The party’s losses will, with Labour’s decline, be the big story of June’s general electionby Peter Kellner / May 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Just three years ago, Ukip came first in a national election, when its candidates for the European Parliament won more votes than those of any other British party. On 8th June, it will come fourth at best—and it would collapse to sixth place if, as is now perfectly possible, it wins fewer votes than the Greens and Scottish National Party. It will almost certainly have no MPs. This, as much as Labour’s weakness, is the big story of the general election, and the two are connected.
Last week’s local elections make clear the problem. Ukip lost every council seat it was defending, and picked up just one new councillor in Lancashire. Its national share of the vote tumbled from 22 per cent in the same election in 2013 to 4 per cent last week. Labour slipped only one point, from 29 per cent to 28 per cent, yet lost far more seats than anyone predicted beforehand. The Liberal Democrats added 4 points to their vote share (up from 14 per cent to 18 per cent); they might have expected this to translate into a larger number of councillors, but in the event they lost more seats than they gained.
Put another way: if we combine the vote shares for Conservatives (up 13 points to 39 per cent) and Ukip on the one hand, and Labour, Lib Dem and Green on the other, then last week saw an overall 4 per cent swing in votes since 2013 from right to left—but a clear net shift of more than 400 seats from left to right, as the Tories’ 563 gains outnumbered Ukip’s 145 losses.
There is a reason for this contrast between votes and seats, and it will also apply to the outcome of the general election. Under our first-past-the-post voting system, the number of seats a party wins depends not on its total vote, but on its vote, seat by seat, relative to its opponents. Last week, many Labour and Lib Dem councillors were turfed out even though they maintained, or even increased, their own personal vote. This was because local Conservative candidates surged past them, as voters who backed Ukip in the same elections four years ago switched, or switched back, to the Tories.
Much the same will happen on 8th…