Ukip could 'hand Conservatives a landslide' by not fielding candidates in key marginals

Leader Paul Nuttall says decision not to contend close to half of all seats is 'noble' – but analysis reveals it could spell disaster for Labour

Rachel Roberts
Saturday 13 May 2017 18:45 BST
Paul Nuttall's party will not stand candidates in seats where a pro-Brexit MP is sitting or where a pro-Brexit Tory candidate has a realistic chance of winning
Paul Nuttall's party will not stand candidates in seats where a pro-Brexit MP is sitting or where a pro-Brexit Tory candidate has a realistic chance of winning (Reuters)

Ukip’s decision to field candidates in little more than half of all constituencies could hand the Conservatives a landslide election victory, analysis suggests.

Just 377 out of 650 seats in the UK will have the option to vote for Paul Nuttall’s party, and polls indicate the majority of those who voted Ukip in recent years will now vote Conservative rather than Labour.

And 29 of the seats where Ukip will not stand a candidate are marginal, with 26 of these held by Labour – increasing the likelihood of a large Conservative majority. Polling has suggested around half of Ukip voters are ready to switch to the Tories even where the party is fielding a candidate.

If 50 per cent of Ukip voters across the country do in fact vote Conservative on 8 June, this would translate into 36 extra seats. If 70 per cent plump for the Tories, this should deliver them 54 extra seats.

In 2015, Ukip was on the march, considered one of the major four parties and granted a place in TV election debates that excluded the Greens. Standing candidates in 624 constituencies, they took over 12 per cent of the vote, although the party won just one seat under the first-past-the-post system.

But cash-strapped Ukip has seen its support collapse in the wake of the Brexit vote, with the party leadership riven by internal feuding.

With Article 50 triggered and Prime Minister Theresa May promising there is “no going back” on Brexit, Ukip has increasingly been depicted as a party without a purpose, managing to hold onto just one seat at the local council elections last week and losing 145.

Ms May has appeared to park her tanks firmly on Ukip’s lawn with tough talk on immigration, promising to get numbers down to “tens of thousands” over the next five years if the Conservatives are re-elected.

Brexit is already starting to make families poorer, Bank of England warns

Mr Nuttall announced the party will not stand candidates in seats where there are strongly pro-Brexit MPs – a policy which will mainly benefit the Conservatives are there were only nine pro-Leave Labour MPs. Nor will the party field candidates where a Tory challenger has the chance to oust Europhile MPs of any other party.

This means the Tories could pick up votes from Ukip supporters in the traditionally Labour heartlands in the north and the midlands, as well as in several London marginal constituencies.

Out of the 50 Labour constituencies with the smallest majorities in 2015, 23 will have no Ukip candidate. If the former Ukip voters defect mainly to the Tories, this could cost Labour a significant number of seats.

Labour MPs considered at risk from Ukip’s decision not to field a candidate include Cat Smith, a Corbyn ally and shadow minister defending a majority of just 1,265 in her Lancashire seat where Ukip received more than 4,000 votes in 2015.

The seat with Labour’s smallest majority is the City of Chester, where Chris Matherson will defend a majority of just 93 votes in a constituency where Ukip won more than 4,000 votes in 2015.

And Ukip is not fielding a candidate in Ilford North, where Labour’s pro-Remain candidate Wes Steering holds a slim majority of 589, and where Ukip won over 4,000 votes in 2015.

Also at risk from the danger of purple-to-blue conversion could be Peter Kyle in Hove, Tulip Siddiq in Hampstead and Kilburn, Paula Sheriff in Dewsbury, Mary Creagh in Wakefield and Helen Goodman in Bishop Aukland.

Caroline Flint, the Labour MP in Don Valley and former frontbencher, could also be at risk, along with Tracy Brabin who was elected for the Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen following the murder of Jo Cox.

Analysis by BuzzFeed found the Conservatives will pick up 29 seats where Ukip is not fielding a candidate if eight of ten former Ukippers vote for the Tories.

The SNP’s Calum Kerr and Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb could also suffer from the lack of Ukip candidate in their constituency.

Mr Nuttall said Ukip is doing “the noble thing” in not contesting seats where there are serving Eurosceptic MPs – including in seats such as Vauxhall, held by Labour’s Kate Hoey who campaigned for Leave.

He said: “Where branches have campaigned with candidates or MPs on Vote Leave platforms... they would have taken a decision to stand down to ensure we get as many Brexit MPs into the House of Commons. I think it is a very noble thing to do, to put country above party.”

But he denied the party’s decision not to field candidates will hand certain victory to the Conservatives.

“I am confident that our poll ratings will go up as the campaign progresses but there are a huge bank of people in the north, in the midlands and in working class communities in the south who will never ever vote Conservative. Period.”

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