Election forecasts

Are these Labour seats really at risk from Ukip?

A new study suggesting up to five Labour seats could fall to Ukip at the general election has sent the media into a bit of a flap. This always happens when a story pops up implying Ukip is on course to get its first ever MPs, although this is the first one I can remember forecasting Labour to be the victim rather than the Tories.

These are the five Labour seats identified by Matthew Goodwin as being particularly vulnerable:

Labour seats 'at risk' from Ukip

It’s an intriguing list, firstly because it includes what is notionally a safe Labour seat (Rotherham), and secondly because one of the five is a Labour-Lib Dem marginal (Ashfield).

The first four are all Tory targets and would fall on a swing from Labour to the Conservatives of 2%.

The press has zeroed in on Ashfield in particular, as this is the seat of “rising star” Gloria de Piero. The Independent reports her as saying: “We are a former mining community and we remember what Thatcher did to our pits, so I will be campaigning against Ukip because we don’t want a party led by a man who wants to ‘keep the flame of Thatcherism alive’ in Ashfield.”

What seems to have been overlooked, at least in media coverage of the study, is that Ashfield isn’t a seat where Labour had been expecting to fight off a threat from the right, but one from the left. There was a 17.2% swing to the Lib Dems here in 2010. A chunk of that support will almost certainly swing back to Labour next year, and I suspect this will be more than large enough to offset any potential surge for Ukip.

The majority I’ve given for Rotherham above is that won by Labour in the 2012 by-election, when Ukip came second. Labour’s majority in 2010 was almost double that figure.

The 2012 by-election result was fascinating, suggesting a huge splintering of three-party politics in the town. The Lib Dems slipped from third in 2010 to eighth, behind (in descending order) Labour, Ukip, the BNP, Respect, the Conservatives, the English Democrats and an Independent. Brave is the person who extrapolates a precise general election result from that particular caboodle.

Nonetheless I’m sticking to my assertion that Ukip won’t win any MPs come polling day. Their impact will be felt in marginal seats to the extent only of disrupting two-party contests, meaning certain Tory seats that Labour would hope to gain do not change hands.

Yes, some of Labour’s majorities are perilously small – Dudley North and Great Grimsby in particular. And as I’ve said before, Labour could certainly lose seats at the general election. I just don’t think they would lose them to Ukip. Similarly, the Tories could well lose seats as a consequence of some of their supporters switching to Ukip. But for Ukip to actually win those seats is something I’m still not expecting to see – for reasons I explained a few weeks ago.

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