Two defections and a death have provided UKIP with three by-elections in which to secure its first representation at Westminister. Nigel Farage is no doubt rubbing his hands with glee that, like buses, he has waited years for such opportunities and then three come along at once.
A seaside resort with one of the oldest and whitest electorate in the country, but with some areas of extreme deprivation, Clacton is perfect territory for UKIP’s anti-immigration message. Douglas Carswell, the incumbent and defecting MP, had a majority of over twelve thousand votes at the last election, and opinion polls from Lord Ashcroft1 and Survation2 suggest those votes will follow him to UKIP.
Heywood and Middleton
A solid Labour seat, with the party’s share of the vote often topping 50% and never falling below 40%, seems like an uphill struggle for UKIP, who have lost their deposit in previous elections. The latest opinion poll also forecasts a Labour victory, with UKIP making strong gains at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems.3 There is always the possibility of a surprise upset though, as both Heywood and Middleton have large council estates which could switch from Labour to UKIP.
Rochester and Strood
As a new constituency fought for the first time in 2010, there is little historical data to examine. Based on the general election, it is a fairly safe Conservative seat, with the defecting Mark Reckless holding a majority of nearly ten thousand votes. Whether that vote will follow Reckless to UKIP remains to be seen, though as with the other by-elections, the polls are swinging in UKIP’s favour.4
These by-elections are a double-edged sword though. If UKIP gains one or more MPs, it will prove - or at least they will claim - that they are a serious political party with the momentum to make further gains in the general election, possibly even pushing the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. On the other hand, failure to win at least one seat will take the wind out of their sails and possibly bring the whole machine to a halt.