31 August 2014

The Clacton danger for Clegg...

... the Liberal Democrats will not win the forthcoming Clacton by-election.  If tonight's opinion polls turn out to be at all accurate Clacton will be the scene of the largest ever by election swing - at a massive 47.5% to UKIP. 

I think a UKIP victory of that size is unlikely, but they are rightly clear favourites:

At the last local elections (the counties in 2013) UKIP were just 1,000 votes behind the Tories (8,200:7,200) with Tendring First picking up almost 4,000 votes - Labour were a bit behind in fourth and the Lib Dems and Greens fighting over avoiding fifth.   On these kind of figures it is clear UKIP has the essential ingredient for winning parliamentary by-elections - local organisation and credibility.

The longer term risk for Clegg is that the expected UKIP victory doesn't just give them their first elected Westminster representation (and possibly unlocks further defections) - it consolidates UKIP as England and Wales's third party in terms of popular vote.  With just eight months before the next general election there is not much time (and no evidence that Clegg or his highly paid strategists have the ability) for the Lib Dems to turn it around.

And if the Lib Dems were to come fourth (or even fifth) in the popular vote at the 2015 general election - it would be the worst result in the party's history - regardless of how many MPs were returned - and put the party's very existence at risk.

A new leader before the election might not make the difference - but what is clear is the current one is going down to a historic defeat from which the party may not recover.

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