Attacking UKIP

I have to say that I was a little surprised by the way that Leanne focused on UKIP at Plaid Cymru's spring conference last weekend. It goes without saying that UKIP is a party which fully deserves criticism for its anti-EU and anti-immigration policies, but I wondered why we would want to single them out for criticism.

Fairly obviously, the context for Leanne's concern is the European Parliament election which is now only a couple of months away on 22 May. The last European election was in 2009 and, as a reminder, these were the results for Wales:

Conservative ... 21.2%
Labour ... 20.3%
Plaid Cymru ... 18.5%
UKIP ... 12.8%
LibDems ... 10.7%
Greens ... 5.6%

BBC, 2009 European Election Results

It seems hard to believe that Labour could do quite so badly in any election in Wales, but these were the dire days immediately following the 2008 banking collapse, and the Labour government in Westminster was all but dead on its feet.

Now, after nearly four years of the Tories and LibDems in power at Westminster, and with UKIP playing a political tune that both the Tories and Labour seem more than willing to dance to, the polls are indicating a very different result. This is from the YouGov ITV Wales political barometer, with the changes from the December poll in brackets:

Labour ... 39% (-2%)
UKIP ... 18% (+5%)
Conservative ... 17% (-3%)
Plaid Cymru ... 12% (-1%)
LibDems ... 7% (-5%)

Wales Political Barometer, February 2014

If this poll is anywhere near accurate, then the chances of Jill Evans retaining her seat look very bleak. This is how the seats would be distributed:

First seat ... Labour ... 39%
Second seat ... Labour ... 19.5%
Third seat ... UKIP ... 18%
Fourth seat ... Conservative ... 17%

Notional fifth seat ... Labour ... 13%
Notional sixth seat ... Plaid Cymru ... 12%
Notional seventh seat ... Labour ... 9.75%
Notional eighth seat ... UKIP ... 9%
Notional ninth seat ... Conservative ... 8.5%
Notional tenth seat ... Labour ... 7.8%
Notional eleventh seat ... LibDems ... 7%

There are, of course, only four Welsh seats available, but I've gone down the list to show how the voting system works. We in Plaid might comfort ourselves by thinking we are fourth in the polls and are therefore in with a shout for the fourth seat, and the LibDems might comfort themselves by saying they are fifth. But for the LibDems it is such a poor fifth place that they would only win a seat if Wales had eleven seats, and Plaid would only win a seat if Wales had six seats.

So in practical terms we can forget about the LibDems because they don't stand any chance of winning a seat. However there is a chance that Plaid can hold onto a seat, but only if we understand what we need to do to win and, in particular, where to target our attack.


The overall picture is that Labour are way out in front, and there is probably very little that will prevent them from easily topping the poll in Wales. There is also very little doubt that Plaid are not doing too well in the polls, for both UKIP and the Tories are ahead of us. In order to hold on to our seat, we must therefore do two things:

     Ensure that Labour don't get more than three times as many votes as Plaid
     Get more votes than either the Tories or UKIP

The first is not so big an ask. At 12%, Plaid are only marginally short of a third of Labour's share of the vote at 39%. We only have to up our share of the vote by a couple of percentage points to do it.

But the second is more problematic. It involves making the right tactical judgement about whether we need to beat the Tories or UKIP. In my opinion we should be aiming to beat the Tories rather than UKIP.

We should be under no illusion about UKIP's popularity. They are doing better in the polls than they have ever done before, and they always do better in European elections than they do in any other elections. For what it's worth, I think that UKIP are quite likely to top the poll in England, although I think they might fall short of topping the poll in the UK as a whole. Compared with the December poll, UKIP are already up 5% points ... and I think that rise will continue. When Nigel Farage has his big TV showdown with Nick Clegg on 2 April, is anyone in any doubt who will come out on top? Not even the Guardian is in any doubt about it. That's not because Farage will win the argument, but because UKIP have only two, simple points to make (anti-EU and anti-immigration) and he will just hammer them home relentlessly.

Plaid's tacticians therefore need to make this judgement. If UKIP's popularity is on the rise, then it is the Tories that we should be turning our fire on, not UKIP. At present, we seem to be focusing our attack on the wrong target.


To put things into perspective, we need to understand where UKIP's vote comes from. Helpfully, YouGov have just conducted a poll to ask this very question. The details are here, but in general those who are most likely to vote UKIP are very or fairly right wing, working class Tories, men over 60, and readers of the Daily Express or Daily Mail. No big surprise.


In terms of previous political affiliation, UKIP draw the majority of their new support from those who used to vote Tory. Disaffected Tory defectors to UKIP outnumber LibDem defectors by three to one, and Labour defectors by four to one.


These figures are important for this reason. Let's assume that potential UKIP voters take notice of Plaid's attack and decide to change their vote in May because of it. Who will they vote for instead? Very clearly, most of them will vote Tory. People primarily vote for UKIP because they are strongly anti-EU, so if they don't vote UKIP most of them will probably vote for the party that is the next most Euro-sceptic ... the Tories. But it is the Tories that we need to beat for Jill Evans to retain her seat. Therefore concentrating our attack on UKIP is in fact counterproductive. We can see this from the February Political Barometer: UKIP have risen 5% points since December, and that increase was primarily at the expense of the Tories, who lost 3% points.

As I see it, this is the sort of result we should be looking for:

Labour ... 36%
UKIP ... 23%
Plaid Cymru ... 15%
Conservative ... 14%
LibDems ... 6%

First seat ... Labour ... 36%
Second seat ... UKIP ... 23%
Third seat ... Labour ... 18%
Fourth seat ... Plaid Cymru ... 15%

Notional fifth seat ... Conservative ... 14%

This simply requires the same 5% point increase in UKIP's share of the vote as we have seen since December, coupled with the same 3% fall in the Tory share of the vote in the same period. All we then need to do is pick up a few percentage points on our own merits to just beat the Tories to the fourth seat. It's tight, but it can be done.

If it seems unlikely that the Tories should slip from topping the poll in Wales 2009 with 21.2% to losing their seat only five years later, the explanation is almost entirely to do with who is in power at Westminster. Labour, with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and with an economy in freefall, were terribly unpopular in 2009 ... and a good part of the Labour-Tory floating vote went to the Tories as part of the normal Labour-Tory swing. Now the pendulum has swung the other way and the Tories (with their LibDem little helpers) are unpopular after four years of austerity for the poor and tax breaks for the well off. So of course the Tories are likely to lose support in Wales.


To be clear, I'm certainly not saying that Leanne was wrong to attack UKIP last weekend. UKIP's policies are diametrically opposite to those of Plaid, so of course we need to speak out against them. But what surprised me was that we should focus an attack on UKIP, but not put anywhere near the same effort into attacking Labour and, especially, the Tories.

With Labour so far out in front and all but guaranteed to win two seats in May, we need to beat either the Tories or UKIP in order for Jill to keep her seat. In this particular election there is no doubt that UKIP will do better than the Tories ... even in Wales. It therefore makes more tactical sense to concentrate our attack to pick off the weaker party rather than the stronger one.

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

This is a seriously stupid analysis. Attacking UKIP or the Tories for that matter doesn't stop people voting for those parties - Plaid Cymru and the Right Wing parties don't fish in the same pool for votes & their voters won't act on the instructions of Leanne Wood. But highlighting the UKIP threat to the Plaid electorate is a way of ensuring that they come out to vote - these people don't like UKIP one little bit. This election is all about turnout - & effective electoral strategy needs to address turnout more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Or, on the other hand, it's a seriously intelligent analysis precisely because MH realises that "Plaid Cymru and the Right Wing parties don't fish in the same pool for votes".

Anonymous said...

Rather over anxious not to tread on any toes.

Free speech without fear of retribution ......... not here in Plaid Cymru Wales. Just ask MH!

Anonymous said...

"This is a seriously stupid analysis. Attacking UKIP or the Tories for that matter doesn't stop people voting for those parties - Plaid Cymru and the Right Wing parties don't fish in the same pool for votes & their voters won't act on the instructions of Leanne Wood"

You really don't understand Plaid voters anon 07.32. Just because the leadership takes a pro EU, pro immigration stance doesn't mean that ALL natural Plaid voters share that position.

Take a look at the cross tabulations in the poll quoted by MH. As you would expect, 18% of Tory voters at Assembly constituency elections will vote UKIP in the EU elections. No surprises there. Second most likely party to switch from main party allegiance to UKIP for EU polls? Plaid, 17%.

If there was a referendum on membership of the EU? 34% of Plaid Constituency voters would vote to leave the EU.

Leanne needs to bring more Plaid voters round to her way of a certain extent all political parties "fish in the same pool" because people actually "Rank" their concerns in order and act on the most relevant according to the situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a Plaid focus on UKIP is a bit strange, mostly because all the UK parties will be doing most of the attacking on the UK media (particularly the Tories if they've got any sense). UKIP has had a free ride from the London parties for too long. The gloves will have to come off soon or the Tories face melt-down and the Labour Party will not achieve a marginal victory in 2015.

I anticipate that 'UKIP bashing' will be the main thrust of the campaign in England and therefore for Plaid to expend its valuable political capital on an already noisy field is a waste.

Anon makes a fair point about ensuring turnout of core Plaid vote, but I'm not sure that has to be irrevocably tied up with a UKIP centric campaign.

I see this as a fairly conventional campaign for Plaid, attacking the soft underbelly of Labour votes in the valleys and in industrial Bro Gymraeg (probably on the basis of Welsh domestic politics - health, education, etc. and 'red-toryism'), ferociously going for the Liberal vote in rural mid-Wales (on the basis of Cleggism) and maintaining the hard anti-Tory message everywhere (probably on the basis of Etonism).

There are Labour and Liberal votes out there fore Plaid to take (as shown by council by-elections over the last two years) but they have to be won.

Anonymous said...

Don't fish in the same pool? As a life-long Plaid voter I'm seriously considering voting UKIP at the Euro election. Why? Because democracy tops my list of concerns and like Tony Benn I consider the EU to be a deeply undemocratic force. Guess I'm a fish out of water.

Anonymous said...

I welcome this analysis. UKIP has already sailed ahead and retained its Welsh seat. It will do much better in England than in Wales of course.

With all that said its Labour's big increase that has ousted Plaid. Lab +1 and Plaid -1 will be the seat changes. Plaid has a lot of work to do to chime with more mainstream Welsh opinion. But doing that work will be a rewarding process. The consolation really, as bitter as this may sound, is that Wales as a whole does not feel like a confident nation at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I think Leanne was absolutely right to target UKIP in her speech.

Let's not forget that UKIP could well top the UK poll- not just because of this latent anti-EU feeling but also because of the general disgust at the political class in general. I also have a feeling that the closing of the gap in the Scottish Referendum will well make people in England feel that they too need change on big scale and voting UKIP is a way of registering that feeling. The televised debate between Farage and Clegg is sure to bolster their fortunes yet further.

In Wales, I think there is a clear distinction between describing UKIP as a party which is against the Welsh national interest, and taking individual voters' views about Europe seriously- and I believe that this was the point that Leanne was trying to make. Dafydd El's intervention was completely vexatious and completely wrong.

Successful politics surely has to be a balance between asserting the positive aspects associated with your own party and alerting the electorate in no uncertain terms about the shortcomings and failures of opposition parties. If we took Dafydd Els's dictum about never being negative about other parties seriously, how could we for instance, make use of the fact that the Labour Party have mis-ruled Wales for almost a century, and how could we educate the public about the catalogue of misgovernance and incompetence that has characterized Labour rule in Wales over the years?

Plaid Cymru have to alert our own supporters about the threat of UKIP and ensure that they see the need to get out and vote at this election. At the same time we need to force UKIP to articulate their position on Wales and the very existence of a Welsh Senedd, as there is a good deal of ambivalence within their ranks about this issue. Welshness can never not be an issue in Welsh politics, and it is even more important when one considers UKIP and what they stand for.

Plaid Cymru need to hammer home this message whilst also assuring people that they do take people's views on the EU seriously. They need to tell the voters that PC would represent the Welsh National Interest above everything else, and where the Welsh National Interest necessitates being critical about aspects of Europe, then that has to be articulated clearly. The message should be" Let's change the way that Europe works- but let's do that in a way that benefits Wales first and foremost". This could be handily linked to PC's new idea of inviting the private sector to lead the process of handling the next tranch of European money to regenerate West Wales and the Valleys. An argument could be made: both the EU and Labour failed to make use of these funds properly last time, so let's reform things to benefit Wales properly this time round.

As a grassroots member of Plaid who has a lot of concerns about the empire-building going on within the EU and the lack of transparency and democracy at the heart of the project, I want these shortcomings to be flagged up- in a way that serves Wales and does not diminish Wales.

Aled GJ

Anonymous said...

Of course those who are against the EU don't have to vote UKIP, there's always Bob Crow's No2Eu party.

MH said...

I didn't really want to talk about Dafydd El, and what I've written wasn't in response to it. It was a response to Leanne's speech. But as Aled has taken the trouble to write quite a long comment, I'll try to respond to what he says.

Firstly, I think it goes without saying that we shouldn't think twice about attacking the policies of our political opponents, so I don't have any problem with attacking UKIP's. The point I was making is that I don't think it was wise, tactically, to single out UKIP for attack.


If Plaid's position is that we are the only party that always puts Wales first, it only makes sense to the extent that the other parties operate on a UK-wide basis, and therefore that they will put the interests of the UK first if there is any conflict of interest between what is best for the UK as a whole and what is best for Wales. But that is in some respects no more than a slogan. It doesn't always stand up to scrutiny.

It falls down because there is no unquestionable, objective measure of what is best for Wales. So all it can really mean in practice is our idea of what is best for Wales – and we all have different opinions about that, even those of us who genuinely put Wales first. That is what politics is all about: people having different ideas about what is best for Wales (we call them policies) and then trying to persuade voters that our vision of what is best for Wales is better than the other versions.

We then have to accept that, for some people, what is best for Wales is different and sometimes diametrically opposite to what we think is best for Wales. That is why I believe it was not particularly helpful to say that a vote for UKIP is "a vote against Wales". The problem is that it was too general an attack, and that it would have been better to be more specific about which policies of UKIP we consider to be against the Welsh national interest ... in just the same way as we should be specific about which policies of the Tories, Labour and the LibDems are against the Welsh national interest.

The second thing I would say is linked to that. I would ask: "Why, precisely, are we not also saying that a vote for the Tories is "a vote against Wales", or that a vote for Labour is "a vote against Wales"? In general terms, surely all the Unionist parties' views about Wales are just variations on the same theme? And if (as I'm sure it is) our answer to that is that UKIP's policies are worse than those of other Unionist parties, then we need to spell out which of their policies are worse for Wales.


Nevertheless, I do think Dafydd went too far when he said, "It is facile and assumes a kind of superiority that we decide who is Welsh and who is not Welsh." Leanne certainly didn't do that. So why he is using that as a justification for what he said is beyond me. There is probably a far deeper agenda, and this is a small part that has been brought to the surface.

As most people will know, I have long regarded Dafydd as at best a semi-detached member of Plaid who should have retired years ago. He was OK as Llywydd because, in that role, he needed to be neutral rather than party political. But he should not have tried to become party political all over again after he stepped down as Llywydd. It would have been better all round if he took that opportunity to retire, and I still hope he does decide to retire in 2016. To use the words of a great man who died today, he could retire to “spend more time involved with politics”.

Anonymous said...

Because of the wider UK/EU dynamics this is an election where Plaid has very little to gain and an awful lot to lose, and to a certain extent the result will not actually be very reflective of any underlying change in support for Plaid or not.

The UK (London) media decided several years ago now that this was going to be a contest between 'in' and 'out' of Europe, between the honest pint-drinking man on the street and the UK political establishment. The script was written years ago.

Whether we like it or not Plaid has no real place in that Fleet Street and Sky/BBC sponsored extravaganza. In street fights of that sort you keep away from the thugs knocking chunks out of each other in the middle and pick off a few wins where you can. If you come out of it unscathed and possibly with one or wins you've had a great day.

For me that is still Labour in the valleys, the Lib Dems in rural Wales and the small 'c' Cymry Cymraeg in the North. Get our own solid vote out and make a few inroads in some of these sectors and we'll do alright. I fear that gallant charges into the anti-Farage scrap only really helps Labour and Tories.

Phil Davies

Anonymous said...

If you read between the lines in Dafydd El's comment that "we don't get to decide who is and is not Welsh" what he's really doing is trying to tack on to the fallout from Jonathan Edwards' comment. Possibly knowing that the two issues, Edwards' tweet and the UKIP thing, will get packaged together by the media. I agree with the attack on UKIP but the timing is very unfortunate after the row over the tweet.

MH said...

I'd agree with your analysis about how this election will be viewed, Phil. It will be little more than a "do you approve of the EU" vote, largely because people largely have no comprehension about how the European Parliament works or what the political groupings and issues are. The media (or at least a certain section of it) just what us to see the EU as "unelected bureaucrats". It is because of the way this agenda has been shaped that UKIP will do so well.

Cai on Blog Menai has just quoted a ConRes poll showing that among those would say they are certain to vote, UKIP top the UK-wide poll on 30% with Labour second at 28% and the Tories at 21%. What I would note is that it puts the UKIP well ahead of the Tories, and this just reinforces my contention that it is therefore the Tories that we need to beat in order to hold on to our seat. UKIP are so far ahead of them that they are bound to hold onto their seat in Wales.

Thinking about it some more, the only sense I can make of it is to look at the Political Barometer and note the split of those in favour or against the UK remaining in the EU Of the four parties for which there is a cross-break (Labour, Tories, the LibDems, and Plaid) Plaid voters are second only to the Tories in voting Out in an In/Out EU referendum. And it is worth repeating the point made before by 08:45, that the second biggest leak to UKIP is from Plaid voters. So perhaps Leanne's message last weekend was mostly aimed at Plaid supporters, in effect saying something like, "I know a lot of Plaid voters don't like the EU, and I can therefore understand why some of you might be tempted to vote UKIP in these elections ... but don't!" That might even explain why she described a vote for UKIP as "a vote against Wales" in the sense that such criticism would be water off a duck's back to commited UKIPers, but would hit Plaid supporters where it hurt. It might well have been an attempt to stop some of our vote leaking to UKIP.

And that might well tie in with your idea that we will " do alright" if we get our solid vote out. But I see that as too complacent. I think it is going to be a much more uphill battle than that. I want to stress that we really do have to fight hard for Jill to keep our seat.


As for Dafydd El, I think 10:54 might well have a point. He conflated Leanne's speech with Jonathan's tweet, and therefore saw them as two sides of the same coin.

But I have to say I have some sympathy for him. I don't have any problem with attacking UKIP, but wonder if it was wise to attack UKIP using such terms, for the term "un-Welsh" was apparently used in a Plaid briefing and press release beforehand.

At one level, as I said, it might be OK to attack UKIP's policies as being un-Welsh, provided we are specific about exactly which of their policies we consider to be un-Welsh and why. But it is then only a small step to forget to be specific about the policies and simply describe UKIP as un-Welsh. And then only a small step to describe people who vote UKIP as un-Welsh.

I'd very much hope that nobody in Plaid would go down that path, but it would be all too easy for our political opponents to portray us as thinking that way. Dafydd jumped to conclusions a few steps ahead of what Leanne actually said, but we'd be foolish not to see the danger.

Bill Chapman said...

I hope you'll allow a comment from a Welsh-speaking Labour party activist who is not unsympathetic to Plaid Cymru. I've been out a fair bit this year knocking on doors in Aberconwy. My comments are therefore based on doorstep conversations, rather than opinion polls. Firstly, in my view, it is not true that UKIP and Plaid Cymru are not fishing in the same water. I've met two or three traditional Plaid Cymru people who are intending to vote UKIP. Both Plaid and UKIP are parties of protest, in my view, and attract those disillusioned with current mainstream politics. Indeed the people I've met who are inclined to vote UKIP are not bothered by either Europe or immigration. They are socially conservative people who don't like politicians who drink and drive, fiddle their expenses or who behave in what they see as sexually inappropriate ways. UKIP has vthe virtue of not having a single MP or AM who behaves in those ways so the party can appear clean and be seen as standing up for traditional values.

MH said...

Of course you can comment, Bill. Thanks for the view from the ground in Aberconwy.

I'm not surprised that you've met some Plaid voters that intend to switch to UKIP. The Political Barometer poll said that 17% might do so.

I also think that a lot of UKIP's "promise" is as a result of them not being in power anywhere, and therefore having no track record, and therefore giving people no reason not to vote for them. I suppose that makes them a "protest party" ... but perhaps that could apply to every party in these European elections, because very few people have any perspective on Europeam policitcs, and therefore many people feel free to cast a "wildcard" vote because they feel it won't make any difference to anything that really matters (i.e. jobs, the economy, health, education, etc.). Either that or they stay at home.

But I'd value your views on this: On Sunday Politics yesterday Nigel Farage said, several times, that most of the people who said they were going to switch to UKIP were previous Labour voters. Does that ring true with you? It could be that he was just lying, particularly in the light of the YouGov poll about where UKIP were drawing their support from, as mentioned in the main post, which seems to show the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...

The more poorly educated working class always had a hard right thinking group that voted Labour but held no socially liberal views. If, like me, you had worked a lifetime in heavy industry you would be shocked at the naked racism and intolerant attitude of some tribal Labour voters. The Tories also had an "Alf Garnett" constituency amongst the working class.

Nevertheless its Labour and Libdem voters who are LEAST likely to switch to UKIP. Plaid on the other hand is socially conservative in the heartlands, anti-immigrant and, (surprisingly to me) there is a strong anti-European attitude amongst Plaid's farming vote.

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with the comment above. You've got things mixed up. Plaid will mostly lose votes to UKIP in urban Wales, not in the heartlands. People are anti-European and anti-immigrant in urban Wales and I suppose everywhere else in Wales, but UKIP voting kicks in as a broad protest vote. Plaid Cymru in urban Wales especially has been a receptacle for protest voters (who are not at all Welsh nationalists), especially in the 2009 Euro elections where I was an activist. The Plaid heartland areas will probably have the lowest levels of UKIP support in the whole of the country although that's just an educated guess. We will see UKIP growing strongly in British Wales and maybe in the valleys in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

Roger scully points out that Wales has a greater level of negativity towards Europe than either Scotland or England:-

That's several polls now that show Wales as not particularly enamoured of the European Union. Maybe UKIP isn't really that Un-Welsh?

Post a Comment