Ukip insisted it would defy expectations and win more seats and votes than the polls suggest as its election campaign ended with further embarrassing headlines about its candidates’ views.
The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, mounted a final push for votes yesterday in Thanet South where he is fighting a three-way battle with the Conservatives and Labour.
Ukip is confident of retaining its seat in Clacton, which was won by the former Tory MP Douglas Carswell last year, and has high hopes of winning another Essex seat, Thurrock, from the Conservatives.
Patrick O’Flynn, Ukip’s campaign director, denied the party’s vote was being squeezed, insisting there had been a “very substantial, energising and broadening” of support in recent days.
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He said: “I think we will significantly, and perhaps dramatically, outperform the expectations of pollsters and pundits. That means doing much better than a political-class consensus of a vote share of around 10 per cent and one or two seats in the Commons.”
However, the party faced renewed questions over its selection methods after a candidate was suspended for aiming abuse at a rival.
It moved against Robert Blay, who is standing in North East Hampshire, after the Daily Mirror published a video in which he appeared to cast racial slurs and to threaten to shoot his Tory opponent, Ranil Jayawardena, if he became prime minister. Police have launched an investigation.
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 03/05/15
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 03/05/15
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
“The sclerotic, negative and risk-averse campaigns from the two main parties make it hard to see how much can alter. So, my prediction is the same – Tories get most votes, but Labour better placed to form a government. Then a long spell of political and perhaps constitutional chaos.”
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
“‘The world is changed, I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.’ So begins the film version of Lord of the Rings. – which is, of course, the famous tale of an epic journey culminating in the final battle between good and evil. The world of British politics has certainly changed. “With a few days still to go I expect that more change could still occur, but it is likely to be minor and the national level and more concentrated on the ground in the key marginal constituencies where the Hold Your Nose or Cut It Off to Spite Your Face™ message pushes home. I expect the Conservatives to be the beneficiaries, but it will not be anything like enough to make a difference to the overall result.”
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
“As the only pollster to correctly predict a hung parliament last time – and then foolishly change my prediction when I saw ALL the others were saying a Conservative majority – I am going to say hung parliament again. With more Conservative than Labour seats. The SNP won’t wipe out the Labour Party completely in Scotland but will get them down to single figures. The Lib Dems will out perform their poll numbers and should get circa 26 seats – or more. Ukip will be delighted with four seats at most, probably fewer.”
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
“Tories largest party, comfortably.”
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
“SNP now 50, Ukip 2; Tories to be largest party in votes and seats, but still a Labour minority government.”
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
“Conservatives – I’m upgrading my seats prediction to 270-280 from 260-280. Labour – downgrading again to 265-275, based on the SNPs’ continued surge and Conservatives doing better in our seat-voting question as the election draws near and views are localised: SNP 45; Lib Dems 30; Ukip 6; Green 1; Respect 1. Ed Miliband will be the next prime minister.”
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
“We enter the last few days of this campaign pretty much where we started. This election represents what happens when a country is not confident about its economic future, unsure of its place in the world, and fed up with the state of its politics. “The political stalemate at the centre, and the fragmentation of the traditional party system, has left us with a set of polls incapable of telling what will ultimately happen, when there are so many potential scenarios. What we can feel confident about though is that Thursday will be a seismic night for politics in Scotland. When the votes are counted, we expect the Tories to be the largest party, but that Labour should still have the greatest chance of forming a government. But how do we measure the advantage for the Conservatives of already being in No 10 in the days after the general election? The real drama will start on Friday.”
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
“We saw some movement to the Tories, but the two big parties are back to being neck and neck with the Conservatives a hair’s breadth ahead. How this translates into seats or a coalition is unclear but based on our numbers we’d put the Conservatives ahead of Labour on vote share but the two parties within 10 seats of each other in the new House of Commons. The maths here gives Ed Miliband more options than David Cameron, so it might be sensible for voters to look up Ramsay MacDonald when trying to make sense of the result!”
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
“The Tories appear to have developed a little momentum, which may or may not make any difference. I sense the now traditional herding of pollsters has begun, and the polls will coalesce around a Tory lead of between two and six points. I’ll guess at 36 per cent for the Tories and 32 per cent for Labour. The fight for third place could go either way. Beyond that I just don’t know what will happen and defer to the academics and gamblers when it comes to seat projections, and indeed when it comes to who on earth is going to form our next government. I’d like to apologise to Independent on Sunday readers for fence-sitting, but as I’ve said repeatedly of late: How should I know? I’m only a pollster.”
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
He refuses to make predictions. “My polls are snapshots, not predictions.”
Another Ukip candidate, John Leathley, who is contesting Sedgefield in Co Durham, said he was “appalled and deeply ashamed” of comments he made online about the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who writes for The Independent. He said he was ”very sorry” for being “so coarse”.
Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s deputy chairman, conceded the party needed to toughen its vetting of candidates. She said: “One of the things I’d be very keen to do is to have a look at our candidate assessment process and see how we can toughen it up because, while we are certainly no worse than the other parties, I would like to think we could be better.”
Campaigning in Ramsgate, Mr Farage insisted he was not suffering nerves over the Thanet South result and appealed for support from people who wanted “real change”. He said Ukip had fought a good campaign, adding: “We tried like hell to have a serious debate on big issues. We have not always been able to engage in those debates. I think the party has matured.”
He said the election campaign had been “dominated by negativity” and complained that the public had been cheated out of a proper debate. Mr Farage, who has said he will resign as party leader if he loses today, added: “Sometimes it feels like I’m the smallest boy in the playground and they are all giving me a good kicking.”
A survey by Lord Ashcroft last month found the Conservatives two points ahead of Ukip in Thanet South, 34 per cent to 32 per cent, with suggestions that Labour support was drifting to the Tories to stop Mr Farage. A poll by Survation last month for the Ukip donor Alan Bown found Mr Farage had 39 per cent of support in the constituency, ahead of the Tory candidate Craig Mackinlay on 30 per cent.