– The UKIP vote is in freefall
– Mrs May will talk ‘hard Brexit’ to lure back at least 2 million voters
– Labour stands to lose 49 seats to the Conservatives from UKIP voters returning to the Tories
Just under the surface of the May vs Corbyn headline contest, lurks a powerful electoral force, which could turn out to have a big effect on the outcome of this election: former UKIP voters.
‘Former’ because the party looks to be in freefall. Its poll high, just before the EU referendum was 16%, a further improvement on the 12.6% score at the 2015 General Election.
The latest polls give it 7% (ICM) or 5% (YouGov).
UKIP has obviously lost its way, and its principal cause for existence. Since the referendum, it has been through a leadership circus, has lost its MPs, and the support of major financial backers. Nuttall is uncertain about standing as a candidate. The only visible policy is burqa banning. So the party’s over in all probability.
Real votes confirm the message from the polls. The last 20 local government by-elections, where UKIP contested saw its average share of the vote fall from 21% to 10%. In the majority of the contests, UKIP saw its vote tally drop by 50% or more.
The consequence is that of UKIP’s 3.9 million voters in 2015, 2 million of them – if not more – have now cut loose; and if they vote they are looking for a new home.
All the visible signs are that the vast majority are heading into the Conservative fold. Not a surprise, given that that is where most of them came from in the first place. 11% of 2010 Conservative voters moved to UKIP in 2015. Only 3% of Labour’s 2010 voters made the same journey.
The trends are simply going into reverse. Of those 20 local government by-elections, all of which saw a drop in the UKIP vote, 15 saw the Conservatives improve their position over Labour, with just 2 showing the reverse. (Even effect in the rest.)
So it looks like – on the back of Brexit – there could be around 2 million voters returning to the Conservative fold for 2017. And that’s before any other movements between parties are taken into consideration.
Mrs May must have had this in mind during that thoughtful walking weekend with her husband. And no doubt she has concluded that her Brexit message must remain on the ‘hard’ side through the campaign, if she is to bring all those extra votes back into the fold.
If these numbers are roughly right – and so far there seems no reason to be sceptical about them – then this undercurrent is going to work powerfully in the Prime Minister’s favour. UKIPers in already Conservative-held seats are not going to change the Parliamentary arithmetic, although they will swell existing majorities much higher.
The more dramatic effect comes from the ruinous consequences for Labour.
After its heady total vote in 2015, the buoyant Mr Farage declared he was going after Labour next. Well, in a curious way, that’s right. Only the Labour seats won’t fall to UKIP – they will fall to the Conservatives.
Take a look at Labour’s most marginal seats. And let’s for the moment assume no movement of votes directly from Labour to Conservative.
There are 70 Labour held seats with majorities of 6000 or under. All we need to do, for this exercise, is to work out how many meet just two vital criteria – the Conservatives were second in 2015, and the Labour majority is no bigger than half the vote polled in the constituency by UKIP in 2015. We will take the assumption that half of the UKIP vote in these seats will return to the Conservatives on June 8.
Run the algorithm, and how many of these Labour seats go Conservative, just as a result of the switching Kippers? No fewer than 49 on my estimations.
And this is before we allow for any defection from Labour to Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Nationalist, Green or abstention.
Nothing in Mr Corbyn’s emerging offer looks likely to draw many of the erstwhile Kippers into his camp
So UKIPs travails alone look set to give Mrs May a sizable windfall of Labour seats.
Hard Brexit talk may provide a bit of fodder for the Liberal Democrats. But the Prime Minister has a bigger prize in sight.
Main image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/33119465@N03/