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Forget The 'Progressive Alliance', A UKIP-Conservative Alliance Is Already Happening

14/05/2017 17:07

Last week the Liberal Democrats announced they would be standing down in the parliamentary constituencies of Brighton, Pavilion and Skipton & Ripon, North Yorkshire. This would seem to be the extent of Lib Dem involvement in the 'Progressive Alliance'. The Liberal Democrats are fielding 629 candidates on June 8th; the Greens 457, and UKIP 372.

UKIP got just shy of 4,000,000 votes in 2015, and polled over 20% of the vote in scores of seats. Whilst the Greens and Lib Dems disagree about whether the former should stand in Harrogate or Skipton, UKIP have already declined to put up candidates in nearly 40% of seats. An example of this is the seat of North Norfolk where UKIP got 17% of the vote and Lib Dem Norman Lamb sits on a 4,000 majority. This in a seat where voters emphatically voted to Leave, and are represented at Westminster by a party whose leader has done much to capitalise on the anger and frustration of Remain voters.

Some polls have indicated that over 50% of 2015 UKIP voters are going to vote Conservative on June 8th. This level of switching between UKIP and Conservative would put a clutch of once rock-solid Labour seats in play - seats like Bassetlaw and Stoke-on-Trent North which Labour have held since World War II. In the Don Valley constituency, where UKIP got just under 10,000 votes in 2015, UKIP will not be standing. It would seem that the 23% of the vote they got there in 2015 will more likely than not go to the Conservatives, who finished 3,000 votes behind Labour in the local elections despite being nearly 20% behind in 2015.

Few had talked about the possibility of UKIP standing aside for the Conservatives, but this is exactly what's happening. Whilst Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron had mooted the idea of a 'Progressive Alliance', UKIP were quietly pulling out of key contests in favour of the Conservatives. These include hyper-marginal seats like Bury North where Labour came within 300 votes of winning in 2015. UKIP's gradual disappearance from British politics has been happening since the country voted to Leave the EU and UKIP lost firebrand Farage.

Clearly this isn't a formal 'alliance' like the SDP-Liberal Alliance or other such electoral pacts, and a lot of it comes down to the simple fact that UKIP can't muster the candidate numbers to fight every seat. But given Theresa May's rhetoric since becoming Prime Minister, pitching to UKIP voters, it's clear why UKIP would have little reason to oppose the Conservatives.

After the referendum, I believed UKIP's challenge would be confined to Labour-UKIP battles in the Midlands and North (Hartlepool, Heywood & Middleton, Rother Valley etc.), but after the Stoke Central by-election, where UKIP failed to make any significant headway, it's hard to fathom where the party can emerge victorious on June 8th - a party which just a few years ago won two by-elections and very nearly won a third, in Heywood & Middleton.

And this was compounded by the local elections, in which UKIP lost all but 1 of the council seats it was defending, mostly to the Conservatives. With UKIP not standing in vast swathes of Britain, I'm beginning to see why polls showing the Conservatives on 42% of the vote or more may be correct. So much for the '2020 strategy' talked about in 2015. UKIP would appear to be in continuous retreat. But be careful what you wish for. If UKIP really do collapse on June 8th, it will likely exaggerate the Conservative victory considerably, if the Copeland by-election is anything to go by.

I'm sure many will welcome the UKIP demise, but Labour was fortunate in 2015 that UKIP did split the right-wing vote. With all these votes, as well as the not inconsiderable number of SNP 'NO' voters switching to the Tories north of the border, the Conservatives may be heading for some sort of reverse of the 1997 election. Theresa May has successfully captured the bulk of the UKIP vote, and this is something that I think has obvious implications for both the Conservatives and Labour. UKIP, as well as the Greens, appear to have fallen away in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

However, it's worth noting that by taking Labour to the left, Jeremy Corbyn has done the same with 2015 Green voters. Some of the rare bright spots for Labour came in Labour-Green fights in university cities like Oxford and Norwich. Indeed, in the former, the Greens lost their only seat to Labour. Much will be made of UKIP's decision not to stand in hundreds of seats on June 8th, but it's worth remembering that Corbyn has done much to win back Green voters, in the same way May has appealed to UKIP supporters. The Greens chances of winning their target seat of Bristol West look slimmer by the day.

What this paradoxically results in, paradoxically because this country has seen so much democracy in recent years (the AV referendum, the 2015 election, the EU referendum) is less choice for voters than in 2015 or 2010. On June 8th we will see considerable numbers of 3-way contests, not something that happened at all in 2015. Despite earlier hopes, the Greens and UKIP appear to have been washed away by the polarisation of our politics since the 2015 election.

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