Ukip will celebrate by-election win but the tide is turning
By Mark Pritchard MP: writing exclusively for ITV News
Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who admitted he "seriously considered" joining Ukip last year, now says Nigel Farage's party look to have peaked.
Mark Reckless’ win in Rochester and Strood was not unexpected. While the Conservative Party ran a professional by-election campaign, certainly better than many others in years gone by, it appears the wave against mainstream party politics continues, or does it?
Pre-Ukip days, the wave, although then more like a wash, manifested itself in support for the Liberal Democrats and other minority parties – sometimes extremist parties.
This is not a lazy assumption but borne out by the facts: diminishing Liberal Democrat support, the collapse of the BNP vote and the part loss of the share of the vote from the two main parties. Council elections, by-elections and this year’s European election results all evidence Ukip continuing to benefit from reaction against the perceived political establishment.
More recently geography has become immaterial. Ukip have made progress in the north and the south. In both Conservative-held parliamentary seats and in Labour-held seats.
Ukip is also causing jitters among some Liberal Democrat MPs. However, Ukip’s footprint in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, to date, remains negligible.
Notwithstanding, recent polls reveal the political tide may finally be turning back to the mainstream parties. Recent opinion research has Ukip on a downward trend, having reached a high water mark in mid-October.
This downward trend is likely to continue, not only with the impending General Election, when people will have to make a stark choice between Ed Miliband or David Cameron entering Downing Street, but as public and media scrutiny of Ukip’s policies and personalities intensifies.
Ukip may be enjoying the spoils of victory today, but Mark Reckless’ much smaller majority of 2,920, compared to Douglas Carswell’s 12,404 majority of just a few weeks ago, doesn’t bode well for Ukip’s longer term electoral prospects or the party keeping the Rochester and Strood seat at the General Election. Could Ukip’s victory in this charming part of Kent be short-lived?
The polls also suggest the voting public are waking up to Ukip’s unsustainable message, quite blatant at times, that they want to be all things to all people. A political message that eventually gets found out, gets torn apart down the local pub, and gets dissected in the office; and which eventually leads to increasing disenchantment and loss of political favour.
Nigel Farage may be a political operator but he’s no political acrobat. The more often he tries to stand astride two horses, one on the left and one on the right, the greater the likelihood of him taking a political fall. A message of low taxes in Bournemouth but high taxes in Barnsley; a message of privatise the NHS in Chelmsford but save the NHS spending in Chesterfield.
As Nigel Farage told the New Statesman in November: “I’m not on the … right.” Slowly but surely Ukip are being found out. In short, Ukip’s political ascendancy is not sustainable as long as their messages are inconsistent. Without consistency there is no credibility.
Politics is not just about policies but about people. With people come their personalities. At the top of Ukip personalities are already clashing, it’s not just characters in the grassroots. The people’s army appear to be a fractious lot. As egos and ideologies clash new schisms appear. A new week, a new clash.
The phrase I so often hear about Nigel Farage is that “it’s all about Nigel”. That the Party revolves around him and despite his public utterances about sharing the load of leadership, anyone seen as publicly confident and competent is in reality viewed as a threat – a potential leadership rival. Watch this space.
To be fair to Farage, for many years it was ‘all about Nigel’ and it is he who has led the party to its electoral success. He huffed and he puffed and he got there. Politics is a brutal vocational choice and Nigel knows he now needs to concern himself with both internal and external political attacks. There are troubles ahead.
No one really knows whether any more MPs, Conservative or otherwise, will follow the path of Messrs Reckless and Carswell. If there are, this would be disappointing for the Conservative Party, rather than catastrophic. The big bang of Douglas Carswell’s defection is the loudest noise likely to be heard on the defection front. All others are mere defection echoes.
There is also the risk that anyone crossing the floor from now on, given the proximity to the General Election, could resign but may not necessarily get the opportunity to stand in a by-election. That said, moving writs are exercised more by convention than by normative parliamentary processes.
Nevertheless, the potential for a defector’s whimper or echo is still real.I maintain that a vote for UKIP, in the majority of seats, would mostly damage sitting Conservative MPs.
If the Conservatives are not the largest party after the next General Election or if they do not win an overall majority, then Ed Miliband will enter 10 Downing Street. Ukip will have aided one of the most left-wing Labour leaders since Neil Kinnock, and in doing so will have destroyed any chance of a referendum on Europe and given a thumbs up to Labour’s open door immigration policy.
If I were a Labour political strategist, seeking to get Labour back into Number 10, I would have created Ukip. Ukip are Ed Miliband’s best political friend.
Mark Reckless MP may have won another by-election for Ukip, but his defection is politically misguided and self-defeating.
Mark Pritchard MP is the Member of Parliament for The Wrekin and a former Secretary of the 1922 Committee