Lord Ashcroft’s latest batch of constituency polls looked at four seats Ukip is hoping to take from the Conservatives – and found Nigel Farage’s party trailing in every single one.
The Tories’ lead over Ukip in these seats is far from consistent. They are 21 points ahead in North East Cambridgeshire, but only one point ahead in Castle Point. In South Basildon & East Thurrock they are six points ahead, and in Boston & Skegness they lead Ukip by three.
It’s Boston & Skegness that interests me most, as this is the one seat I have been predicting Ukip will gain at the election, which along with holding Clacton would mean they have two MPs in the next parliament.
Ashcroft’s poll put the Tories ahead in Boston & Skegness, but for Ukip to be just three points behind is still pretty remarkable. It represents a mammoth swing of 18.5%. It’s also within the margin of error, and may be the kind of snapshot of opinion that encourages Ukip to pile in even more resources. It should certainly do likewise for the Conservatives.
It might be too much for me to hope that Ashcroft’s findings put pay to some of the wilder claims about Ukip’s likely success at the election. Last October I highlighted the sort of nonsense that was helping to create what I dubbed the Ukip inflation game, where a spiral of sensationalism resulted in the party at one point being described as targeting “100 seats”.
People who ought to know better have contributed to this craze, including Labour MP Frank Field who declared that thanks to Ukip there will be “no safe seats” at the general election.
Since the new year things have quietened down, thankfully. We’ve had no more MPs defecting to Ukip, no more newspaper front pages forecasting dozens of gains, and aside from the near-inevitable defection of an MEP, little to keep Farage and co in the headlines.
Ukip’s biggest contribution to the election result almost certainly won’t be the number of constituencies it wins, but the way it splits or sucks votes away from other parties in marginal seats. Some polls from the Conservative-Labour battleground would give us a few clues about this.
In the meantime, maybe the Ukip deflation game is kicking in at last.