Who are the biggest losers from Rochester and Strood?
While the Conservatives were tipped to be the most wounded party in last week’s by-election, an errant tweet led Labour to lose control of the agenda – and the Lib Dems were all but deserted
Mark Reckless remains in charge of the Rochester and Strood constituency. The Conservatives, his erstwhile party, do not. Pictured smiling in turn alongside his new party leader Nigel Farage – and UKIP’s Clacton success story Douglas Carswell – Mr Reckless and UKIP are the clear winners of last week’s by-election, and by a decent majority too. But it’s harder to call the bigger question, which may hold clues to the election result of 2015: Who lost the worst?
The Conservatives started out as likely candidates for that accolade. After all, they held both Clacton and Rochester and Strood before their representatives defected, and they failed to stage much of a fight against the incumbents. This says something for the importance of the constituency link: the sense that people vote for an individual as much as a party to represent them. It also says much about the new-found credibility of UKIP as a party that can win.
But to the great relief of Conservatives, Labour managed to snatch the wooden spoon from the Tory grasp. Their masterstroke was an ill-judged tweet that not only played poorly in the local constituency, but was seen to alienate core Labour voters up and down the country. Just 140 characters from Emily Thornberry, and Labour wrestled the “most out of touch” award from their Tory rivals.
However, while they didn’t make such an audacious play for the cock-up crown, it’s the Lib Dems who look to have taken the biggest pummelling on the Thames Estuary. While Labour’s vote share collapsed by 41% – and the Conservatives’ by 29% – the Lib Dem share was down 94%: a complete desertion of the party. In Clacton a month earlier, the Lib Dem collapse was similar at 89%, while the Conservatives and Labour saw their share of vote drop by more than half. Whether previous Lib Dem voters stayed at home or found a new protest party to back in UKIP, the result has alarm bells ringing across the party and could hold some clues to UKIP fortunes in 2015.
UKIP has announced 12 key target seats for the General Election. Of these, two are special cases: Eastleigh, where UKIP came a close second in a by-election last year and now has a majority of only 1771 to overturn, and Portsmouth South where the Lib Dems were derailed by the travails of Mike Hancock who now holds the seat as an Independent. In eight of the other target seats, the Lib Dems are in third place, with between 10% and 22% of the vote.
If the Lib Dem vote is likely to collapse anywhere, it’s in seats where the party has no chance to win. If UKIP can eat into the vote of both Labour and the Tories in those constituencies, the unknown Lib Dem factor could see them take the seat from a standing start. This blog from Nottingham University’s School of Politics and International Relations highlights the Tory and Labour marginals where the Lib Dem vote is more than twice the margin of victory in the seat – the seats where a Lib Dem collapse is likely to affect the result most significantly. Writing presciently in 2012, the author suggests that Labour would be the major beneficiary of this collapse. But unless that party’s credibility improves significantly, this table could be the hotlist for likely UKIP success.
Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications.
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