On 28th August, Douglas Carswell , Conservative MP for Clacton in Essex, announced that he was resigning from both Parliament and the Conservative Party in order to stand as a UKIP candidate in the resulting by-election. Carswell had not told Downing Street about his decision until it was announced and Westminster has been completely broadsided by the surprise.
This is UKIP’s best opportunity yet to establish a beachhead in Parliament and the party can be expected to hurl resources at the seat in order to ensure Carswell’s best chances. Similarly, the Tory war machine will kick into its highest gear in order to stamp out what they will fear could be just the first defection to the Farage’s party.
The by-election, which will be held in around six weeks, will be preceded by massive campaigning activity by both the Tories and UKIP, however, Cicero Elections believes that Carswell will emerge victorious. Here are the five reasons why:
1Douglas Carswell is the right man for the job
Douglas Carswell won the Clacton seat from Labour in 2005 with a 3% swing. In 2010, he added over 11,000 votes to his 920 majority, meaning that his 9.7% increase in vote share was almost double the national Conservative vote share of 5%. These figures indicate that Carswell is an effective local campaigner, capable of winning over local support.
Additionally, Carswell is experienced in handling media and his unveiling ceremony was slickly handled and presented. In his speech, the former Tory was measured, controlled and his messaging was very tight. Both on the doorstep and in the media, UKIP finally has another high-profile figure to share the burden of the spotlight with Farage.
2May’s European Elections bode well for UKIP
In the 2010 General Election, UKIP didn’t enter a candidate to oppose Carswell, who won 22,867 votes. However, in the European elections, UKIP did turn up and absolutely stormed the polls, gaining 19,398 votes against the Tories’ 9,981. Winning almost 50% of the vote, UKIP performed better in Clacton than almost anywhere else in the country. It’s also worth noting that a further 1,500 people voted for other eurosceptic parties at the time.
In the three months since the European elections, UKIP’s standing in the polls has not dropped and they have continued to do well in local elections in the South East of England. Cicero Elections believes that the UKIP support will hold strong and voters will turn out in force to push for Carswell.
3UKIP have learnt how to fight a by-election
Since 2010, UKIP has proven themselves in by-election battlegrounds, beating the Conservatives in three of the last four by-elections in England. In May’s by-election in the Tory safe seat of Newark, UKIP put forward the eccentric Roger Helmer, who increased the party’s vote share by 22%.
In this election, UKIP are fighting in the friendliest territory to hold a by-election since 2010. Over the last five years, they have had opportunity after opportunity to learn how to run an effective by-election campaign and will look to deploy the lessons they’ve learnt in Clacton.
4The Tories face many challenges
The Conservatives will be reeling from this blow and this by-election is a daunting challenge. First of all, they will have to find a candidate to take on the popular, high-profile incumbent. Secondly, they need to develop a campaign position which will have to be sufficiently eurosceptic to win back some of the 20,000 voters who supported UKIP in May but also provide an alternative which is sufficiently different to Carswell’s entrenched anti-EU position.
It’s clear that the current Tory position on Europe, of offering a referendum by 2017, isn’t strong enough for the voters of Clacton. Additionally, their promise to re-negotiate with the EU for a better deal has already been undermined by Carswell’s declaration that the Prime Minister is “not serious about change”.
Lastly, the Tories also won’t be able to deploy their counter-UKIP line that “a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour”, as that argument only works with the threat of a Labour government which obviously isn’t at stake here.
In terms of tactics, we can expect an unprecedented blitz of cabinet ministers, prospective parliamentary candidates and other campaigners to hit the streets of Clacton. During the Newark by-election, Cicero Elections calculated that Tory MPs spent at least 1,000 days in the constituency during the campaign, and we can expect more of the same in Clacton.
5Potential tactical voting by Labour supporters
In the Newark by-election, Labour effectively stood aside by putting very little resources into a seat which they knew would be a two horse race. Again, Miliband’s party may again decide to keep their powder dry and make a token effort, but the Conservatives’ concern will be tactical voting by Labour supporters.
In 2010, almost 11,000 people supported Labour and if they decide that it’s in their party’s favour to have a UKIP fox amongst the Tory chickens for the rest of this Government, it’s not unfeasible that potentially thousands of tactical Labour-dressed-as-UKIP votes could push Carswell back into his seat. Whilst the Tories say ‘vote UKIP, get Labour’, the Opposition could argue ‘vote UKIP, stop Tories’.
Breakdown of the constituency of Clacton (formerly Harwich, changed in 2005):
Significantly more retired people: One in four people in Clacton are retired, significantly more than the national average of one in six.
Notably less ethnically diverse: 95% of the population in Clacton identify as “White British”, above the national average of 87.1%.
Fairly more Christian: 65% of people in Clacton cite themselves as being Christian, above the 59.3% who say the same nationally.
Greater private ownership: 73% of people in Clacton own their home outright or with a mortgage, compared to 64% nationally.
Historic election results:
Ladbrokes Odds at time of publication:
UKIP: 1/3 Conservatives: 5/2 Labour: 10/1 Liberal Democrats 100/1