Labour's UKIP fear factor: A ballot box illusion
One of the reasons Labour MPs are deciding to try and ditch Jeremy Corbyn is the fear that following the referendum result UKIP would become the official opposition by seizing swathes of Labour seats in the North and Midlands at the next general election.
Their ( at present) ex leader Nigel Farage boasted to journalists at a reception earlier this year that UKIP would win hundreds of seats from Labour in a Scotland style melt down as the working class deserted Corbyn over immigration and leadership issues.
Since UKIP achieved its ambition for Brexit this month one would expect them to be riding high every time voters went to the polls.
But the handful of council by-elections since Brexit are telling a totally different story with Labour actually increasing its share of the vote in some seats - and when under fire losing votes mainly to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Although these results are at present straws in the wind they seem to suggest that public is separating its vote to remain or leave the EU from its support for parties on domestic and local issues.
By coincidence two of the first council by-elections were in heartland UKIP areas in Kent and showed an increase in the Labour vote and a decline in support for UKIP.
In every other seat UKIP contested they lost their previous share of the vote and when they challenged Labour in a Luton ward for the first time came bottom of the poll with a derisory 69 votes.
The by- election in Welling in the London borough of Bexley was in a borough that voted to leave and in an unpromising ward for Labour that included had one UKIP and two Tory councillors.
Yet the result last Thursday in St Michael’s ward saw the Labour share of the vote increase by 11.5 per cent to come a close second to defeating the Tory who recorded a 2.7 per cent increase in his share. UKIP’s share of the vote declined by 14.7 per cent. Over 30 per cent of the electorate voted – one week after Bexley recorded a decisive vote to leave.
The second by-election in Newington in Thanet - a UKIP stronghold – saw UKIP just retain the seat by 14 votes. But the UKIP share was down four per cent and the Labour share was up 1.9 per cent. The Tory share was down 2.5 per cent.
Two other results in High Town, Luton and Leatherhead North in Surrey saw Labour lose a share of the vote but not at the expense of a declining UKIP. Leatherhead was a straight battle between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats who gained the seat with a 27 per cent increase in the share of the vote.
In High Town the main challengers were the Green Party who clipped Labour’s majority and the Liberal Democrats who stood for the first time gaining 14.2 per cent. UKIP got 5.4 per cent of the vote. Labour’s share of the vote was down 13.4 per cent.
Conway in North Wales might be a example that detractors could quote. The Labour share of the vote in last Thursday's by election in Mostyn fell 6.1 per cent. Local circumstances - the previous Labour councillor, a ship's captain who hardly attended council meetings - may have been a factor.
The Tory share went up by 4.7 per cent and the Lib Dems by 4.9 per cent. But significantly the UKIP candidate - known in the area as he had stood as an independent - could only muster 75 votes -under 10 per cent of the poll. A full analysis can be seen on this site.
Given the state of the Labour Party at the moment their performance in local councils is extremely robust. It still has to be tested in a by-election in the North and Midlands. But on the evidence so far the UKIP threat is a myth when it comes to the ballot box.