We’ve passed peak Ukip but Labour has yet to hit rock bottom

by Atul Hatwal

Two lessons are clear from the Newark by-election result, one for Ukip and one for Labour.

First, we’ve passed peak Ukip. Despite the blitz of media around the European elections and the dutiful trotting out of tropes about “political earthquakes” by the likes of the BBC, Ukip failed in Newark.

They weren’t even close. Forget earthquake. Losing by almost 20% to an unpopular incumbent government doesn’t count as a tremor or even an HGV rumbling down the road.

Newark has exposed Ukip’s hopeless lack of ground organisation and the extent to which their brand was toxified in the recent European election campaign.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Ukip’s momentum was clearly reversed during the Euro-campaign; from a poll high of 31% before the racism furore, to 27.5% in the European election itself. And from a starting point of 23% equivalent national vote share in last year’s local elections, they fell to 17% in this year’s contests.

Despite the breathless media coverage that greeted Ukip’s results, their direction of travel was down at the point voters went to the polls. The Newark result confirms that they are still on this trajectory.

The enormous disparity between male and female voters in Survation’s final constituency poll – 36.8% of men backed Ukip versus 16.8% of women – illustrates the extent to which Ukip has a major problem with women and is indicative of how they are now seen as an angry, boorish, prejudiced party.

For the 80% of Britons who live in cities, for young people, for women and for anyone from a minority community – be it religious, ethnic or LGBT – Ukip are increasingly electoral poison.

At the general election next year, Ukip will discover that there simply aren’t enough old, angry white men for them to break through.

But in a sense, this was always going to happen. Ukip were and remain in large part, a media construct. When voters go to the polls at elections where they expect something from their representatives – as opposed to the European elections – time and time again, they have shown that they do not trust Ukip.

In 2004 Ukip secured 16% in the Euros, but fell to 2% at the general election the following year. In 2009, they came second on 17% but still slumped to 3% at the 2010 general election. Something similar is in prospect next year.

The real danger of Ukip, however, has never been in the potential for them to become a viable parliamentary force, but in their impact on the other parties.

As Ukip peak in the media cycle, the year before a general election, they drag the other parties to the right. Ed Miliband’s attempt to shift Labour’s line on immigration is the true Farage effect.

And based on the Labour leader’s response to the Queen’s speech, when he was complaining that there wasn’t a bill on immigration, Farage’s hold over the Labour leader remains as potent as ever.

Disturbingly, there were signs from Labour briefers in the early hours that this strange mind control is actually about to get worse. Sources saying Labour had to do more to understand and win back Ukip voters – or in other words, chase after Ukip on policy – hopelessly misunderstands what has just happened.

Ukip’s vote wasn’t based on some mass defection from Labour. It rarely is and certainly not in a constituency like Newark. Detailed analysis by YouGov, Populus and Ipsos-Mori has shown that almost half of Ukip’s votes come from former Tory supporters with just over 1 in 10 from former Labour voters.

Instead, the Newark figures do suggest a churn between the parties, but of a type much more damaging for Labour: Lib Dems switching to the Tories.

This is the second lesson from Newark: tactical voting could squeeze Labour next year.

At the last general election, the Lib Dem candidate in Newark got 10,246 votes. In yesterday’s by-election, the Lib Dem’s received 1,004 votes.

Adjusting for the difference in turnout between the general election (71%) and yesterday (53%), the Lib Dems should have secured over 7,500 votes which means roughly 6,500 went to other parties.

Admittedly, the Lib Dems could have been hit by differential turnout, with lots of their backers choosing to stay at home, but the above average overall turnout for a by-election suggests that the people of Newark were keen to vote. It would be strange if the Lib Dem’s voters were so very different to their neighbours.

This means that its likely thousands of Lib Dems switched, and from the results it’s clear they didn’t go to Labour.  Some will have drifted into the Ukip column but given the strength of the Robert Jenrick’s victory, it seems most ended up backing the Tories.

If the analysis by YouGov et al of Ukip’s vote composition is correct, and 2010 Lib Dem voters did in fact turn out in line with the overall constituency participation figures, then the headline voting story of Newark is stark: while Ukip picked up a substantial chunk of the 2010 Tory vote, the Tories made up a lot of the shortfall by gaining a significant proportion of the 2010 Lib Dem vote.

For Labour, it’s an enormous problem if Lib Dem supporters feel comfortable lending their votes to the Tories.

It means in seats where Ukip is perceived to be competitive – such as South Thanet, where Farage is likely to stand and that was held by Labour between 1997 and 2010 – Lib Dem tactical voting will squeeze Labour.

More generally, it presages a fluidity of support between Lib Dems and Tories that could translate into anti-Labour tactical voting.

After all, the Lib Dems and Tories will go into the next election defending the same economic record and committed to the same spending plans.

For those voters who are still Lib Dem backers –at the recent local elections the Lib Dem equivalent national vote share was 13% – and support the government’s economic record, it’s possible to see a scenario where large numbers switch their support to the Tories in Labour-Conservative marginals to stop Labour.

If this is the case, then as bad as Labour campaigners feel today, the party has yet to hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, that could come on May 7th next year.

The one clear winner in Newark was David Cameron. Ukip’s putative surge was held back if not becalmed, Labour managed to fall 5% on their 2010 performance and the Lib Dem vote collapsed.

New questions will be asked about Ed Miliband’s leadership and some questions will start to be asked about Nigel Farage’s. But based on what both parties have been saying today about their respective results in Newark, don’t expect substantive answers any time soon.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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27 Responses to “We’ve passed peak Ukip but Labour has yet to hit rock bottom”

  1. Dave B says:

    “from a starting point of 23% equivalent national vote share in last year’s local elections, they fell to 17% in this year’s contests.”

    We had a national election the same day, UKIP won 27.5% of the vote.

  2. Ex Labour says:

    Yesterday I recieved a call from my local MP’s (Labour) constituency office asking me my voting intensions for the GE next year. I replied that I was going to vote Conservative. “Oh right” came the reply. They then asked “have you always voted Conservative?”. Again I relied ” no I was a 30 year Labour supporter”. Yet again the response was “Oh right”. So there I was poised ready for the next question about why I was going to vote Conservative and………….nothing. “Thank you” and she rang off.

    Now if this is the way that Labour canvass opinions and try to win back support, I now understand why they failed spectacularly in Newark and will continue to hemorage support up to the GE.

    By local accounts (I have friends who live in Newark) Labour’s campaign effort was dismal with local campaign assistants unsure on Labour policies or even what direction they would take on certain issues. Clearly this is a ‘top down’ symptom and serious questions regarding Milibands leadership need to be asked. However, I think this is now too late. He is clearly unpopular with the electorate and both Labour supporters and the public alike do not get his message, whatever it may be.

    As for the LD’s, Clegg and his party are dead in the water. They know it and so do LD supporters and the public. They probably see their best chance of political influence is another coalition, so tactical or lending votes is probably the way forward where they feel its the right thing to do.

  3. Martin Phillips says:

    Your analysis is pretty good, but I have to laugh at your discovery that Lib Dems voters will not all move across to Labour. We only heard the “Left wing Lib Dem” voter view from London and big cities. In the shires and suburbs, like Newark, a lot, even most, of Lib Dem support has come from disgruntled right wing voters. Those who are still protesting are voting UKIP, and most of the rest are now switching back to the Tories. You can see this pattern in council and euro election results all over England. Lib Dem voters in the SE, SW and East of England are very different to those in Hornsey and Southwark

  4. NBeale says:

    A perceptive analysis.
    Another problem is that Labour seems to be totally disorganized and has no clear campaign theme. Asked whether they think Labour is “led by people of real ability” less than 40% of Labour voters said yes.

  5. Henrik says:

    Interesting analysis and probably not that far off the mark. Even more interesting if you’re an old-school Liberal and not a Social Democrat – that was always a rather uneasy coupling in the Lib Dems, wouldn’t it be fun to see the SDP rump going back to their ideological homeland and the classic Liberals being able to be centre-Right, where they’re comfortable?

  6. Blairite says:

    My theory is that Ukip have peaked in terms of electoral support but they may get around 3 seats next year where there is a strong white-working class, anti-immigrant presence: South Thanet, Castle Point and Great Grimsby. Also, the Labour PPC Michael Payne was just such a robot: I watched him and I felt a sense of excruciating pain. If Labour cannot make in roads in Newark when he is a very unpopular government (which it held for 4 years and was the main challenger), then how will it take semi-marginals in the shires?
    Labour also need to forget (seriously, forget) about chasing Ukip on policy and instead focus on Ukip voters who should vote Labour. By reassuring them and talking about their idea of fairness, whilst promising to deal with their wages – we could make in roads, rather than trying to be Ukip-lite-lite and apologising for Polish migrants being here.

  7. George S says:

    labour still havent reached bottom because we fail to actually see whats happening in the electorate.
    working class people out of jobs see the reason as economic immigrants which we do nothing but encourage.
    if they are in jobs they saw their tax being spent on vanity projects and whynging public sectors while the roads fall apart.
    they focus on energy prices as the spot price falls
    they make grandiose promises on freezing prices at a time we need 27 new power stations and desperately need the energy companies to make major investment.
    our policies while ideologically sound are pure poison into todays britain and if we did get in we’d literally have to u turn/heavily modify just about every policy just as hollande had to do in france.

  8. David Bouvier says:

    “Ex-Labour” – you are mistaken as to what canvassing is about – the aim is to build a list of party supporters that you will endevour to get out to vote on election day and motivate them to vote. It is not about persuading peolpe 1-on-1. Once she knew you were definitely not going to be voting Labour she has better things to do than talk to you.

  9. Blair says:

    The Lib Dems are an amalgamation of a left wing and right wing parties. As their vote collapses, some of their vote is bound to go to the tories and even UKIP. At a guess I would say anything outside London has a high likely hood of voting tory of they stop voting Lib Dem than in Greater London. Remember, Liberal didn’t mean socially liberal, it meant economically liberal.

    What’s missing here is a statement of the obvious. Labour fancies it’s chances of winning in 2015 but in Newark yesterday, in a by-election with a reasonable turnout, less than year from a general election and a supposedly unpopular tory government, it’s percentage share of the vote fell yet again (as it has in every parliamentary vote there since 2001 at least) and – even worse – it dropped from 2nd to 3rd in the rankings. I reckon this morning Cameron will be pretty chuffed with himself, Farage neither one way or the other, and Miliband slightly disturbed. Clegg will be in a doorway drinking meths.

    Personally, I reckon my tenner in Ladbrokes on a tory win in 2015 with a majority of less than 20 is now looking a bit ropey. I am becoming more convinced you are looking at a tory majority of around 50.

  10. swatantra says:

    Why are Labour phone banks wasting time phoning up ex-Labour voters? They’re obviously not going to come back being more comfortable in the Conservative/UKIP fold. We should be focussing our attention on the Don’t Knows, Don’t Vote and Couldn’t be Bothered. We’ed have much better chance of turning them round.

  11. John says:

    Should have thrown him overboard at EP2014

  12. Tafia says:

    David Bouvier = It is not about persuading peolpe 1-on-1.

    Errm, it was for the nearly thirty years I did it for Labour and it was for several parties round here in the euros (but not Labour which being as the party locally now consists mainly of absentee students and pensioners is hardly surprising) and it was for all the parties last year in our full slate county council elections and Assembly by-election.

  13. Vern says:

    Not in full agreement Atul. Look how far UKIP have come in such a short space of time. Look how the so called Big 3 continue to move further away from their core voters. Unless they connect again then Nigel Farage will have done a splendid job in;
    1./ listening to the people
    2./ developing policy that responds to their frustrations / aspirations

    The next 12 months will be more of the same – Con/Lab/Lib saying how UKIP stand for white, working class, (thats most of our country by the way Blairite) anti immigrant people when in truth, it is a much broader church of supporters.

    Politics needs a shake up – it is now inevitable.

  14. John Reid says:

    Ex labour hopefully, they’ll send something in the pita to you about how. You could come back too Labour if we can convince you, but I see your point, it could have been handled better

  15. Robert says:

    It was a bad result for Labour. It suggests that the General Election might be a total lottery with lots of tactical voting from and to various parties.

  16. Bill says:

    Labour is stuffed with Moribund as leader, the Michael Foot of his generation. Alan Johnson or even Alan Milburn would have been a better choice. Disagree with article’s characterisation of Ukip voters. I know 5 people who voted Ukip, only one is white, 3 are women and they are all young. You can’t castigate a group of people because they don’t vote Labour – Ukip is attracting votes because the other parties including Labour are missing the point. People have heard enough about immigration being a good thing and they’re tired of being labelled racist for saying so.

  17. chadders says:

    “At the general election next year, Ukip will discover that there simply aren’t enough old, angry white men for them to break through”.

    Well done! You’ve managed to be racist, sexist and ageist in one sentence.

  18. bernard pearson says:

    ‘At the general election next year, Ukip will discover that there simply aren’t enough old, angry white men for them to break through.’

    Hhhmm this is border line racism.

  19. Grindelow says:

    It’s still far too soon to say how voting will go next year.
    Of most importance to many is the economy. Although it’s improving few yet have felt any improvement for themselves. However if many people start feeling an improvement by the election next year then this will positive for a conservative vote and negative for the rest. The Lib Dems will not benefit because they are seen as dragged along by their heels by Conservatives.

    Labour is still seen as magnificently financially incompetent by many . It spent many many ears building up debt (ignoring advice from the IMF) and hiding liabilities off balance sheet to continue its spendthrift ways which have delivered little of value for all this spending.

    I doubt Labour can ever have a target of acting with fiscal responsibility because that is the antithesis of its normal borrow, tax, and spend more policies.

    Labour does not have a meaningful business policy and is strongly anti-business to curry favour with some voters. A large percentage of people depend on work in the private sector. Will they vote Labour whose policies businesses have said will lead to disinvestment in the UK. Disinvestment translates to loss of jobs and unemployment.

    These factors will only weigh on the public mind where the election is close

  20. Vince Vad says:

    Interesting take on tactical voting by LD supporters, but I think you may have missed out another possibility; that it depends on the political landscape of the constituency they’re voters in. Say Labour is the biggest party there, but UKIP is their biggest threat, might not LD supporters vote Labour there to keep UKIP out? Their motivation could be to squeeze out UKIP rather than hurt one or other of the two main parties.

  21. Ex Labour says:

    @ David Bouvier

    I’m on my MP’s mailing list, email list and correspond regularly on local issues. We have also met previously (at their request) and I have laid our my position quite clearly. I also know of others who were contacted and even if they said they were voting Labour they recieved the same response. So your “all knowing” assumption is wrong.

    At the last GE there was a substantial increase in the Conservative vote in my constituency, and despite L:abour moving the constituency boundaries to ensure a Labour win, it was very close. I suspect they are doing some private polling to see where they stand.


    Typical attitude of the leftist. No surprise. As a 30 year Labour voter you would think it would be easier to get me back, rather than a 30 year Conservative voter, would it not and maybe worth having a chat with me ?

  22. tafia says:

    vince vad – the downfall of that argument is that the more traditionalist orange book liberals of the lib dems are attracted to UKIP as opposed to Labour.

  23. John reid says:

    Swatantra, if they don’t vote,what makes you think they’re any less likely to start voting, rather than swing voters who’ve voted for us in the past, but don’t now, due to incompetence greed, sleaze of the last govt?

    As for don’t know, they haven’t agreed to vote for us, because they’re unsure, those who have decided to vote else where, do it, because they need convincing, that we’ve changed are prepared to listen and accept we made mistakes, be it Iraq, or incompetence, or believing the hype about how having good intentions in what we believed was right, is not good enough. If we then started being arrogant enough to dismiss concerns on immigration as scare mongering .

  24. John reid says:

    Ex labour ,your description,of your constituency, is very similar, to Thurrock(unless it’s the same)

  25. Ex labour says:

    @ John Reid

    John, its not Thurrock. My MP was a new MP elected under Blair and is therefore of the more sensible and realistic variety of Labour. I suspect they are now looking over their shoulder as it would only take another small increase in the Tory vote to get them out. With Siliband at the helm I would also be increasingly worried about my seat if I had a small majority and was a sitting labour MP.

  26. BenM says:

    “For those voters who are still Lib Dem backers –at the recent local elections the Lib Dem equivalent national vote share was 13% – and support the government’s economic record, it’s possible to see a scenario where large numbers switch their support to the Tories in Labour-Conservative marginals to stop Labour.”

    And this is where this analysis falls flat on its face.

    There is little evidence of anti-Labour tactical voting. Lots of evidence of anti-Tory tactical voting, and now post Newark anti-UKIP tactical voting.

    But Tory voters don’t seem to get it regards swiching their votes around, despite being most wedded to this undemocratic First-Past-The-Post system.

  27. Ex Labour says:


    And your evidence for your statement is where……?

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