2017 General Election Day 12: Will the Fury From The Deep arrive in Clacton?

And while we’re missing Brian Walden, why does no politics show have good theme music either?
One issue puzzling me about modern British politics is what’s happened to the follow-up question? Because I’m a sucker for punishment, I watched Theresa May being interviewed twice this morning (first by Andrew Marr, then by Robert Peston) and noticed that both of them had times when her answer to one of their questions felt like it needed probing and following up for more detail, but instead they just moved on to the next item on their list. It makes me wonder just how much listening is actually happening on either side, and how much it’s just two people going through a script with no improvisation allowed. We complain about politicians avoiding giving direct answers to questions, but when they know they only have to bat off a question once, why not resort to defence to get through it? Where are the truly forensic interviewers nowadays?

Something else that’s confusing me right now is seeing some Labour people discussing what they’re going to do about the party leadership after the election, and gaming out various scenarios depending on how many seats they win. I understand what it’s like going into an election with the feeling your party’s going to get a kicking and you’ll be needing a new leader afterwards, but I don’t recall seeing these sort of discussions and gaming out of various scenarios in public before. It’s not my party, so I don’t object to them doing it, but the experience I have suggests that whatever scenarios you come up with won’t match up to the one the voters choose to put you in at the election. Making plans is a way to make God laugh, as the old saying goes, and the electorate is God in this situation, but a capricious deity eager to create the one scenario you thought would never happen.

“This analysis is all very interesting.” I hear you ask. “But do you have a tenuous link between the election and Doctor Who to really pique my interest?” Why, yes I do, now the Tories have selected their candidate in Clacton. It’s 2014 by-election and 2015 general election candidate Giles Watling, who must be thinking he has a good chance of becoming an MP with Douglas Carswell now departed, and who also happens to be the brother of Deborah Watling, who played the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria Waterfield. It’s tenuous, but as I still don’t think we’ve had anyone who’s appeared in Who as a professional actor playing a role (so Anne Widdecombe doesn’t count) making it into the Commons yet, it’ll have to do.

On to Election Leaflet Of The Day, and we’re getting more general election leaflets turning up, even as the local election race heats up. We’ve had a range of parties so far, so let’s look at our first Green Party general election leaflet from Molly Scott-Cato in Bristol West. I may have disagreements with some of the content of Green leaflets, but I do have to say that I do like the party’s common style and feel for their leaflets. They have nice colours and fonts, and the use of the slightly angled boxes for headlines and titles gives it a much more refreshing feel than the usual boxy design of most political leaflets. Sadly, I suspect there won’t be too much design innovation from other parties and candidates (aside from the usual ‘just how small a font can I use to get all my thoughts onto one sheet of paper?’ challenge adopted by the more loquacious candidates) in this election, but I’ll keep an eye out for any that show up.

Tomorrow I may take a break from this year’s election to jump back twenty years and remember the 1997 election. I’ve still got many memories of that (very long) day, and when everyone else is reminiscing about it feels like a good time to get them all down somewhere.

Carswell’s victory in Clacton: Trend or outlier?

Officials count ballot papers in WitneyA couple of months ago, I wrote:

It seems that UKIP are very good at getting out the vote, but they’ll need to broaden the number of people willing to vote for them to have a serious chance of winning a Westminster seat.

As they’ve now won a Westminster seat, let’s look at the evidence from the by-elections to see what happened.

As I said in that last post, the interesting thing to look at in the UKIP vote isn’t the share of the vote, but the share of the electorate. We spend an inordinate amount of time comparing the share of the vote in elections without pointing to the fact that we’re often looking at vastly different numbers of total votes being cast. For instance, Labour’s share of the vote went up slightly (40.1% at the 2010 general election to 40.9% on Thursday) in Heywood and Middleton, but that masks the fact that the number of votes cast for them dropped by almost 7,000 (18,499 to 11,633). In 2010, they had 23% of the electorate voting for them, last Thursday just 14.7% did.

UKIP’s share of the electorate in Heywood and Middleton was 13.9% – slightly ahead of how they did in Newark, but behind their previous high-water mark of 14.7% in Eastleigh. It’s now at third place overall for them though, because of the Clacton result. Douglas Carswell not only got well over 50% of the vote, he got the support of 30.4% of the electorate. In contrast to Labour in Heywood and Middleton, he was only around 1,700 votes short of the total he received in 2010 (22,867 to 21,113). In percentage terms, his vote on Thursday was 92.3% of his 2010 total, Labour’s in Heywood and Middleton was 62.9%.

So, Heywood and Middleton was around the top of the range we’re currently seeing for UKIP votes, but Clacton was well off the scale. Carswell’s 30.4% was more than double the highest share of the electorate UKIP have received before (14.7% in Eastleigh) and if he can retain that share, he likely will retain the seat next May.

The question is whether UKIP can repeat this feat in other constituencies. Thanks to Ford and Goodwin’s research (if you haven’t read Revolt on the Right yet, you really should) we know that Clacton is the most demographically favourable seat for UKIP. So, we would expect the UKIP share of the electorate to be higher in Clacton than anywhere else, but the question is whether that alone would explain it.

I don’t have all Ford and Goodwin’s data to see what the difference in demographics is, and how much that might explain the change in vote. As I see it, that’s one of three factors likely to predict possible UKIP success, along with the general level of support for UKIP and local support for the candidate. The ideal way to test this would be through an experiment where we ran an election in another constituency with different demographics but with the other two variables either the same, or easily measurable. Incredibly, Mark Reckless’s defection gives us exactly the chance to do that. If UKIP support in opinion polls is about the same at the time of Rochester and Strood as it is now, and the UKIP candidate is also a sitting Conservative MP who’s defected, then the different demographics of the seats should play an important part.

Of course, this could be completely wrong, and the Clacton result might be more easily explainable because of the level of local support for Carswell rather than the local demographics. Other results still seem to be holding up the idea that UKIP have a ceiling of support amongst the electorate, though that segment of the electorate – Ford and Goodwin’s ‘left behind voters’ is heavily concentrated in Clacton. At the moment, we only have the one data point of Clacton to suggest UKIP can win a seat when the turnout gets higher, but Rochester and Strood will give us some useful extra information.