Tory MPs and the UKIP Menace

In an earlier article, I suggested that there is an impending electoral disaster for the Conservatives on the scale of the 1997 General Election – i.e. a potential loss of 40% of their vote and the loss of a huge number of seats. I also suggested that there are equal problems within Labour. In other words, the Conservatives are hoping that Labour are in an even bigger mess than they are, and so the Conservatives will be saved from electoral disaster by the incompetence of their opponents. The combined chaos of both main parties is to cause a huge void in the minds of the electorate. Perhaps “void” is an understatement. The country is being run by a bunch of disorganised, wet, cheese-eating surrender monkeys; but the opposition is even worse. The electorate alternate between abject despair and downright fury at the wasted opportunities.

The consequences of this lack of direction and leadership are that the country is drifting into the chaos of an uncertain future. Businesses and industry are unable to plan with any certainty, because they simply do not know where the hurdles to trading are, when those hurdles will appear, or how high they are. People’s willingness to invest in their own businesses is hampered by the sheer ineptitude of the government. All of this is entirely avoidable but the government, under the leadership of Theresa May, has committed an apparently endless succession of unforced errors.

In response to this miserable disarray, there are said to be over a hundred tiny parties forming to defend the ideals of Brexit. Quite what happens to them all in electoral terms is anybody’s guess. Many will doubtless go the way of many business start-ups and will fail within a year or two. However, some are showing signs of building up a head of steam – Anne Marie Waters’ party, For Britain, seems to be gathering a lot of support. But I have suggested previously that UKIP is ideally placed to pick up most of the disaffected votes – principally because they already have a national network of branches and people on the ground. They have also been around for a while. This year, they are celebrating their 25th anniversary.

The political, intellectual, economic and social vacuum left by this government leaves a hole in society which UKIP (or another party) could occupy. In ecological terms, this amounts to a ‘niche’ which has been vacated by the two biggest parties. It’s as if two big predators have suddenly become extinct and the smaller animals can now take over and expand their population in the centre ground. Given this (and just for fun) we could speculate upon the possible outcome in an election.

The following graphs are for four different Parliamentary constituencies. They each examine what might happen to the votes from the two main parties – and how UKIP might benefit from voters’ disaffection with the current crop of politicians. Each depends upon the following assumptions:

  • That peak Labour and Conservative votes were obtained in the 2017 General Election, largely because the Lib Dems did badly, and UKIP didn’t fight the election with a hard message (or in many constituencies, did not fight at all). Most people who voted UKIP in 2015 can be thought of as having “lent” their vote to the other two main parties, because these were trusted to deliver Brexit.
  • That Lib Dem, Green and other minor parties will remain at a fairly constant level indicated by their showing in 2017.
  • That both Labour and Conservatives will shed votes which will migrate to UKIP.
  • As Labour and Conservative votes decline and UKIP votes increase, the point at which the UKIP line crosses the Conservative line is the number of votes that UKIP need to win.
  • The surplus of Leave votes over the number of UKIP votes needed to win (downward arrow) is an indicator of the likelihood of UKIP winning that seat. The greater the surplus, the greater the likelihood of UKIP winning the seat.
  • The further rightwards the crossover point is, the greater the percentage of Conservative votes that will have been lost. The more votes that UKIP pick up the progressively harder they will have to work to pick up further votes.
  • The further left the crossover point (i.e. the fewer Conservative votes which swap to UKIP) and the greater the Leave surplus, the easier it will be for UKIP to gain the seat.

George Eustice – Camborne and Redruth

George Eustice first won this seat in 2010 from the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 66 votes. In 2015, his majority increased to 7,004 over Labour. However, like many Conservative MPs, in 2017 he increased the number of people who voted for him, but his majority once again narrowed to 1,577 over Labour (who also increased their vote). He is currently Minister of State for Agriculture and Fisheries.

George Eustice is the first agriculture minister we have had for a very long time who is from an agricultural background and who not only understands farmers but appears unwilling to destroy them. Many of his predecessors were either caretakers or determined to disadvantage British farmers as much as they could get away with. Many have viewed their occupancy of the position as something to be tolerated until they could be promoted to bigger and better things. By contrast, Eustice has approached his brief with enthusiasm and competence.

His principle difficulty in being re-elected is in the form of his boss, the brilliant and glittering Michael Gove. As Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Gove has overall control of agriculture and fisheries. As an enthusiastic Cabinet minister, Gove also has opinions on Brexit (Gove has lots of opinions on everything). At the time of writing, his position on Brexit is that the Chequers paper should be accepted “for the time being” until we have finally left the EU. Then all the fiddly bits can be sorted out over time. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of a two-year transition period in which trade deals can be thrashed out. Gove is an idealist and it appears that Eustice has been dazzled by the brilliance of Gove’s intellectual searchlight. As a result, Eustice seems to fall into line with his boss’s enthusiasms – and this leaves him with an equivocal position on Brexit which will not endear him to his constituents.

In Figure 1 below, George Eustice needs to lose only 28% of his votes (compared to the possibility of losing up to 40%) to allow UKIP to win his seat. The surplus of 14,300 Leave votes at the crossover point suggests that there are large numbers of voters who are waiting for a clear message from a party which is neither Conservative nor Labour.

Figure 1 – George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth)

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Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth)

Brandon Lewis is another one of the Conservative 2010 intakes. His majority in 2017 was 7,973. Unusually, he managed to increase his majority between 2015 and 2017 by 1,819 votes. Most Conservative MPs managed to increase their votes, but so did Labour and by a larger amount, thus closing the gap. However, Brandon Lewis did well, compared with his fellow Conservative MPs.

He has risen steadily up the greasy pole of politics until he has reached the dizzying heights of Party Chairman. Much of his time is spent at CCHQ where the administration of the party is carried out. Part of his duties is to maintain contact with the constituency chairmen and broader party members. He claims to take this part of his duties very seriously. However, recent events suggest that he is more concerned with passing the Theresa May message downwards, rather than conveying the sentiments of the members upwards. Perhaps part of this direction of travel is caused by the almost obsessive-compulsive diktat from May; and her concomitant refusal to listen to dissenting voices.

Lewis is said to have voted Remain whilst holding one of the most Euro-sceptic constituencies in the country. One suspects his vote and his top-down managerial style are heavily influenced by his political ambitions and desire for preferment.

For a UKIP candidate to succeed in this constituency, they would have to garner 33% of Conservative votes to achieve crossover. However, the surplus of Leave votes over the crossover point is 10,800. Furthermore, there is a very large surplus of nearly 8,000 Leave votes over the total 2017 Conservative vote. This suggests that UKIP could gain this seat with a determined candidate and the right message.

Figure 2 – Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth)

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George Freeman (Mid Norfolk)

George Freeman’s majority is 16,086, a drop of just over 1,000 since the 2015 General Election. This reduction in majority is fairly typical of most Conservatives MPs for the 2017 election. Freeman is another member of the 2010 Conservative intake. He has a history of attempts to help the Tories become more acceptable to the general public. As such, he is a founding member of the centrist 2020 group of ‘Radical progressive centre ground’ of the Conservative Party.

Freeman resigned from the Prime Minister’s Policy Board in November 2017. His timing, after the 2017 General Election, suggests that he was attempting to distance himself from what can only be described as a disastrous election campaign. If he was one of the Prime Minister’s advisors at the time, then there is an element of culpability on his part. The ostensible reason for his departure was to develop what has become the “Big Tent” – ideas to forge policies which have much greater support amongst communities as a whole. This is altogether a good thing, but the febrile political atmosphere at the moment suggests that the big tent is just a means of distracting attention away from the brutal debate around Brexit. It looks suspiciously like a “Never mind Brexit, here’s a picture of a fluffy kitten instead” attempt to turn our attention away from the most important event to affect the country for the last 70 years.

Freeman is said to have voted Remain, but he is positioning himself as a pragmatist who will appeal to both sides of the Conservative Party. He is quite open about his ambitions to stand for leadership of the party. Whilst his style is cheerful and emollient, and he is doubtless capable of smoothing ruffled feathers, he has yet to demonstrate the incisive qualities of other backbenchers such as Rees-Mogg. The big tent, whilst positive and constructive in many ways, does not face up to the many serious problems that will come our way, beyond Brexit, and into the next two decades.

For UKIP to win this seat, they will need to collect approximately 21,000 votes. Approximately 36% of Conservative voters will have to switch their allegiance to UKIP. On the face of it, this may seem to be a big ask. However, the number of Leave votes in this constituency, as a surplus over the UKIP vote, is 17,700. This means that UKIP have to pick up votes from about half of those people who voted Leave. Looked at from this point of view, UKIP’s task is much easier and well within the bounds of possibility.

Figure 3 – George Freeman (Mid Norfolk)

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Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

Huntingdon is generally considered to be a safe Conservative seat, which Djanogly inherited from John Major. However, Djanogly’s majority is 14,475 at the 2017 election, compared to 19,403 at the 2015 election. This is a drop of 4,938 and is quite a large reduction in majority, compared to most other Conservative MP’s, especially when considering that this should be a safe seat.

Jonathan Djanogly is generally a quiet and unremarkable backbencher. Although he is a trained barrister, he is not known for being the deepest thinker in the Conservative Party. Indeed, he is widely acknowledged to be an enthusiastic and uncritical admirer of Ken Clarke. This quality has led him into the clutches of the Continuity Remainer faction of Conservative MPs. Djanogly and the rest of this faction have rebelled at every opportunity to obstruct the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This merry band of eccentrics are loudly and vociferously led by Anna Soubry, with Dominic Grieve for intellectual gravitas, and Ken Clarke in his revolutionary Hush Puppies. Every box of light bulbs has one that is a little dimmer than the rest – and Djanogly occupies this niche on behalf of his colleagues.

For UKIP to win this constituency, they must gain a minimum of 23,000 votes and the Conservatives must lose approximately 32%. Once again, for UKIP to achieve this result from a standing start, looks difficult. The fact is that the 23,000 votes that they need are still only 65% of the total Leave votes. This suggests that even a safe Conservative seat like Huntingdon, is within reach of UKIP.

Figure 4 – Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

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Figures 1 to 4 above are just 4 out of 315 Conservative constituencies. They range from the precarious (Redruth and Camborne) to safe (Huntingdon). However, all four suggest that it is possible for UKIP to gain all of them in a General Election. This is probably fairly typical for Conservative constituencies as a whole – and a similar picture is equally likely for Labour constituencies.

Of course, the models are all likely to be gross simplifications of what will happen in real life. So much can happen between now and the next election. For example, the Labour Party could recover its senses and elect a proper leader who is capable of gaining the trust of the British electorate. Were a credible Labour leader to appear, then Labour (not UKIP) would cross over into Tory territory. And they could do it with a much smaller swing. Of course, the prospect of a Labour win, with Corbyn as leader, will drive many people into a panic and cause them to vote Conservative. This, of course, is what the Tories are hoping for. But you cannot win an election by hoping for the incompetence of your opponents to sweep you into office. There must be a clear, positive message.

At the moment, the Conservatives do not have a clear or positive message. All they have is Theresa May’s obduracy in sticking to her Chequers plan – which is known to be a non-starter by everyone except her. All we have is a “I’m getting on with the job” and “I’m working night and day” kind of message. With every day that passes there is news of yet another opinion poll of some sort which shows that vast tracts of the electorate are looking for someone else to lead the Country out of this infernal mess that May has got us all into.

A ComRes poll done for the Daily Express today (25th September) says this: “Additionally, 70 percent, including 70 percent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election, said they were prepared to vote for a party they would not otherwise vote for in order to achieve Brexit.”

My models are based upon the possibility that up to 40% of Conservative voters will change their vote to another party that is wholly in favour of Brexit. This most recent poll suggests that that figure could be as high as 70%. My models above are therefore likely to be underestimates of the amount of damage the Conservative Party is doing to itself. I and many others have been continuously warning the Conservatives about their impending doom since early June. And yet none of any of the four typical MPs shown above are showing any sign of having understood the message their constituents are giving them.

As things stand at the moment, the entire Conservative Party is sleep-walking into signing its own death warrant.

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