Saturday, May 07, 2005

UKIP's 26th scalp

After a second recount, Labour's former foreign minister, Bill Rammell, scraped in with a majority of 97 to take Harlow, the last declared seat of the general election.

With John Felgate of UKIP polling 981 votes and Tony Bennett taking 941 for Veritas, the combined anti-EU vote was 1,922 (ironic – 1922 committee), which dwarfs Rammell's majority.

Even allowing for the possibility that some of the "anti" votes would not have been cast for the Conservatives, it seems entirely reasonable to postulate that their activities cost Tory challenger Robert Hafton the seat in this case.

This brings to 26 the number of seats which UKIP/Veritas potentially prevented going to the Conservatives. Assuming the maximum effect, this means that Labour would have lost 17 more seats, bringing its overall majority down to 32 from 66 (yes I did get the maths wrong in the previous post, and again in an earlier version of this post- call it post-election fatigue).

In this scenario, the Tories would have emerged with 223 seats – well above the magic 200 figure, while the Liberal gains would have been limited to a pitiful two.

Nevertheless, no one is pretending that the "UKIP effect" is totally down to the anti-EU parties. Michael Howard’s decision to play down what was in fact a quite reasonable EU policy certainly did handicap the Conservative Party in taking on UKIP and Veritas.

Nor can it be assumed that all the votes cast for UKIP/Veritas would necessarily have gone to the Tories but there is also another matter to consider.

In many areas, the key UKIP activists were ex-Tories and it is arguable that, had they not been fighting for UKIP, some could have been working for the Conservatives. There was, therefore, an opportunity cost which could also have influenced the final outcome.

Whatever the extent of the fact, I think it is unarguable that the UKIP/Verita effect on the election has been largely counter-productive. Potentially the only positive effect is to ram home to the Tories that they must take the "Europe" issue more seriously.

However, given that the MSM are not highlighting the "UKIP effect" – and even UKIP itself does not seem to realise the effect it has had – the chances are that even this effect will go largely unnoticed.

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