The brief media fuss over Michael Fabricant’s paper on some sort of Con-UKIP pact has included various references to old canard that UKIP cost the Conservatives 21 or more seats at the last election.

“At the General Election in 2010, UKIP cost the Conservatives, on a realistic estimate, around 20–40 seats, just by standing and taking a mere 3-4 % of the vote.”

This is nonsense of the highest order, but however often the argument is knocked down it refuses to lie down and die. At the last election there were 21 seats where the number of votes that UKIP got was larger than the number of extra votes the Conservatives needed to win. Where the argument that UKIP cost the Conservatives up to 40 seats comes from is beyond me, if every single UKIP voter has instead voted Conservative they would have got 21 more seats, no more.

However that is something of a big ask… every single UKIP voter voting Conservative? UKIP support has historically come disproportionately from the Conservatives, but not exclusively so, they take some votes from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and people who would otherwise not vote. Neither would those people miraculously go back to the Conservatives in the absence of UKIP – they were, presumably, unhappy enough with the Conservatives to want to vote against them, many would have found an alternate route to express their unhappiness, or just stayed at home.

Back in 2010 YouGov did a survey of 706 people who voted UKIP in the 2010 general election. It included questions asking which parties they would consider voting for in the future, and which parties they had voted for in the past.

Looking forward only 27% said they would consider voting Conservative in the future (compared to 9% who said they would consider voting Labour and 8% who’d consider voting Lib Dem). Looking back 20% of them had voted Tory in 2005, 12% were people who had backed Labour in 2005.

If we use that data, we can make an estimate of how many seats UKIP might have actually cost the Conservatives. Say UKIP had vanished, the 27% of 2010 UKIP voters who said they’d consider voting Tory had done so and the 8% and 9% who said they’d consider voting Lib Dem and Labour had done that…the Conservatives then would have won an extra five seats. If instead we look at how people voted in 2005, and assume people went back to their old voting habits in the absence of UKIP, then the Conservatives would have won one or two extra seats.

The idea that UKIP stopped the Conservatives winning 21 seats is lazy nonsense based on unsustainable assumptions (delightfully called “the politics of not understanding data” by Justin Fisher yesterday), a myth that deserves putting to bed for once and for all. A better estimate is around five seats.

160 Responses to “A myth that will not die”

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  1. It’s all good fun though.

    Farage for PM?

  2. As ever, AW cuts through the nonsense spouted in various places and by various people – and also incidentally reveals / confirms that the rise in UKIP may not entirely be attributable to disaffected Con voters. If some of the UKIP vote might revert to voting Con, surely some will revert to voting Lab at the next GE?

  3. Japan has called a GE for Dec, and one of the main parties is advocating growth and abandonment of monetary policies (I think)

    The OECD has said the UK ecomomy this year will not contract as much as feared. (Note ‘contract’.)The OECD says the global slowdown, the eurozone crisis, the government’s deficit reduction programme and the paying down of consumer debt are all acting as a brake on growth.

  4. MIKE N

    Or they might not vote at all. Or they might doggedly go on voting UKIP, just because they find that the other choices offered to them are no choice at all.

  5. And in an echo of something Alec has argued, the Centre for Policy Studies press release indicates the cost to the UK economy of tax incentives associated with pension contributions..

    ” They comprise:
    – tax relief on contributions (cost: £26.1 billion in 2010-11)
    – a tax-exempt 25% lump sum at retirement (£2.5 bn)
    – NICs relief on employer contributions (£13 bn) and
    – tax relief on investment income (£6.8 bn).
    Over the last decade, relief on income tax and NICs has totalled £358.6 billion, (excluding tax foregone on the tax-exempt 25% lump sum).”

  6. Oldnat

    Yes, I agree. But it is a challenge for Cons and Lab to avoid losing more supporters to UKIP and indeed to (re) gain them from UKIP.

  7. I shoudl have added that the the OECD said it would back George Osborne if the weakness of the economy forced him to slow down his debt-reduction plans….

    I think that’s a signal…

  8. This morning’s poll shews that on the face of it the EU summit had no influence on voters whatsoever.

    I’ve met litle englanders in all parties so the UKIP breakdown of second pref does not surprise me. Good to have the data though, thanks AW.

  9. I wonder if there may be some negative political fall out heading the Government’s way from the recent widespread flooding. It’s early days, I know, but it’s starting to emerge that well over 250 flood defence system construction projects have been scrapped as a result of spending cuts and not only has this resulted in some homes being flooded that might otherwise have been protected, but it may also lead to the invalidating of subsequent insurance claims.

    Fast forward to news bulletins in a few days time. Heartbroken and tearful home-owners taking assorted film crews through the sodden wreckage of their homes. They recount how a flood defence system planned to be built nearby was cancelled and how they have now discovered that they can’t claim anything on the insurance policy as a result. Questions in the House follow shortly after.

    It’s a bit of a bu*g*er, isn’t it, being an incumbent government at such times? I bet old Gordon could recount many a similar tale as he roasted on the spit all those years ago, although the heartfelt sympathies extended to him by various posters to these pages would no doubt have consoled him greatly!

  10. Well Anthony’s data suggests that the cons have nothing to worry about, or does it. I mean that’s the case when ukip polls 3 or 4 % but what happens if they poll more? In any case it looks like some cons are worried, I see more and more comments alone the lines of “vote ukip, get labour” and the old wasted vote chestnut, which suggests to me that ukip are perceived as an increasing problem for the cons.

  11. Cb11

    I think the govt can just blame it on the evil and greedy insurance companies and announce a commission investigating malpractice

  12. I’m inclined to believe that the 27% mentioned is too low. It’s one thing to say “Would you vote Conservative” and take the results in 2010, but the factors are different now.

    The Conservatives might be more (or less) attractive to those who voted UKIP;

    There’s a massive difference between a ‘what if’ and a real situation. If UKIP did disappear and there was no alternative, UKIP voters who are determined to vote would have to choose.

    Lastly, we’re seeing an increase in UKIP VI since 2010, with a proportionate decrease in Conservative VI some of the time. So while the article is fairly accurate in that we can’t guess, it’s only as accurate as the 2010 data (706 people).

    I would agree that people shouldn’t lump the UKIP VI in with the Con VI when trying to predict future elections. It is especially important, now that UKIP seems to be getting more VI these days.

  13. I think what happens to Lib Dem votes will be more of a factor at the next election, than UKIP. In some areas I can see many LD votes going to Labour in sufficient numbers to make a difference. In seats where LD/Tories are the main competitors, I think there will still be Labour tactical voters.

    The LD’s will do better at the election in the seats currently held, than the polls currently predict. But in seats where they are not defending, the LD vote may well get spread as the polls currently predict.

  14. Were there any seats where UKIP did not stand and the Conservatives won narrowly? Any seats like that could arguably be decided by the existence of a UKIP candidate.

  15. @RiN

    “which suggests to me that ukip are perceived as an increasing problem for the cons.”

    To take a recent example, if Corby in 2015 is closer than the recent by-election, there’s the potential for UKIP to take some Con votes.

    I would love to find out how many of the UKIP voters in 2012 voted Con in 2010, and whether it was a permanent switch or just a protest vote.

  16. Duncan Stott – No, not really. UKIP stood in the vast majority of seats at the 2010 election. There were 14 seats they won where there was not a UKIP candidate, mostly extremely safe.

    The least safe was Dewsbury, where they got a majority of 1526. On the basis of the calculations in the post above about where UKIP’s support at the last election might have come from, UKIP would have had to have got about 8500 votes in Dewsbury to flip to Labour. Other than the special circumstance of Buckingham, they did not get more than 5000 votes in any seat… I think we can safely conclude therefore that the absence of UKIP was not the deciding factor in any seat.


    “a permanent switch or just a protest vote.”

    I think that’s too simplistic a way of looking at it.

    Ashcroft’s Red Alert Poll allows us to see some of the “churn” that happens as people move in opposite directions between parties – at least in Scotland, where we have both the SNP numbers and the Labour Loyalists/Joiners. (The sample doesn’t need to be representative of the whole population to demonstrate this.)

    Net changes in support between May 2010 and October 2012 were SNP +19%, Lab, -4%, Con, -20%, LD -62%, UKIP +171% (that’s from 7 folk to 19!).

    43 (8%) of the 554, who say they voted in 2010, don’t know how they would vote in the next Westminster election.

    SNP lost 29 (19%) of their 2010 supporters, but gained 57 – 11 Con, 25 Lab, 21 LDs.

    Lab lost 49 (26%) of their 2010 supporters, but gained 42. We can’t tell exactly where these came from, but the numbers suggest from SNP and LD.

    Con lost 21 (20%) of their 2010 supporters, without gain. Their support seems to have drained equally to SNP and UKIP.

    LDs lost 58 (62%) of their 2010 supporters, without gain. If they are similar to LDs in England & Wales, they will make up a significant proportion of those who don’t know how they will vote in future. More than a third of their losses has gone to the SNP, while the remainder will have moved to support Labour.

    A number of these people will probably continue to move back and forward as different issues affect their judgement.

  18. I wonder if another effect of the floods may be the damage to infrastructure.
    Before the floods our local roads were full of potholes that the council could not
    Presumably afford to mend.Now the road outside my gate resembles a small
    River.Goodness knows what state it will be in when the water finally recedes.
    Even those not previously effected by cutbacks may take a dim view as they
    Bounce up and down their local roads.

  19. An excellent article, Anthony. You are one of my finest students – go to the top of the class.

    People are getting excited about the current UKIP poll performance and they’ll get even more excited if UKIP gets 15% in the 2014 Euro elections (as they did in 1999) but it won’t last. Why? Because it’s pure candy floss. When the real election comes, and they find themselves starved of the publicity which the main three parties will benefit from, they will collapse back down to the 3% they polled in 2010.

    Surely the fact that the Tory MP who is urging a Con/UKIP pact is called michael FABRICANT should tell us all something..?

    As for the comment further up thread about how UKIP’s current poll rating is the same as the drop in support suffered by the Tories in 2010, never forget Bob Worcester’s old maxim: “Still waters run deep”. The computer cross-breaks which AW posts up each Sunday show clearly that there are several movements in party support since the last election: chief among them are Tory voters switching directly to Labour. True, the Tories have also lost support to UKIP (most of which will come back) but against that they have partly compensated for these losses by gaining support from ex-Lib Dems.

    The most important question is: will the 2010 Tory supporters who now intend voting Labour go back to the Tories in time for 2015?

  20. Are the second preferences of actual votes caste in the PCC elections published anywhere according to what the first preferences were? If so, we could have a very large sample of actual votes caste for UKIP with their second preferences. Remember, without SV Prescott would have won Humberside. With the growth of UKIP I am beginning to wonder if the Conservatives would have benefited from AV after all – what an irony it would be if they lose the GE in 2015 because of the rise of UKIP protest votes, which they could have otherwise won if AV were in place!?!

  21. @Mike N
    “…Centre for Policy Studies press release indicates the cost to the UK economy of tax incentives associated with pension contributions..”

    Surely this is a cost to government revenues rather than to the economy? Allowing individuals and companies to keep more of their own money keeps that money in the economy, just in a different place.

  22. In an effort to answer my own question in my previous post I have found the declaration by the RO for the Humberside PCC Area election. Sadly, it does not reveal numbers of second preferences from each first preference vote. I have also sumbled across an “error of officialdom” – all valid second preference votes cast for a candidate who does not make it into the final two are lumped together in “Unmarked as to second preference” – this is an “official falsehood” surely? As many were marked for a second preference, it was just that they were non-transfereable/countable because the candidate was eliminated at the second count stage? Why don’t returning officers publish the full results of how many from eliminated candidate A go to candidate B, C or D on their supplementary vote? This is surely a matter of public record – or should be?

  23. @Pete B

    It depends on the pension scheme, but a great amount of money will be put into cash reserves or long term savings accounts that most Banks are currently just sitting on. Since the money in these accounts doesn’t go back into investment, this money is not economically active. Or worse, the money is invested in economically unproductive commodities (Gold, Diamonds, Land that isn’t being developed but has high notational worth…). So there is actually a cost to the economy from tax free savings.

  24. Tony Dean – all the second preferences for the London mayoral election are counted because it was counted electronically.

    For the PCC elections the ballot papers were counted by hand, so second preferences for eliminated candidates simply weren’t tallied. The data you are after doesn’t exist.

  25. Thanks Anthony – I didn’t know that. What a pity, so no interesting data for geeks like me!

  26. Sometimes politics is about sentiment and not numbers. I fully concur with Anthony’s analysis regarding actual poll numbers and the direct loss of Tory seats in 2010. However, smaller parties influence on politics is way beyond their actual poll or vote numbers. This is where UKIP could damage the Tories.

    The role of small parties is usually to push their policies up the agenda list, to such an extent that major parties have to take notice. The SNP is something of an exception, making the breakthrough into power, but Plaid Cymru in Wales is perhaps a better example of helping to move the agenda towards you by threat of incremental poll gains.

    UKIP won’t win GE seats, nor are they likely to displace many Tories. But they contain a fear for the Tories, that leads them to glance anxiously rightwards. To placate the 3 or 4% on the right flank, Cameron risks being seen to jettison the centre. This is where the seats will be lost.

    Unfortunately for Cameron, many within Tory ranks wish to see them move towards UKIP, and so we will see continued statements about how many seats are vulnerable. The swing to the right will be almost unstoppable by 2015, and UKIP will quietly undermine Tory chances for a majority by the pressure they excert from the right.

  27. @Mike N
    “…Centre for Policy Studies press release indicates the cost to the UK economy of tax incentives associated with pension contributions..”

    & @Pete B –
    “Surely this is a cost to government revenues rather than to the economy? Allowing individuals and companies to keep more of their own money keeps that money in the economy, just in a different place.”

    It’s a question of the use the money is put to and the relative multipliers of these uses. For example, I have postulated previously that the government should suspend all pension tax relief for a limited (2 year?) period, and instead spend an equivalent amount on offering 100% tax relief to industrial investment and infrastructure projects. Get the economy moving, without pumping consumer spend and debt, and in a manner that increases productive capacity so we won’t suffer from so much inflation when growth returns.

    The biggest complaint I have is not so much with the volume of relief on pensions (although I have huge misgivings regarding the distribution of the relief spend) but with the effectiveness of it.

    Private pension schemes in the UK represent appalling value for the end customer, mainly through excessive charges. In effect, the relief payments are being spent on shoddy and poor value products. If I were in government spending these sums of money, I would demand from the industry far better value and I would stop subsidising the rentier behaviour of the banks. If local councils spend taxpayers money in such an ineffective and wasteful manner, Pickles would quite rightly sit on them.

  28. I just saw an article in the DT(yes I started paying for it) saying that the Italian PM is calling for the British to have an in/out ref or words to that effect

    ” David Cameron should ask the British people if they want to stay in the European Union, Italy’s prime minister has said.

    Mario Monti said he had told Mr Cameron in person that he must resolve “the fundamental question” over Britain’s future: “Do you want to remain in the European Union or not?””

    I wonder what effect these calls will have on ukip vi if they become more widespread?

    I’m surprised that this was made public, it could push Britain out the exit sooner, either this reflects growing European exasperation with the British ref threat or its a physiological ploy designed to get British backs up and say stuff you we are staying

  29. The people who had their insurance policies cancelled after flooding, because the local authority failed to build flood defences, are big victims here.

    Did the Local Authorities notify the residents in the areas affected that their flood defences had been cancelled? Were flood protection maps properly and timely updated? Is it legal for flood insurance companies to pull cover if a Local Authority decided that flood defences were not needed in a particular area? Were the cuts in flood defence maintenance and improvement properly reviewed and legally undertaken?

    If it comes out of this, and the people left holding the can are the people who took out insurance that was then invalidated by the actions of the Government…

  30. @RiN

    I suspect it reflects a growing sentiment in Europe that they don’t need us as much as we need them, and that Europe might be better off without the UK in it.

    I don’t think people over here understand that means that there isn’t a snowball’s chance of us retaining free trade links if we exit the EU. If we leave, we’ll still be paying into the EU, but in export tariffs. And then there’ll certainly be no rebate.

  31. JayBlanc

    Well there is currently an agreement between the Government and the insurance industry –

    Fundamentally I would say it is a case of caveat emptor when you buy a property you need to satisfy yourself as to risks such as flooding.

  32. @The Sheep

    The problem is that when they bought the property, they had assurances from the local authorities that flood protections would be in place. And they had insurance with companies that at the time assessed them as having flood protections. The flood protection obviously wasn’t sufficent, and the insurance companies are saying that in areas where cuts were made to flood protection they will not honour the policies.

    I also note, that the 2013 protections *WOULD NOT HAVE CHANGED THIS*. Because the flood insurance mandate is predicated on flood protection being in place or planned to be in place. The Insurance companies could full well have cancelled the policies in areas with cuts made to flood defences all the same.

    The insurance companies negotiated with government that they would accept these changes only if flood protection was increased. As we know clearly see, it was in fact cut.

  33. For /2012/ read /2009/, for /WOULD/ read /WILL/

  34. Re: Peter Kellner’s comments a few weeks ago about how the Tories used to be considered bastards, but economically competent bastards, and how they risk now being seen as incompetent bastards…

    Two pieces of news this week.

    [Snip – please don’t use the blog as a “show-and-tell for bad news for the government”. All government have the drip-drip of things that go wrong on their watch or policies that fail, things that that gradually sap their support, “the cost of governing” as David Sanders calls it. Some governments no doubt have it worse than others, through bad luck, bad hands or incompetence they bugger things up quicker… but we can only measure that through watching the figures on the polls, not by endlessly bring up whatever bad news story we think will have an effect.

    Individually, the vast majority will have no noticeable effect whatever, collectively they contribute to the cost-of-governing, but it doesn’t really enlighten us much or help encourage non-partisan discussion to have endless “bad-news-for-government-show-and-tell” (or, indeed, bad-news-for-opposition-show-and-tell) – AW]

  35. AW: Point taken. This was intended to follow the lead presented by your boss, but I can see that it breaches your partisan-posting rules. Apologies.


    If it comes out of this, and the people left holding the can are the people who took out insurance that was then invalidated by the actions of the Government

    Where there’s blame there’s a claim

  37. @AW

    Personally, I’m surprised that UKIP cost the Conservatives as many as five seats, as you suggest might have been the case — thats actually quite a lot IMHO — considering they ended up nededing to call on the LbDems to form a government — or am I missing the point (I quite often do!! – don’t be reticent to say!!)


  38. @ Anthony Wells

    “The idea that UKIP stopped the Conservatives winning 21 seats is lazy nonsense based on unsustainable assumptions (delightfully called “the politics of not understanding data” by Justin Fisher yesterday), a myth that deserves putting to bed for once and for all. A better estimate is around five seats.”

    Tell me how you really feel! :)

    This myth kinda reminds me of the Ross Perot myth. It’s sort of like something people tell themselves to make themselves feel better about an election. But it’s not true. Nevertheless, it kinda lingers and festers as a myth and sort of becomes believed wholly by the media. It’s frustrating.

  39. Tony Dean

    When you say without the transfers, Prescott would have won, you are assuming that all the Ind/Tory votes that won the election on the same count would have voted for the Independent.

    In my area I voted Ind/Tory with the independent winning comfortably, if I was only given one vote, I’d be more likely than not to have put the Tory down due to not knowing how likely the independent was to even stand a chance.

    Change the rules of an election, you’ll change voting habits, especially in an election where only the people who took a real interest voted.


    I don’t think it’s a given the UK and the rest of the EU will get into some tariff war to kill off any trade between us. I’m sure the Germans would hate the idea that they could no longer competitively export products here and would want to avoid that scenario at all costs.

    On the plus side we could attach a massive levy on Swiss coffee, seriously affecting the business strategy of one multinational company which would be a popular move.

  40. RiN

    “Mario Monti said he had told Mr Cameron in person that he must resolve “the fundamental question” over Britain’s future: “Do you want to remain in the European Union or not?””

    “I wonder what effect these calls will have on ukip vi if they become more widespread?

    “I’m surprised that this was made public, it could push Britain out the exit sooner, either this reflects growing European exasperation with the British ref threat or its a physiological ploy designed to get British backs up and say stuff you we are staying.”

    Possibly one reason Mario Monti might be pleased to see the back of the UK is that it would reduce the northern states’ objections to a free-spending EU Commission.

    (I know what you meant really, but I am fascinated as to what part of our anatomy would be “physiologically” affected by hs words. You’d probably better ignore this!)

  41. Andyo
    While AW finishes his cucumber sandwiches, perhaps too late for those, I think one has to look at the arithmetic.

    The Lib Dems are going to lose seats -big time – unless the polls change. Thus whether the Tories gain 5 or 15 seats as a result of deals with UKIP (the chances about about which I scoff) , their problem is the 100 losses to Labour.

    ‘It’s FPTP stupid’ should be written above all party strategists’ desks.

  42. Alan

    Crystal ball on EU withdrawal.

    I am sure you are right on flogging Mercs to fools.

    But it’s the agri deal that is the issue. The rest is peanuts.

  43. I dont agree with Anthony. I think he is putting too much creedence into polling data and doing a 1992. Id go down the middle and put in at about 10 seats lost due to UKIP, which is enough to make minority or Con/DUP a serious prospect.

    I suspect had UKIP not stood the numbers who would grudgingly vote tory would be much higher than 27%. (I would apply a massage a la ICM would be needed).

    In other words don’t think polling data reflects the reality of how people would vote.-> Most people will vote given the chance even if they arent that enthused with the choices as most people vote negativley anyway and these UKIP voters will most likely feel most negativley agaisnt Labour/LD.

    I read an academic study on AV which stated that (from memory) something like 2/3 of UKIP voters would list tory 2nd. This seems a big difference to this 27% and intuitively makes much more sense.

    Your question could be interpreted like “would you possibly vote conservative in the future if UKIP were standing” than “out of LD, Lab and tory or not turn up who would you vote for”

  44. @socal
    What is the Ross Perot Myth?
    I’m not being rude, but I genuinely do not understand any part of your post — particularly the bit about cucumber sandwiches – am I being thick !!


  45. rather than*

  46. @Joe R

    Ah yes… That old argument that we put too much into these Polling figures, and that we should really use Good Old Common Sense and Smell The Political Winds instead.

    After all, look at what happened to poor little Nate Silver, mocked and derided after… oh wait.

  47. Joe – I didn’t include it in the article because different first preferences complicate matters and it showed the same thing anyway, but in the final pre election poll yougov also asked how people would vote with Av. The second preferences of ukip voters were 27% conservative.

  48. Andyo

    It was 10 to 6 so I assumed a hard working analyst might just about got around to finishing his well-deserved Engish tea.

  49. The academic study you are probably thinking of is the bes. The data from that is a bit tricky to use – 70% of people gave a second preference and 49% of ukip second preferences were conservative so it would have been roughly 35% of ukip voters who said their second preference was Tory (assuming ukip voters were no more or less likely than average to use second preferences)

  50. Surely the point is that we discuss the FPTP general election prospects in 2015 here. There is no second preference vote in that one.

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