A day or so late with this, but here are the results of Thursday’s local elections:
[PNS = Predicted National Share]
The news has been reporting these elections as the final breakthrough of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) into British politics; BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson described it as “The day UKIP emerged as a real political force in the land.” And when you look at the results, there is no denying how well the party has performed. If every party had stood candidates in every council ward and the votes spread across the country evenly, UKIP is projected to have won 23% of the total vote. That’s about the same the Liberal Democrats won in the 2010 General Election. There is no denying Nigel Farage’s claims that UKIP “is here to stay.” However, lets get these results into perspective.
There is always a party which wins a spectacularly large amount of votes during midterm elections for a government – often referred to as the “protest vote”. This would normally be the Liberal Democrats, who in 2009 [the last time these seats were up for election] won 28% of the vote. This went down by 5 percentage points for the following year’s general election, indicating that voting for council seats and voting for the next government are two very different things. With the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Conservatives, and Labour still generally quite unpopular, UKIP have begun to vacuum up these disillusioned votes.
Secondly, there seats are generally recognised to be in very right-wing areas. This is generally to the benefit of the Conservatives, but now have begun aiding UKIP. Labour traditionally perform poorly in these seats, so the fact they are leading in the votes, even with only 29%, should not be played down. These UKIP results, considering this and the protest factor, should be seen as the party’s maximum potential under its current level of popularity. It’s looking very likely that UKIP will elect its first MPs in 2015, but how many? Even if it does manage to attain a respectable percentage of the vote, it’s going to suffer from the same problem which has blighted the Liberals for decades: our First Past the Post electoral system. Even for the local elections, despite UKIP achieving 9 percentage points more of the vote than the Liberal Democrats, they won 200 fewer seats.
Reactions to this result within the Conservative Party have ranged from Cameron’s calm resolve of winning back voters to blind panic and demands to hold an EU referendum before the next election. My fear is that politicians of all parties will begin tripping over themselves to declare harsher and harsher immigration policies i an attempt to stem to flow of voters to UKIP – not something I would like to see. However Labour, at least, has little to fear from UKIP. I read a statistic earlier suggesting that Labour didn’t lose a single seat to UKIP, whereas the Conservatives must have lost at least a few good dozen. Indeed, with Labour retaining David Miliband’s South Shields seat in the by-election and replacing the incumbent mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside with Labour candidates, this has been a good week for Ed Miliband. At first glance UKIP would appear to be the true winners of these elections, but upon further inspection I would argue that this title goes to Labour.
(I am a little bit sad the Greens didn’t perform very well, but at least they managed to win a few more seats).