Here’s a thought.
The Conservatives need 326 seats for a majority. They took 306; they get another eight from the support of the DUP, putting them on 314 and needing a mere twelve seats to govern. They almost certainly could have counted on the votes of any parties to the right of them which got elected – at least, not too far to the right – which, in practice, means UKIP. UKIP, of course, did not get any MPs.
But how many did they cost the Conservatives? In effect, had UKIP not run, the bulk of their voters could have returned to the Tories – would this have provided Cameron with any extra seats?
The answer, interestingly, is quite a few. There are 22 seats where the Labour MP’s majority is less than the number of votes polled by UKIP, and seven where the Lib Dem MP’s majority is less than the number of votes polled by UKIP. Of those, fifteen of the Labour and and six of the Lib Dem seats were marginals with the Conservatives – potentially, UKIP cost the Conservatives up to twenty-one seats, nine more than the critical number. and enough to govern (just) without needing the DUP.
Now, not all those voters would have returned to the fold. Some would have defected to the BNP – though it did not run in all those constituencies – and those primarily intent on casting an anti-establishment vote would have defected to the other minor parties or stayed at home. Let’s assume that half the UKIP voters defected and the other half cast a mixed ballot of minor parties or abstentions.
In this case, they would have taken three Lib Dem seats and nine Labour seats; enough to either put the Conservatives in power or in a minority position so near to it that a coalition to bring them down would be unworkable.
It’s a surprising result, I have to say – but if we end up with a Con-Lib coalition, a government of the Conservatives essentially tied down from doing anything too stupid by being dependent on a more moderate party for support… we might well have Nigel Farage and his friends to thank for the difference between this and a Conservative government ruling unhindered.
[See here for Part II]