Mark Reckless has taken a second seat for UKIP in a by-election. This is undoubtedly important, both for UK Politics and for Politics students. Nonetheless, you must absolutely bring some reason to the debate in your examinations. Some key facts:
– Mark Reckless held the Rochester and Strood seat previously, with a massive majority. He has simply held his seat.
– He only held his seat by a 3,000 margin
– Turnout was only 50.6%, down from 64.9% in 2010
– Mark Reckless was the first high profile defection to UKIP, therefore it was always going to create a media frenzy
– A swing of less than 4% is required to unseat him
– People vote differently in a by-election was they are much more clearly picking an MP not the next government
I would urge you to view the two seats UKIP have taken in a much different fashion – the wider impact it has had on the other parties. For all that UKIP are hailing this as a sea change, they still do no yet have a ‘realistic chance of forming government’ (the definition of a party system). Therefore there impact is more to do with the debates they have forced and the way the other parties have had to react to this. The Labour swipe this week at EU migrants and benefits (see blog post on this) could be seen as a response to the issues raised by UKIP; equally Cameron’s unwillingness to pay the extra money demanded by Europe and promises of a 2017 referendum.
What cannot be doubted, is that UKIP have changed the playing field, but I would urge candidates to think about this less in terms of the actual electoral threat they pose, and more in terms of the wider debates they have raised in UK Politics.