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How much of a threat is Ukip to the Lib Dems?

The Liberal Democrats aren't as universally europhile as you think.

Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt doing some Nigel Farage-based comedy. Photo: Getty

Two years ago I made a bet with Patrick O’Flynn (Ukip's comms director, and former Daily Express political editor) that the Lib Dems would take more votes than Ukip at the 2015 general election. Messrs Ford and Goodwin, the authors of the recently published Revolt on the Right charting and explaining the rise of Ukip, published a soothing piece on Lib Dem Voice earlier today, to explain why Ukip offers little threat to the Lib Dems in 2015, and why my £20 is probably safe.

“There are relatively few Ukip-friendly Liberal Democrat held seats”, they opine, “as the two parties tend to appeal to very different demographic groups”. And indeed their data shows that the most endangered Lib Dem-held seat ranks a lowly 19th on the Ukip hit list. The next is an even more distant 62nd.

So, nothing to worry about there then.

Except every Lib Dem activist in the world knows this is largely nonsense.

At first glance, it seems mad for Lib Dems to worry about Ukip because the two parties seem so far apart in policy terms. Then you see Roger Lord, the jilted Ukip candidate for Clacton, has offered his support to the Lib Dems – and you wonder how easily folk can make the leap in the other direction. The answer lies in the European election results from May.

Could card-carrying and long-term Lib Dem voters, with their proud pro-European heritage, jump to Europe-hating Ukip? Yes – they could. Not only that – in May 2014 in the southwest, one of our heartlands, they actually did. The Tory vote in the region stayed pretty much flat, but Ukip's leapt by 143k – most of which was reflected in a Lib Dem decline of the vote (over 100k). And talk to many Lib Dems in the southwest and you’ll find that the party is not as universally europhile as many imagine.

What’s more, if the received wisdom is that one-third of Lib Dem votes in 2010 came from "true Lib Dems", a third came in tactical votes to keep Labour or the Tories out, and a third was a "none of the usual bunch" protest – then there’s a large chunk of disaffected voters happy to place a cross against anyone who will do most damage to the Labour or Tory vote share. Ukip (and the Greens) seem set to benefit from this.

So should we be having sleepless nights at the prospect of a Ukip onslaught? No? Despite all of the above, Ukip remains a much stronger problem for the Tories than for ourselves.

But I think I’m going to have to work a bit harder to keep my £20 out of Mr O’Flynn’s clutches.

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