Next Thursday is polling day in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election, which has been called following the death of Labour MP Paul Goggins. The usual Parliamentary suspects are represented, plus the usual by-election fodder, and of course Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his pals from UKIP, who do not have any MPs, and have decided that this might be a good place to start.
The signs for the Farage fringe have not been promising: a recent Council by-election in nearby Broadheath saw a Labour gain from the Tories, with UKIP a distant third. But the party was putting a rather greater effort into the Parliamentary contest. After all, the Labour majority last time was just 7,500, and that 9,100 Lib Dem vote could be soft. And then came the bad news.
Michael Ashcroft, who has not merely been a Tory donor but also an aficionado of politics and polling, has been polling the electorate, and his conclusions make difficult reading for Nige and pals: “Labour’s grip on the seat is firm. I found Labour on 61% of the vote with UKIP second on 15%, the Conservatives on 14% and the Liberal Democrats fourth on 5%” he concluded yesterday.
Squeaky finger up the bum time?
Moreover, “UKIP’s vote share will be lower than some expect, and they may be inclined to blame the methodology. I should point out, then, that for this poll I adopted the approach of prompting for UKIP along with the three main parties in the initial voting intention question. There remain good reasons not to do this in national polls, but it makes sense in a by-election like this one”.
So Labour appear to be out of sight, with UKIP possibly not even coming second. Perhaps it is this realisation which has prompted a truly desperate press advert, which proclaims “Give your postal vote to the Post Office not the Labour Party”, and goes on “Your postal vote will arrive this week. Remember – your vote is your secret. Don’t let anyone ‘help’ you fill it in. Don’t let anyone ‘help’ you post it”.
And, just in case anyone was in any doubt as to the target, the advert finished off with “Please note: you WON’T lose your Council House if you don’t vote Labour”. This is utterly deceitful stuff: cobbling together the scare stories that some in the Tory Party put around at the last London Mayoral election – only to find that their candidate won the postal vote – plus a suggestion of malpractice.
The idea that a party so far ahead in the polls would resort to fiddling is not credible. UKIP is insulting the intelligence of the electorate, and it isn’t going to work. Farage and his pals have admitted by placing this advert that their campaign is not making headway. As a result, there has been a final, desperate throw of the dice in an attempt to smear the front runner in the hope of some gain.
It isn’t going to happen. Labour hold next Thursday, UKIP maybe not even second.
To be fair, it wasn't just UKIP overestimating their chances of another second - pretty much everyone else was assuming the same on the basis of the last four by-elections in safe Labour seats. This is an "I told you so" moment for me, because I was saying from the start that this by-election would not be the easy ride that the last four were.
A more interesting question is how UKIP react if they fail to get second. The sensible thing would be to re-assess where they are and aren't picking up votes, and adjust tactics accordingly. Unfortunately for UKIP, their party discipline is so poor right now that they're more likely to over-react and dive into pointlessly destructive recriminations.
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