Friday, 22 May 2015

2020: UKIP's choices

I come now to the most interesting of my surveys for 2020.  Labour and the Conservatives will be locked in their usual battle with each other.  The SNP sit at the top of a mountain of votes and if Scotland is still in the UK in 2020, their job will be to hoard them.  The Lib Dems need to pick themselves off the canvas, if they can.  But UKIP have important choices ahead of them, choices that will determine not just their own future but have a big impact on the future of the other parties as well.

Taking only one seat, UKIP underperformed their expectations.  Indeed, even in Clacton, their 7.8% majority over the Conservatives does not look completely secure for 2020.  If UKIP's support subsides, the Conservatives might wipe even Douglas Carswell off the electoral map.  UKIP's place in the peloton of British politics is insecure and that is not helped by the factional fighting that UKIP have descended into since the election.  The first choice that UKIP have to take is to remain focussed on the electorate. 

Let us assume that UKIP manage to overcome their current round of blood-letting. Where should they aim for next?  Here are their targets for 2020:

I hope that this table is largely self-explanatory.  I have highlighted the seat and the majority in the colour of the party of the incumbent.  I have also asterisked the majority if UKIP are in third, with an additional asterisk for each position that UKIP dropped below third.  Note that the boundaries may well change in this Parliament, so this list should not be taken too seriously and should be seen more as indicative than anything final.

Two things are immediately apparent.  First, UKIP has a long way to go if it is going to get significant numbers of seats in 2020.  And secondly, the bulk of its most tempting targets are in Labour-held seats.

A long long way to run

Yesterday I looked at the position of the Lib Dems and noted that a uniform 5% swing to them would yield the Lib Dems just 16 seats.  A uniform 5% swing to UKIP would yield them just four seats.  UKIP don't have the disadvantage that the Lib Dems have that they are losing an incumbency bonus in many of their target seats, which will make future gains for the Lib Dems harder. But a 5% swing is still a chunky swing.  This would be nearly a 50% increase in UKIP's vote on 2015.  UKIP should not underestimate the task that they have ahead. 

If UKIP got a uniform 5% swing towards them in 2020, they would be on just under 18% of the vote and would win just five seats.  On a smaller vote share in 1997, the Lib Dems managed 46 seats.  UKIP need to make sure that any increase in their vote is concentrated, not uniform.  So they are going to have to choose where to focus their efforts.  If they are to pick up more than a handful of seats, they are going to need to focus on a subset of seats relentlessly. 

Worse than that, UKIP will need to make progress in a congested field.  Note the number of asterisks on the table (yes, UKIP really are in seventh place in their 23rd target seat).  They're in third place even in their top target.  They are in fourth place as early as their eighth target seat.  They're going to have to muscle past other parties in most of their target seats if they are to increase their parliamentary representation. 

But what of all their second places?  There has been much mention of UKIP coming second in 120 constituencies.  And so they did: I lost a private bet as a result.  Here they are (the map was prepared by Kieran Healy of Crooked Timber and first featured here

Click on the map to enlarge it. 

But UKIP got their swathe of second places largely in very safe Conservative and Labour seats, where their vote wasn't squeezed and where the other main party was very weak.  It might conceivably be easier to get bigger swings in such seats than in seats where UKIP are third.  But they're hardly going to be particularly easy to win.

So UKIP is going to have to choose whether to prioritise getting the smallest swings or winning the most promising two horse races - or by some other means, perhaps by a geographical focus.  Its decision will lead to very different seats being targeted.

Who to go after next?

Look again at that list of targets by swing.  Five of the top ten targets are Labour-held, as are 13 of the top 20 targets and 25 of the top 40 targets.  (But three of the four seats vulnerable to a uniform 5% swing are currently Conservative-held).

This is not what was expected before the election.  Here is my last post before the election looking at UKIP's prospects:

Look at the list of UKIP targets organised by odds.  15 of what the bookies rated to be the top 20 UKIP targets were Conservative-held seats and only four were Labour-held seats.  Contrary to all expectations, UKIP did relatively far better in Labour seats than in Conservative-held seats.

This gives UKIP a dilemma.  They started life as a Thatcherite offshoot of the Conservative party, predominantly in southern England and their sole MP has characterised himself as a Gladstonian liberal.  Their initial boost in support came from the type of southern working class Conservative voters who voted for Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party and who were alienated by the smoother posher men who followed her.  But the type of policies that would appeal most in Labour-held seats would be much more economically leftwing in political outlook and much more northern.  Are UKIP's leadership prepared or even able to go in that direction to build up their newfound voter base?  Electoral logic pushes them in that direction.  But will they be guided by a different principle?

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."  UKIP have spent all the time since the election discussing people when they should really be discussing ideas.  This is not just unedifying, it is a dangerous missed opportunity for UKIP.

UKIP have some big choices ahead of them.  They need to start thinking about them soon.  They will get nowhere without focus.

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