So UKIP has won its first seat in parliament and came astoundingly close to taking a second. There is no doubt that Douglas Carswell’s 59.7% share of the by-election votes is an impressive win but is it possible to overstate the importance of this morning’s news? We think it might be:
1. Too early to call: It’s one thing to win a by-election with a well-known and liked incumbent resigning on a point of principle (see David Davis’ win in Haltemprice and Howden), quite another to win a seat at a General Election. UKIP’s real test will be holding the Clacton seat in May 2015.
2. Turnout: The Conservatives are briefing hard about flagging enthusiasm for Labour in Heywood and Middleton. Labour’s turnout significantly dropped and their majority increased by less than 1%. That said, turnout dropped for all parties – hardly unusual at a mid-term by-election in what was perceived by many in Labour to be a safe seat.
3. Medway: If Mark Reckless can repeat Carswell’s victory in a month’s time, UKIP will be flying high. A defeat could suggest that the Clacton victory was more to do with personalities than politics.
4. Marginals: It’s clear after UKIP’s performance it’s likely to be a disruptive force in marginal seats for both Labour and Conservatives, making them harder to call. Research by the Fabian Society suggests Labour-held Great Grimsby, Dudley North, Plymouth Moor View, Rother Valley and Rotherham and Conservative-held South Thanet, Thurrock, Great Yarmouth and Waveney might be up in the air as a result.
5. Small comfort: It’s not all tears and fears for Ed Miliband, with Labour taking UKIP’s only seat at Crawley Borough Council in a by-election last night. It’s easily overlooked – but typical of UKIP’s difficulty of holding onto its gains at a local level.