Seven of the eight serial rebels whose constituency demographics roughly replicate those in Rochester and Strood would win their seats back if they defected to the UK Independence Party (Ukip), according to calculations by Ukip expert Rob Ford.
Ford (who co-authored Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain along with Matthew Goodwin, which charted the rise of Ukip), warns that Ukip’s recent win in the Rochester and Strood by-election will pose a challenge to many Conservative parliamentarians in marginal seats, whilst encouraging those thinking of following in the footsteps of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless in defecting to Ukip.
For whilst Carswell’s seat in Clacton, Essex, contains more of the demographic most likely to vote Ukip than any other, Mark Reckless’s Rochester constituency is a “typical” seat. “Reckless was only able to convince about 40 per cent of his 2010 Conservative supporters to back his new party,” Ford opines in the Telegraph. “But crucially, he offset this by pulling in over a third of 2010 Labour supporters, a similar portion of 2010 Liberal Democrats, and a large number of former non-voters.
“If Ukip can repeat that success among non-Tories in other seats, it would be a much greater threat to Conservative MPs than it has previously appeared. That could make defecting to Ukip a much more tempting prospect to Tories, since their chances of winning as Ukip candidates may be greater than we’d thought.”
Ford has identified eight Conservative Members of Parliament who are both rebellious, and whose seats reflect the demographic found in Rochester. They are: Philip Hollobone; David Nuttall; Philip Davies; Peter Bone; Bill Cash; Andrew Turner, Richard Shepherd; and David Davis.
By cautiously applying the swings seen in Rochester to those seats, Ford projected the likely vote in each of those eight MP’s constituencies. He omitted to include votes for Ukip from people who have not voted previously, in order to keep the figures on the conservative side. When the figures were applied, the results showed that seven of the eight MPs would hold their seats if they defected to Ukip.
The only exception was Richard Shepherd in Aldridge-Brownhills, a West Midlands constituency which has been held by Shepherd since 1979. At the 2010 election, Shepherd increased his majority to over 15,000, securing nearly 60 percent of the vote. Ford’s projected figures for the constituency show a Conservative win with just a 0.7 percent majority over Ukip, but as Shepherd will be retiring at the next election, it may be a moot point.
Ford says: “the projections underscore just why Mr Reckless’ victory is so politically significant: many of the most rebellious Conservative MPs represent seats where a Rochester-style Ukip victory is quite plausible. Mr Reckless has plotted a path to victory that some of his most disgruntled former colleagues will be sorely tempted to tread themselves.
“We should point out that all of these MPs have insisted they are not defecting, some of them saying so repeatedly. But we should also point out that Mr Reckless also denied any such intention.”
Ford has also produced a map of the British Isles showing all of the seats most vulnerable to Ukip, constituency by constituency. It paints the entire east coast of England, from Northumberland on the Scottish border to East Sussex on the channel coastline in various shades of purple. Much of Wales is also purple, growing deeper in the valley constituencies north of Cardiff, as is Cumbria, the Midlands and much of Cornwall. Seats currently held by Labour and Liberal Democrats are not exempt, showing just how much of a difference the Ukip vote will make at the 2015 general elections next May.
“All bets are off. The whole thing’s up in the air,” said Ukip leader Nigel Farage of the impending election.