Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rochester and Strood: What are the implications of the likely result?

According to the polls, Mark Reckless is heading for a comfortable win.

It looks likely now that Mark Reckless of UKIP is heading for a comfortable win in Rochester and Strood with his new party. The UKIP MP defected from the Tories to UKIP, in a similar fashion to Douglas Carswell, who had defected several weeks earlier. The Lord Ashcroft poll taken just a few days ago gives Reckless a comfortable 12% lead, as has previous polling. What would the implications of such a result be for the party leaders?

Firstly, we should come to the big winner of the Rochester and Strood victory for UKIP, if it is a UKIP win: Nigel Farage. Farage will be delighted by a UKIP win, for obvious reasons, and even more so than the Carswell win in Clacton. He will be hoping to destabilise David Cameron and his government, and, with Labour doing so badly in the polls, he will be hoping to steal their thunder and claim that his party are "The real opposition", thus increasing their support. A similar thing happened after Clacton, when the Douglas Carswell landslide resulted in an increase in support for UKIP that has lasted ever since. It is looking good for the UKIP leader, as this graph of opinion polls from Rochester and Strood, alongside the result from the 2010 general election, shows:

Next, to the biggest loser in the event of a UKIP win, David Cameron. It will look utterly embarrassing and humiliating for David Cameron, and a bitter personal rebuff, if the constituency which the Tories have thrown everything at and that he has personally visited 4 times ends up electing a UKIP MP. It will be a bitter blow that will hurt the prime minister, and his authority. The chances are that further Tory MPs will soon decide to defect, after calculating that they would have more chance of keeping their seats as UKIP MPs and eventually jumping ship to join with them. The stakes are high, and David Cameron cannot afford another defeat 6 months before a general election....and yet, considering the weakness of the opposition, a defeat may not quite be the knockout blow that Cameron is fearing.

Then we come to Ed Miliband. Labour has been hit nearly as hard as the Tories in Rochester, and the party will be bracing itself for a fairly poor result. You would think that because the Tories, and not Labour, are the incumbent party and the ones most likely to be heading toward a bruising defeat, that Labour would be ok. However, a result on the level being shown in opinion polls would be terrible for Labour. It would be extraordinary in the modern history of the party, to collapse to 17% in a seat that they once held (Albeit under different boundaries.) There were reports earlier in the week that more Labour MPs would call for a leadership election if Labour had a poor result,but these rumours largely seem to be dying down. If Labour can get above 20% of the vote in Rochester, then they will be pleased. Either way, I cannot see a viable leadership election this close to the general election, whatever happens. The party seems to be heading toward the general election with a sense of weariness and resignation, and Rochester is unlikely to change this, unless Labour spectacularly defy the polls and do much better than expected.

And now, finally, we come to Nick Clegg. You would expect another awful result for the Lib Dems, which is now looking likely, to be a disaster for Nick Clegg. But, just like Labour, the Lib Dems are heading toward the general election with a sense of resignation, and a feeling that Nick Clegg will remain leader, no matter how many deposits are lost in seats where the Liberals were once competitive. Nevertheless, Lib Dem claims that they are "On the way back" and that the pain for them is getting less worse simply are not standing up to scrutiny in election results. The party is likely to be beaten once again by the Green Party in Rochester and Strood. That is an awful result, and confirms that the party is just as unpopular now as it was a year or two ago, and Nick Clegg remains politically toxic.

Nevertheless, no matter what the result, the repercussions of the by-election next thursday will be massive, and I am finding it difficult to call what may happen, if, as expected, UKIP win the seat. There has been talk of a leadership challenge to David Cameron from the Eurosceptic Right if the Tories lose, so, in the plausible but most unlikely scenario of both Cameron and Ed Miliband being removed as the leader of their respective political parties, we could be set for a massive shakeup in British politics.

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