Opinion: General election 2015 – The rise of UKIP and the Tory decapitation strategy

Looking across the change in vote share at the General Election (analysing data from here) reveals that the Liberal Democrat vote was down 15.3 percentage points (pps) on average, but down slightly more in constituencies where the Lib Dems won in 2010 (15.7 pps). Excluding Scotland from these latter figures shows the Libs Dems were down by 16.8 percentage points.

The biggest winner was UKIP, both in England and Wales (up 10.9 pps) and in former Lib Dem constituencies (up 7.6 pps). The Liberal Democrats need to understand why so many previous voters switched to UKIP.

The Conservatives were up 1.1 pps overall, but actually down 0.5 pps in Lib Dem seats. However, in England and Wales this turns into a gain, albeit just 0.7 pps and again lower than their overall improvement. The Conservatives gained most ground against the Lib Dems in the South West, up 3.8 pps overall, and up 4.3 pps in seats the Lib Dems had previously won.

In the regions where the Conservatives gained seats from the Lib Dems, it was UKIP that made the biggest percentage point gains. Most striking were 4 seats in the South East that the Lib Dems lost to the Conservatives. Here the latter gained an average of just 1.2 pps, Labour gained 4.3 pps and UKIP gained a whopping 10.0 pps. Even the Greens gained more than the Conservatives in the South East, up 3.8 pps. A divided anti-Tory vote enabled the Conservatives to gain seats.

The Labour Party gained 3.4 pps in England and Wales, but 6.2 pps in former Lib Dem seats, which was the second best improvement behind UKIP (7.6 pps). Labour fared best in former Lib Dem seats in Yorkshire (up 14.2 pps in 3 seats, where the Tory vote was down 11.2 pps to help the Lib Dems save 2 of these seats), London (up 10.1 pps in 7 seats, with the Tories still taking 3 of these seats), and the East of England (up 7.6 pps in 4 seats). So Labour attracted a larger share of Lib Dem voters than the Conservatives did, but this did not translate into as many seats gained.

In the former Lib Dem stronghold of the South West, the Lib Dems lost 19.5 pps, which was only slightly better in their former seats, down 19.1 pps. UKIP was up 9.2 pps across the region, and up 7.2 in former Lib Dem seats. By contrast, as above, the Tories were up 4.3 pps in former Lib Dem seats. So the Tories were more successful here against the Lib Dems than elsewhere, but any “decapitations” were executed more as a result of the dramatic rise in UKIP’s share of the vote.

So the Lib Dem vote splintered five ways, with the Conservatives gaining seats on the back of this phenomenon, even as they saw the smallest gain in their share of the vote. These numbers would clearly suggest that the Liberal Democrats need to galvanise “anti-establishment” sentiment in order to increase their vote.

* Ed Moisson joined the Liberal Democrats on 2nd June 2015

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30 Comments

  • This doesn’t take account the “churn” behind the net changes in vote share. My suspicion would be that the Lib Dems lost a significant proportion of their soft “vote for your friendly local Lib Dem MP” vote directly to the Conservatives in the face of the deficit and “vote Labour/Lib Dem get SNP” scares, while at the same time the Conservatives lost a chunk of their right flank to UKIP.

  • Simon Danzer 2nd Jul '15 - 9:48am

    All this analysis. Not really needed as the LibDems lost votes for two simple to understand reasons.
    1 they were the home of the protest vote. If you don’t want to vote Labour or Tory then the LibDems got your vote. UKIP gained all these in 2015.
    2 the LibDem manifesto in 2010 was more left wing than Labour, and gained many left wing votes accordingly. Not surprisingly these voters feel completely betrayed by you joining the coalition, exactly against what their vote stood for. So they headed back to Labour.
    Next election will, if you play your cards right, see you re-established as the protest vote party and your share of the vote increase accordingly. But don’t kid yourself it is all to do with LibDem policies. Voters just need somewhere to say no to the big two parties.

  • David Howarth 2nd Jul '15 - 9:59am

    Ed
    Good stuff and glad to see someone else using the BES data. I’m not sure, however, about one thing. You say, “So the Tories were more successful here against the Lib Dems than elsewhere, but any “decapitations” were executed more as a result of the dramatic rise in UKIP’s share of the vote.” If you do a crosstabulation of these figures with how these voters said they voted in 2010 (using the variable ‘profile_past_vote_2010’, if you have the data) you’ll see a big leakage of votes from the Conservatives to UKIP, a leakage of around the same size as our own direct losses to UKIP. So even if UKIP hadn’t gone up in the way it did, it’s likely that we would still have lost these seats. The five-way wipe out you mention is certainly reflected in the data, but it’s worth saying that in terms of net losses compared to 2010, it looks as if the damage was done more by Labour than by anyone else.
    There’s also a hint in the BES pre-election data of our voters staying at home and 2010 abstainers turning up to vote Conservative, though we’ll have to wait for the next wave of the BES (the post-election face-to-face survey) to be able to say more about that.

  • John Tilley 2nd Jul '15 - 10:44am

    Thanks Ed Moisson for an article based on the facts as presented by a serious study.
    Three points in your piece leap out at me —

    1. A divided anti-Tory vote enabled the Conservatives to gain seats.
    2. In the former Lib Dem stronghold of the South West, the Lib Dems lost 19.5 pps……… So the Tories were more successful here against the Lib Dems than elsewhere…,
    3. …Liberal Democrats need to galvanise “anti-establishment” sentiment in order to increase their vote

  • Good article. I’ve been trying to point this out on various threads for ages, It’s important because there is a prevailing myth that the Conservatives crushed the opposition when it was really a default win caused mostly by the Lib Dem Collapse. and vote splits.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '15 - 12:30pm

    Glenn

    It’s important because there is a prevailing myth that the Conservatives crushed the opposition when it was really a default win caused mostly by the Lib Dem Collapse. and vote splits.

    It was Labour who crushed the LibDems. One only had to see what this was going to lead to in the general election when one looked at what it had already led to in local government – councils which had historically been Conservative dominated but where the LibDems had gained control, or were in joint control with Labour, reverting to the Conservatives.

    Of course it was tempting for Labour to turn their attacks on the Liberal Democrats as an easy target. They needed to have thought through the consequences. Maybe they did and didn’t care, maybe they preferred to have a majority Tory government so long as they were the unchallenged opposition to it.

    Labour made attacks on the LibDems for “propping up the Tories” while simultaneously supporting an electoral system which usually does that even more firmly. When the LibDems did try standing up to the Tories, what they needed was support from Labour to do that – they never got any. Labour played the usual game it plays when in opposition of viciously attacking the government parties for doing things which it knew under the circumstances it would also have had to do if it were in government. It was my revulsion at seeing the damage that can cause which led me to adopt a policy of constructive rather than destructive opposition when I found myself leading the opposition to Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham – and it didn’t do us any harm in terms of vote growth, although I was criticised for being “weak” for doing it.

    What is most galling is to have faced five years of Labour attacking us for going along with right-wing economic policies (many of which were initialised by the Blair government), only to find in their leadership election now all but one of the contenders rushing to say that what Labour needs to do to succeed is to become more right wing economically.

  • Matthew,
    I think tat’s an oversimplification. Labour’s main stance was that it was a conservative government and that the Lib Dems were basically a sideshow. Also it looks like voters switched to Labour because they didn’t want a continuation of the coalition which is what Clegg was campaigning for, Unlike you, I don’t believe that the other parties are all powerful or that the electorate is that easily bamboozled. I think the main problem is that voters are voting against governments or parties rather than for positive change, hence low turnouts and lack of trust. The problem with tactical voting is that it relies on an agreement with the electorate and for instance if you have a left leaning base you do note vote for right wing policies or visa versa. The failure to understand this is endemic in progressive politics. Also, there’s way too much People’s popular front of Judea stuff. You can’t spend 5 years attacking a political party and then not expect to be attacked in return which let’s be honest applies as much to the Lib Dems as it does to Labour. Pre election every second article LDV seemed to be attacks on the SNP, The Greens and Labour based on rhetoric that seamed to be borrowed from the Daily Mail to the point were it backed up the Conservative’s fear mongering.
    That’s not to excuse Labour, I don’t vote for them, but simply to point out where I think the Lib Dems went wrong. Over all, I think voters need to be wooed not scared . Here what I think, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas just because the alternative isThanks Giving.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jul '15 - 3:28pm

    If Matthew Huntbach is correct Labour had a strategy for two general elections, even though they knew about the five year fixed term parliament. If so, Ed Miliband’s resignation was justified on that criterion alone.

    The above is a good article, but we need to move on.

    The Tories have over-promised on expensive local capital projects, even in their supposedly “safe” seats, such as Tunbridge Wells. They have already needed to rescind spending promises on rail. Tory MPs who made spending committments are starting to look to their constituents rather than their party leader or local whip.

    The Tories do have a surprising and increasing amount of support from Labour at the moment, despite their leadership election. We should focus on this in our Focusses.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '15 - 6:19pm

    Glenn

    Also it looks like voters switched to Labour because they didn’t want a continuation of the coalition which is what Clegg was campaigning for.

    As you know, I am no supporter of Nick Clegg and the image he was putting across of the Liberal Democrats, so please do not respond to me with arguments that presume I was.

    Clegg himself did not say that the only coalition he would accept post-election was one with the Conservatives, and many Liberal Democrats made it clear they did not want that option. The official line was equal between the two, with the assumption that initial negotiations on a coalition would be with whichever was the largest of the two in terms of seats. So, voting LibDem in a constituency that previously was Conservative v. LibDem with Labour in poor third place was a vote which if successful would have reduced the number of Conservatives and so made a Labour-led government more likely. Voting Labour in such a constituency in order to “punish” the Liberal Democrats was in effect a vote for the Tories.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '15 - 6:20pm

    Glenn

    Unlike you, I don’t believe that the other parties are all powerful or that the electorate is that easily bamboozled.

    But they were bamboozled, that is why we have a majority Conservative government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '15 - 6:23pm

    Glenn

    You can’t spend 5 years attacking a political party and then not expect to be attacked in return which let’s be honest applies as much to the Lib Dems as it does to Labour.

    Yes, and I myself have been just as critical of Clegg and the Cleggies for doing this.

    You may find it hard to understand, but just because I don’t like Labour and I remain a member of the Liberal Democrats does not mean I like Nick Clegg and the image he was putting across of the party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '15 - 6:26pm

    Glenn

    That’s not to excuse Labour, I don’t vote for them, but simply to point out where I think the Lib Dems went wrong.

    Er, yes, and since I spent five years here writing in much more detail about just where the LibDem leadership was getting it wrong and how that was making a difficult situation even more difficult, just perhaps you could give me a bit of credit for it rather than responding as if I am meant to think what you are writing is some amazing revelation that never occurred to me up till now.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jul '15 - 7:23pm

    Matthew Huntbach – ‘The official line was equal between the two, with the assumption that initial negotiations on a coalition would be with whichever was the largest of the two in terms of seats.’

    That was the official line and, of course, that was sensible. That said I took the line about, ‘add heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one’ as being (at least) a tacit nod to the Conservatives. I don’t know whether I’m just over-reading or if perhaps I’m just wrong. But I did not see that line as neutral and if it irritated some Labour-leaning voters I could certainly see why.

    I have to admit that I didn’t see that Cameron was going after the LDP vote so strongly. I suppose I should have twigged when he turned up in places like Yeovil and Twickenham that he was trying to copy what Angela Merkel did to the FDP.

    Generally, the lesson from this election seems to me to be vote CON, get CON.

    Anyway, I’ll let you shout at me now.

  • Matthew,
    I don’t think anything I write is an amazing revelation. I’m not an egomaniac. It’s not like I get up in the morning and think, well, you know what’s missing in the world. my wisdom.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jul '15 - 8:46pm

    @Glenn

    “…. it looks like voters switched to Labour because they didn’t want a continuation of the coalition which is what Clegg was campaigning for,”

    This is completely incorrect. Voters saw it as a Conservative government propped up by a largely-irrelevant Lib Dem Party. Hardly surprising really since the Tories, Labour and even UKIP (who didn’t want to let the Tories off the hook for being ‘constrained’ by Lib Dems) were all saying this was the case and the media were mostly implying it was true if not saying so outright.

    People didn’t want to switch to Labour ‘against Nick Clegg’s campaign for coalition’ people overwhelmingly voted according to whether or not they wanted a Tory government or a Labour-SNP government. Virtually no one was listening to Nick Clegg’s line on a continuing coalition, not least the Lib Dem MPs, many of whom did not want such a thing to happen, certainly not on the kind of terms they’d anticipate Nick Clegg going along with – so no one was basing teir judgment on that issue. Not even in Hallam where the Lib Dems basically campaigned for “Clegg to stop Labour” thus losing virtually all the past ‘Soft Labour’ votes they’d ever had with the Tory vote collapsing..

  • Tony
    Which is more or less what I said in the first place If you read the line you quote in context of the one proceeding it. Anyway, it’s people arguing over old Tombs.

  • Moving on as we have to, just coming round after seeing the victory at Hampton Wick last night. Congrats all round. Wonder if the Airport extension was a reason.

  • John Tilley 3rd Jul '15 - 8:18am

    Tony Dawson 2nd Jul ’15 – 8:46pm
    “…Not even in Hallam where the Lib Dems basically campaigned for “Clegg to stop Labour” thus losing virtually all the past ‘Soft Labour’ votes they’d ever had with the Tory vote collapsing..”

    Yes, the Hallam result is fascinating. If you look at the make of the local population , it ought to be one of the least Labour seats in the country and the Labour Party has never elected an MP there. Yet this year they came within 2,500 votes of winning, going up from 16% to 38% of the vote.
    The wider Sheffield results in the 2015 general election have a clear message for Liberal Democrats. In the other 4 constituencies we dropped from 2nd to 4th place.
    In Sheffied Central, where LDV ‘s Joe Otten was candidate, there was a spectacular decline by 31% in the Liberal Democrat vote. This was approximately twice the drop in Liberal Democrat support across the rest of England.

    Whatever else the 2015 general election results tell us it is that in the City of Sheffield the only people who liked what Nick Clegg had done as leader of the party were the traditionally Conservative voters of Hallam.

    My guess is that Conservative strategists planning for 2020 will not be ignoring this fact.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul '15 - 8:52am
  • peter tyzack 3rd Jul '15 - 10:20am

    This thesis, and many others, predicates on the assumption that most of the movement was voters switching allegiance. To simplistic to be reliable, unless you are just into numbers.
    Many of the Ukip votes were people who hadn’t voted before and were inspired by Nigel’s snake-oil to come out and vote for once(some for the first time ever). Many Liberal Democrat former voters had been voting with us ‘to keep the Tory out’ just went back to voting Labour as they used to, but equally many of our former supporters just didn’t vote atall. Our new strategy must be to inspire the latter, and to work on those who never vote because there’s no point or ‘you’re all the same’.. ie showing our differences, with our new inspiring Leader.

  • David Evershed 3rd Jul '15 - 11:28am

    UKIP gained votes from other parties because of their recognition that immigration and its impact on housing and public services in some specific localities.

    The Lib Dem open door policy to EU citizens will also have been a reason to switch from Lib Dem to UKIP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '15 - 12:54pm

    Little Jackie Paper

    That was the official line and, of course, that was sensible. That said I took the line about, ‘add heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one’ as being (at least) a tacit nod to the Conservatives.

    Oh sure, very much so.

    It’s indicative of what I felt throughout the Coalition years – trapped between the Labour Party and the Cleggies, who seemed to be working together to destroy the party I have spent my life helping build up. It’s what I’ve been saying again and again – I think a lot of Labour’s attacks on the LibDems during the time of the Coalition were unfair, as they did not take into account the difficulty of the situation, and yet Clegg and the Cleggies seemed determined to do and say things which gave weight to these attacks.

    The line ‘add heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one’ at first seems neutral, but it most definitely is not. It is as you say, so it was hugely damaging to the Liberal Democrats, as was much else which destroyed the position we needed to be in of being neutral between Labour and the Conservatives. What it is essentially saying is that Labour mean well but have the wrong policies, and the Conservatives have the right policies and just need a bit more human touch. Well, given a choice between someone who means well but gets it wrong, and someone who has it right but is a bit cold, who would you choose? Coming out with that line was little short of asking Liberal Democrats to distribute leaflets saying “Vote Conservative”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '15 - 4:36pm

    Glenn

    Matthew,
    I don’t think anything I write is an amazing revelation. I’m not an egomaniac. It’s not like I get up in the morning and think, well, you know what’s missing in the world. my wisdom.

    The point is that the criticisms you were making of “the Liberal Democrats” were almost all criticisms I have made myself, and surely you have seen me making them. So it seemed to me you were just replying to my point by stating points I had myself made previously, yet you seemed to be making those points in a way that just did not acknowledge the position I have been setting out here, day in day out, since May 2015.

    This is part of the problem, because you make these as criticisms of “the Liberal Democrats”, while I make them as criticisms of what I call “the Cleggies”. It would have helped enormously during the time of the Coalition if there had been some acknowledgement outside of the fact that plenty of us inside the Liberal Democrats were unhappy with Clegg’s leadership and unhappy with the sort of image of the party the people he surrounded himself were putting across. Yet what happened is that all of us in the Liberal Democrats were attacked mercilessly from the outside as if we were all fanatical Cleggies, in your message of 1.20pm yesterday, there you were, doing it again.

    If those of us who were unhappy with Clegg and the Cleggies could have pointed to outside support for our position, so we could show that it would help the party if it went our way, we perhaps would have had more chance of fighting back internally. But we had none, our very existence was not even acknowledged. As a consequence, Clegg and the Cleggies were able to launch factional attacks on us, claiming we were unrealistic, claiming that no-one was interested in what we were saying, claiming that all the votes we’d worked for decades to win were just “borrowed from Labour”, and should be returned to Labour, and we should go with them.

    If our position was acknowledged, and those MPs and candidates who stood up against the Cleggies were acknowledged and given support from outside, it would have encouraged more to do so. But it was clear instead that Labour’s tactic was to paint us all as Cleggies to get us all destroyed. It was so sad to see people who I know were very unhappy with the Clegg leadership lose votes and seats just as much as his cheerleaders thanks to the “nah nah nah nah nah”s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jul '15 - 4:52pm

    Richard Underhill

    The Tories do have a surprising and increasing amount of support from Labour at the moment, despite their leadership election.

    Little Jackie Paper

    I have to admit that I didn’t see that Cameron was going after the LDP vote so strongly. I suppose I should have twigged when he turned up in places like Yeovil and Twickenham that he was trying to copy what Angela Merkel did to the FDP.

    We call it the “Old Pal’s Act”. See how the Old Pals worked together in the AV referendum. See all those Labour people cheering for their Old Pals when Liberal Democrat MPs lost their seats to them. What Labour and the Tories want is for the country to be carved up between them. Labour can’t stand the idea of an alternative opposition, and will always do what it can to destroy it, even if that hands power to the Tories. As many Tories are in places that were (until the Cleggies destroyed our party) Conservative v. LibDem politically, of course we are the opposition to them.

  • John Tilley 3rd Jul '15 - 5:31pm

    David Evershed 3rd Jul ’15 – 11:28am
    “UKIP gained votes from other parties because …..”

    David Evershed
    Is your own hunch, an inspired guess , or does it relate to the analysis pointed to by Ed Moisson, David Howarth or in the link provided by Bill Le Breton?

    The last one relating just to Liberal Democrat seats held before 2015 —
    http://www.socialliberal.net/lib_dem_seats_in_2010_5_where_did_the_votes_go_part_1_of_2

    The variation in support for UKiP between seats as shown in various studies seems to suggest otherwise. For example UKIP supports slow in London which provides a home to more EU citizens than elsewhere in the country.

    It is also reasonable to ask you why you think UKIP suddenly increased its support in some places in 2015 but not in any of the previous general elections during the 20 years of UKIP’s existence. You might also want to consider why the BNP has not been more popular with an almost identical policy to that of UKIP.

    You might also want to consider why the SNP was very successful in 2015 with a policy towards EU migration even more welcoming than that of the Liberal Democrats. That fact rather seems to fly in the face of our assertion, wouldn’t you agree?

  • Peter Galton 3rd Jul '15 - 5:45pm

    There are so many reason why are vote fell back. If we look at results from the past both in Britain and else where we will see that the Junior Coalition never get gets any credit and polls badly. The Progressive Democrats suffered when in Coalition with our now partners Fianna Fail. Members of my own family although voted for us in the local elections, voted Conservative, because the Lib Dems could not win and that they could not trust Labour with the Economy.

  • Matthew Huntbach I’m sorry but I simply do not understand what you are saying. How could the support of people outside the Lib Dem Party would have encouraged others within the Party to also stand up to the Cleggites but if people within the Party cannot persuad their fellow Party members to rebel against Clegg et al, how could people from outside the Party, and from another Party to boot, do so? I’m genuinely perplexed!

    In fact, there was a bit of a rebellion after the Euro election, fronted by Jonathon Pile and others but if they could not petsuade sufficient other LibDems to join them, how could Labour have done so?

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jul '15 - 10:54am

    On Sundays we may be catching up with the huge volume of newsprint that we collected on Saturday.
    Internet users need to pay, but please see The Times, 4 July 2015, pages 32-33 about the general election.

    The Tory Party had a deficit of £28 million and has raised £250 million.

    Please quote Shirley Williams on money, again and again and again, … ..

    George Osborne has also admitted, on the Andrew Marr show on BBC1, that he expected to fall short of a majoriy.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jul '15 - 3:09pm

    What Labour’s interim leader said on the Sunday Politics on 12/7/2015 has caused a storm in the Labour Party and the media, with some backtracking.

    This should not be allowed to obscure the interviews about a rebellion after the May 2014 election results.

    The interview with Nick Clegg ended with comment about Greece and Putin which should be taken seriously.
    The Deputy Prime Minister saw all the same papers as the Prime Minister, including security issues.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Feb '16 - 9:44am

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