Much attention has been paid to the success of UKIP in this year's county council elections. UKIP won 23% of the vote on a Projected National Share. Subsequent analysis by Electoral Calculus suggests that UKIP would have to win 24% of the vote to gain a seat.
This prompted the Sun to rightly conclude that"the anti-EU party will struggle at a General Election because it has no large pockets of support like the three big Westminster parties.”
In a First Past the Post electoral system, it is best for parties to have an efficient voter spread. The most efficient voter spread is achieved by winning seats by a small number of votes, and losing seats by a large margin. This is a big reason behind the perceived bias in the electoral system against the Conservative Party.
Projections under more equal boundaries still show the Conservatives losing out to Labour on an equal vote because the party has recently tended to win by large margins in its core areas, while losing by smaller margins outside them.
Unlike the Greens, UKIP’s vote has traditionally tended to be geographically spread out. The Greens got 1% of the vote in the 2010 election - one third of UKIP’s 3.1%. Yet before the May 2013 elections, the Greens held double the number of councillors and had managed to win their most prized position – the parliamentary constituency of Brighton Pavilion in 2010.
Since 2010, the UKIP have posted a series of successes. Strong opinion poll results and strong performances in by-elections have built momentum, which eventually resulted in the party’s local election triumph. In 2012 the party made a net gain of 0 councillors across England. In 2013 they made a net gain of 147.
We now have, for the first time, a picture of the types of areas in which UKIP appears to have an advantage. UKIP strength seems to correlate with the number of non-graduates, with a more elderly age profile and with stronger religious identification. It is also stronger along the coast.
We now have a picture of where UKIP may make its first breakthroughs. It won the popular vote in the equivalents of nine parliamentary seats: Boston and Skegness, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Worthing East and Shoreham, Great Yarmouth, Forest of Dean, Aylesbury and Camborne and Redruth.
In the area around Boston, UKIP took 10 of the 13 seats up for grabs, and won around 41.9% of the vote in Boston and Skegness constituency, beating the second placed Tories by 11.8% of the vote. In Lincolnshire as a whole, they now form the largest opposition grouping on the council.
Boston and Skegness is notionally a Conservative safe seat, with a majority of 12,426. In the last council elections they’d won 10 of the same 13 seats, with 2 being won by Independents.
Since 2010, UKIP has learned much. It is no longer the same party that ran Nigel Farage against the speaker in Buckinghamshire and came third, even when the big three weren’t running. The party is slicker and cleverer, and learning rapidly. In order to gain a seat at Westminster, it will need to target resources ruthlessly and ignore siren voices to campaign everywhere in the hope of maximising votes.
For more information see From Councillors to MPs: Looking beyond the 2013 Local Elections, by Chris Terry