Firstly, let’s deal with Ipswich: in short, the Conservatives will lose every seat they currently hold apart from Bixley. In terms of predictions for who gains those seats and the places each party standing takes, I’ll defer to the excellent Ipswich Spy.
My main interest is in how UKIP will fare. Nigel Farage’s party are standing in 8 out of 10 divisions in Ipswich, comprising 13 seats* as three divisions have two councillors representing the electorate. UKIP are not standing in Bixley or St John’s. However, they will not win a single seat in Ipswich. Even if they had stood in ‘True Blue’ Bixley, it is unlikely they would have captured enough disaffected Tories as the Conservatives (albeit under popular councillor Russell Harsant) claimed over 50% of the vote in 2009 with Labour and the Liberal Democrats miles behind.
Although UKIP won’t win a seat in Ipswich, this does not mean they won’t exceed expectations nationally. This is why the money is on UKIP to win over 50 seats nationally in tomorrow’s County Elections in England (with one Council up for election in Wales). The bookmakers Paddy Power are offering odds of 1/8 for UKIP to win over 50 seats.
Of course, it is not just disaffected Tories who are defecting to UKIP. Formerly Labour and Yellow Peril voters are also lending their vote to Nigel Farage, which was plain to see in the recent Eastleigh by-election, where UKIP pushed the Conservatives into third place. As a result, both the main parties, Labour and Conservatives, have been rattled by the UKIP surge the country has seen over the last few years, especially since the Cameron Coalition was formed in 2010, which has seen a Conservative leader more interested in talking about gay marriage and wind farms than enterprise and lower taxes. It’s not just the hot topics of Europe and immigration which are driving the UKIP vote up but a general dissatisfaction with the mainstream political elite in Westminster who only care about the 4% of the electorate in marginal seats that decides who governs Britain. If the 4% don’t care about uncontrolled immigration, then Cameron won’t talk about it. If that segment of the electorate love the NHS then Cameron will fall prostrate at the High Altar of the NHS every day of the week.
However, the Conservative Party know UKIP have the potential to “steal” plenty of Tory votes and so a smear campaign operation was launched last week by Grant Shapp’s party high command at Conservative central office (or CCHQ as it is now known), helped along by the BBC, and culminating in plenty of stories in the Sunday papers about the dubious views of some UKIP candidates on their social media sites. And for good measure, veteran Conservative minister Ken Clarke told the 24 hour news channels he thought UKIP voters themselves were “racist”. Well, if liberal Wet Ken Clarke says this about a right-wing political party, then it must be true. Hmmm….
My view is the Conservative Party cannot get its head out of the Westminster Village sand and realise the vast majority of their supporters are real Tories with strong beliefs including on Europe (as in let’s get Out), on lower taxes, unconditional benefit reform (as in far bigger cuts than IDS is proposing), immigration (reduce or at least control), grammar schools (more). Real Tories are not part of the metropolitan liberal elite who love “diversity” as long as they can get away from it at the end of the day by retreating to their Chelsea townhouse or country estate or as Ed West put it in his Telegraph blog post yesterday: “Those who proclaim the benefits of diversity often live in parts of town where high housing costs shield them from huge demographic change; those neighbourhoods are “diverse”, but in the same way that airport business class lounges are. And so attitudes to immigration have become class signifiers.”
It is for this reason I believe the smear campaign against UKIP will back-fire – it may just save UKIP a ton of manhours in Get Out The Vote activity. We’ll have to wait until early afternoon on Friday to see as civil servant counting staff don’t have a sense of duty anymore and will refuse to count the votes straight after the polls close, preferring instead to start after 9am the next day – and the ruling political parties let them! Just another reason why many voters are turning away from the mainstream political elite.
*All the candidates in the Suffolk County Council Elections for the Ipswich Divisions can be found here.