at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems, down to 25% and 4% respectively. As a result, Labour now has a 10% lead in a seat where it had a mere 1.7% majority in 2010.

For an example of a Tory-held marginal seat, let’s look at Thurrock. In 2010 the Tories won the seat very narrowly, with 36.8% of the vote, as against Labour’s 36.6%. Ashcroft has Labour still on 36%, but Tory support has shrunk to 24%. Here too, the reason is a big rise in UKIP support, up from 7% in 2010 to 31%. Consequently, Labour is now 5% ahead in a seat it lost in 2010.

Or take another Tory seat, Great Yarmouth. In 2010 the Tories won it with 43% of the vote, well ahead of Labour on 33%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll has the Tories on just 32%, barely ahead of Labour on 31%. Once again, the explanation is the increase in UKIP support, up from 5% in 2010 to 29%. A seat that looked fairly safe for the Tories, based on the 2010 result, is now highly marginal and Labour has a chance of winning it.

I could go on. All the marginal seats polled by Ashcroft that I’ve looked at show the same pattern.

In light of this, Labour should think again before trying to win back the supporters it has supposedly lost to UKIP by competing with Nigel Farage in pandering to anti-migrant prejudice. The party might also ask how that approach would play out in Great Grimsby. The likely UKIP candidate there is Victoria Ayling, whose stated position on migrants is “I just want to send the lot back”. Is the Labour Party really going to try and compete with that?

Published by Socialist Unity in May 2014