Richard North, 12/11/2019  
 


News of yesterday was, of course, Farage's "unilateral" concession to the Tories, with a promise that he would not put up candidates in seats won by them in 2017, thus standing down 317 of his own hopefuls.

This, apparently, was not a negotiated pact, and there is no public quid pro quo from the Tories. Farage says that he was swayed by Johnson's Sunday video message, promising that the transition period would not be extended beyond the end of 2020, and the government would strike a "Super Canada Plus" trade deal.

But if Farage – as he insists – is acting to stave off a Corbyn victory, then once again he has failed to think it through. It is not the seats which the Tories won in the last election that count. With or without Farage's intervention, Johnson will probably win most of these anyway.

More importantly, there are the Labour marginals, which the Tories must secure in the coming election if Johnson is to secure a working majority. Yet Farage intends to front candidates in all of these seats.

If we use the Ukip results in the 2015 general election as an indicator of the Farage Party performance, we can see that his candidates could still do serious damage to Johnson's electoral prospects.

For instance, in England, the most vulnerable target seat is Kensington where Labour has a majority of 20 over the Conservatives. Ukip didn't stand in 2017 but it took 1,557 votes in the 2015 election. That level carried over to 12 December could make the difference between victory and defeat, especially as the Lib-Dems are also eroding the vote of the leading pair, without taking enough to win the seat.

Next in line is Dudley North with a Labour majority of 22. In 2017, Ukip did stand and took 2,144 votes. But in 2015, it took a whopping 9,113 votes. Using that as a comparator, the Brexit Party would almost certainly give the seat to Labour this time round.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is another vulnerable seat, currently held by Labour with a majority of 30. The Tories have been pushing hard in this seat but were deprived victory in 2015 when Ukip took 7,252 votes. The party didn't stand in 2017 but if the Brexit Party takes over in 2019, it could again keep the seat in Labour hands.

In Crewe and Nantwich, a slightly different situation applies. In 2017, Labour took the seat from the Conservatives by a margin of 48 votes, with Ukip scoring 1,885. In 2015, Farage's party took 7,252 votes and the Conservatives kept the seat, which could suggest that Ukip was soaking up Labour votes. 

However, 5,000 more people voted in 2017 than two years earlier and, while the Tories added over 3,000 votes to their tally, Labour piled on a massive 7,000 votes, indicating that it was the increased turnout that made the critical difference.

Moving on to Canterbury, this seat was a Labour gain in 2017, with a majority of a mere 187. Ukip did not stand. Notable then was the collapse of the Lib-Dems, who lost nearly 2,000 votes on their 2015 showing, along with the Greens who lost nearly 2.5K, while turnout was more than 3,000 up. Ukip in 2015 took 7,289.

This seat thus illustrates how the complex interactions of small party votes and turnout can affect the overall result, and it is not entirely clear that Ukip is the king maker. But the presence of the Brexit Party in 2019 can only muddy the waters.

Barrow and Furness also presents an interesting picture. A traditional Labour seat, under pressure from the Tories and Ukip, in 2015 the combined effect of both parties reduced Labour's majority from over 5,000 to a vulnerable 795. Ukip took 5,070 votes.

In 2017, with turnout up by more than four thousand and Ukip falling away to sub-thousand levels, the Tories piled on nearly 5,000 votes. Labour did less well, adding just over 4,000 votes, with the Lib-Dem and Green votes largely static. With that, Labour's majority was reduced to 209. Had the 962 Ukip votes gone to the Tories, Mrs May would have gained another seat.

Keighley in West Yorkshire, just up the road from me, is another interesting case. But here, one of the figures to watch is the turnout. In 2010, it was nearly 48K and the Tories took the seat from Labour with a majority of nearly 3,000. In 2015, turnout increases by another 2K and, while Ukip takes over 5K (up from 1,470 in 2010), the Tories keep the seat, with a majority of just over 3K.

In 2017, turnout is up to nearly 52K, 4,000 additional voters compared with 2010, and the Tories add nearly 4K to their 2015 showing. But, with Ukip dropping back to just over 1K, Labour adds 5K-plus to its score, just enough to take the seat with a majority of 249. If the Brexit Party comes in with a high vote in 2019, it looks pretty certain that Labour will keep the seat.

So far, we've looked at seven seats, all of them vulnerable to the "Ukip effect", which could rob the Tories of their local victories. But there are many more.

A particularly fascinating example is Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire. In 2010, it was a Labour-Lib-Dem marginal and it is currently held by Labour with a slender majority of 441. In 2015, Labour took 19,448 votes to hold the seat, up against the Tories who were way behind on 10,628 votes. Significantly, Ukip got 10,150 votes, almost beating the Tories to second place.

Ukip also stood in 2017, but its vote shrank to 1,885 while the Tories soared to 20,844, quite obviously hoovering up the Ukip votes. But, as turnout also increased by 2K, so did the Labour vote, just beating the Tories. A Brexit Party intervening in the 2019 race will certainly make things interesting.

And then there is Stroud. Yet another Labour marginal, the margin by comparison with the others is a relatively healthy 687. In 2015, however, it was a Conservative seat attracting 27,813 votes against Labour's 22,947. Ukip got 4,848 votes, just short of Labour's majority of 4,866.

Come 2017, with Ukip barely scraping past the thousand mark, the Tories climbed to 29,307. But the turnout also increased by 3,000 and the Greens lost just over a thousand votes. Labour crept ahead to win the seat with 29,994 votes.

Bringing to ten, the sample of seats we're looking at, we have Bishop Auckland, a Labour seat that in 2015 boasted a majority of 3,508 at a time when the Tories scored 12,799 and Ukip revelled in 7,015 votes.

In 2017, with Ukip not standing, and an increase in turnout, the Tories climbed to 20,306, within hailing distance of Labour's 20,808. The Lib-Dem vote only dipped slightly, making obvious that there had been a huge transfer of Ukip votes to the Tories. The Brexit Party could definitely cost Johnson the seat this time round.

Overall, one has to say that the so-called "Ukip effect" is not always clear-cut, but in the seats we have looked at, it seems mostly to favour Labour. By that token it is fairly safe to say that the Brexit Party definitely has the potential to damage the Tories on 12 December.

But often neglected – to the point of being ignored by many pundits, and certainly not taken into account in the opinion polls - is the effect of turnout. In some seats, we are possibly seeing the combined impact of turnout plus the "Ukip effect", and in some cases, the voting pattern is influenced by the ebb and flow of votes for other minority parties and the Lib-Dems.

In marginals, where the seat might turn on a few hundred votes, or even less, this makes for an unpredictable mix. But it will be made that much more unpredictable by Farage's announcement yesterday. In a way, the careless concession is typical of a man who doesn't do detail, and tends to act "off the cuff", rather like Johnson.

Thus, in an uncertain world, the one certainty is that the drama of the Brexit Party isn't over yet. Unsurprisingly, Farage is being urged to pull candidates out of every marginal. If he doesn't, and his party's intervention does deprive Johnson of an expected victory, one can quite imagine that, in some quarters, his name will be forever cursed.






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