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January 19, 2007

Eurosceptics for Cameron: Jeremy Black argues that Eurosceptics should support the Conservatives, not UKIP

Posted by Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black - Professor of History, University of Exeter and the author, amongst much else, of Social Affairs Unit books The European Question and the National Interest and the about to be published The Slave Trade - argues that Eurosceptics should support the Conservatives, not UKIP. The views expressed here are those of Jeremy Black, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director. The Social Affairs Unit is not a party political organisation.

The pro-UKIP campaign at the present moment, seen for example in repeated articles in the Daily Telegraph, directly serves the purposes of the Labour Party. As in any political system, there is a benefit to be derived from dividing opponents. That underlay, for example, Mitterrand's policies when he used changes in the electoral system to encourage the National Front in order to harm Gaullists.

In Britain, the voting evidence is indicative. In 2005, despite a public split shortly before the general election that led to the departure of Robert Kilroy-Silk to form Veritas, UKIP gained 2.38 per cent of the vote. That does not sound very much, but the margin between Labour and Conservatives in 2005 was a narrow one: 35.2 per cent to 32.3 per cent. If added to the Conservatives, and assuming no other changes, the votes cast for UKIP and Veritas would have made the percentage figures very different. In terms of constituency results, the scandalous over-representation of Labour would have limited the consequences, but nevertheless the Conservatives could probably have won an additional 27 constituencies.

If Eurosceptics vote for UKIP they therefore help Gordon Brown. This is clearly not their intention, but it is also the obvious consequence of Britain's electoral system. The chances of them emerging as the pivot of the Commons in any first-past-the-post system is minimal.

Indeed, even in the West Country where I live, there is no hope of UKIP emerging as a regional block, comparable to Plaid Cymru in North Wales. Cornish regionalism tends to be better captured by the deeply-rooted Liberal tradition, and if the Liberal Democrat position on European issues is highly hypocritical, they get away with it. Devon and Dorset are now a tri-party political world in which there is scant room for any additional party. At the regional level it is possible, as in the European election of 2004 to win seats, but at the parliamentary constituency level the evidence is very different.

Why then are Tories flirting with UKIP, knowing as they do that it will help Labour. An element of denial of the last is clearly important, but more significant is the uneasy alliance system (if that is not too grand a term) that is the practice of both Labour and the Conservatives; and even more of the Liberal Democrats. Combining with rivals to do down opponents was ever the stuff of politics, but some Conservatives have shown a willingness to thwart, rather than to combine with, rivals. This did not begin in 1997, and divisions over the European issue are longstanding. In part, the bitterness among the Eurosceptics reflects a sense of having been cheated by Heath and let down by Major, and even Thatcher. Fully understandable, and as a Eurosceptic myself I understand this zeitgeist, if such a term is permitted in this context.

However, there is also the anger of political faction. Having had leaders form the right of the party we now have one from the left. Many are not happy about allowing what they perceive as the other side to have its day, despite the fact that Cameron has a far more convincing mandate to be party leader than Brown will have.

As serious, there is a case of the purist tendency, one very much represented by UKIP. Politics is always a tension between maintaining principles and appealing for support, both among the public and among politicians. Traditionally, with their obsession with constitutions, the Left followed the purist approach, much to the detriment of their electoral appeal, most obviously in the general election of 1983. There is a danger that the same will now be true of the Right. If so, the beneficiary will be Gordon Brown and the losers will be the people. Expect Labour to try to exploit the European issue; expect an unholy alliance of Labour with UKIP and Conservative malcontents to that end. For Eurosceptics, the best policy will be to debate within the Conservative Party, rather than to help wreck the latter to the benefit of Labour.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author, amongst much else, of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006), The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and the about to be published The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).

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Well, I guess that this all assumes there will be one clear 'winner' next time round. My money is on no majority party, and a period therefore of coalitions, formal or informal, general or issue-specific. In such a politics, open debate on, e.g. Europe and (more importantly) the size, structure and deployment of our Armed Services, is much more likely.
Jon Davies

Posted by: jon gower davies at January 19, 2007 06:10 PM

The Myth of Vote UKIP, Get Labour

There is a myth going around that voting for UKIP hurts the Conservatives, and by default, lets in Labour. One reason given is that a number of otherwise close Conservative defeats in the last General Election in 2005, in around 27 to 30 odd seats (the number varies from time to time) was caused by votes for UKIP.

This is simply not true.

Of the 646 seats available in the elections of 2005, UKIP contested 496. There were only 39 seats (full list at the end) that saw UKIP having a greater vote than the difference between first and second place. That was less than 8% of the 496 seats UKIP stood in.

Of these 39 seats, only five were in UKIP’s top 39 results across the country (full list at the end), and four of these five kept their deposits (the fifth almost joined them). Of these 39 seats, Labour won 16, the Conservatives 13 and Lib-Dems 10. Of the 16 Labour seats, there was no net gain for them from 2001. The Conservatives had a net gain of 11 (nine of them from previously-held Labour seats and two were taken from the Lib-Dems) as well as two existing 2001 Tory seats. The Lib-Dems had a net gain of four (three taken from the Conservatives and one from Labour). They kept six 2001 seats within the party.

If UKIP `spoiled' seats for the Conservatives by having more votes than the margins the Tories lost by then the same could be said for the other two parties who came second as well. After all, voters can freely change their choice of party between elections. Of the 39 seats, the Tories came second in 24 seats, the Labour party just missed out on victory in ten, and the Lib-Dems were runners-up in five.

It is also irrational to burden UKIP with the blame that their votes robbed the Conservatives when third place parties scored significantly more votes and could also have denied the Tories of victories. The only way this could not be a factor is if one UKIP vote was worth multiple votes of other parties: Of the 39 `spoiler’ seats, only five UKIP candidates kept their deposits. And this is without mentioning the effect of other small parties that also ran in many of the 39 seats.

In summary, these numbers are simply too small to justify any statement about a vote for UKIP lets Labour in. The so-called 39 marginal seats out of the 496 UKIP had a candidate in are scattered far and wide across the country, hardly representing any geo-political pattern of note and bear little resemblance to where UKIP scored its most votes. In these 39 seats, all of the big three parties came second with margins less than UKIP votes but the Conservatives alone claim to be a `victim’. Another case of lies, damned lies, statistics?

The 39 seats (regions) where UKIP got more votes than the margin of victory in the General Elections 2005:
Battersea (London)
Carshalton & Wallington (London)
Clwyd West (Wales)
Crawley (South East)
Croydon Central (London)
Dartford (South East)
Devon West & Torridge (South West) – UKIP deposit returned
Eastbourne (South East)
Eastleigh (South East)
Gillingham (South East)
Gravesham (South East)
Guildford (South East)
Harlow (Eastern)
Harwich (Eastern) – UKIP deposit lost by 0.4%
Hemel Hempstead (Eastern)
Hereford (West Midlands)
High Peak (East Midlands)
Hornchurch (London)
Hove (South East)
Medway (South East)
Portsmouth North (South East)
Reading East (South East)
Rochdale (North West)
Romsey (South East)
Sittingbourne & Sheppey (South East)
Solihull (West Midlands)
Somerton & Frome (South West)
Staffordshire Moorlands (West Midlands) – UKIP deposit returned
Stourbridge (West Midlands)
Stroud (South West)
Taunton (South West)
Thanet South (South East) – UKIP deposit returned
Torbay (South West) – UKIP deposit returned
Totnes (South West) – UKIP deposit returned
Warwick & Leamington (West Midlands)
Watford (Eastern)
Wellingborough (East Midlands)
Westmorland & Lonsdale (North West)
The Wrekin (West Midlands)

The top 39 results for UKIP in the 2005 General Elections were:
Arundel & South Downs
Beverley & Holderness
Bexhill & Battle
Bognor Regis & Littlehampton
Boston & Skegness
Cambridgeshire North East
Cambridgeshire North West
Castle Point
Cornwall North
Cornwall South East
Devon East
Devon North
Devon South West
Devon West & Torridge
Isle of Wight
Louth & Horncastle
New Forest East
Norfolk South West
Plymouth Devonport
Plymouth Sutton
Sleaford & North Hykeham
St Ives
Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire South
Suffolk South
Tiverton & Honiton
Truro & St Austell
Worthing West

Posted by: Jens Winton at January 20, 2007 11:35 PM
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