Nigel Farage is marginally behind in a three-cornered fight to win the seat of South Thanet and could lose his attempts to become an MP, according to a poll released on Sunday by ComRes.
The poll shows Ukip one point behind the Conservatives, with Labour one point behind them. The findings are a significant concern for Ukip, given that a Survation poll in February showed the party 10 points ahead, a result that was taken as an endorsement of the hard work Farage had done in the seat.
Ukip dismissed the latest poll as rogue and based on weak methodology, but on Sunday ComRes published its workings and won support form other pollsters such as YouGov. Party activists now acknowledge that the fight to win the Kent seat is much closer and more volatile than previously thought.
Farage told the BBC three weeks ago that he would “probably win” the seat, and has said he will quit as Ukip leader if he does not. In an appearance on Radio 5 Live, the Ukip campaigner Diane James MEP said she would not be worried at all if Farage stood down.
“We’ve got a very high calibre of individuals within Ukip, they are frequently on BBC and other media outlets. Susanne Evans, Patrick O’Flynn, Paul Nuttall etc, there are people there waiting,” she said.
The poll was not released into the public domain but was leaked to the Mail on Sunday, prompting Tory claims that Ukip were trying to cover up the results.
A Ukip spokesman said: “It was not a Ukip-commissioned poll so we could not suppress it. ComRes use weighting to 2010 figures. The methodology is flawed as it asks not ‘Who would you vote for?’. It discounts those voters who say they have voted Ukip in the recent past and will do so in the future.
“We would never have commissioned work by a pollster we have problems with.”
Ukip supporters in South Thanet said the figures could help to galvanise the party in coming weeks. James Langton Way, the activist who starred in the BBC documentary Meet the Ukippers, said that the results confirmed that the fight for votes will continue until 7 May.
Interviewed at his home in Broadstairs, surrounded by ceramic clowns and photographs of dogs, he said: “Anybody that thought this was going to be a shoo-in will have to think again. This election is wide open and no one has any idea what the Dickens is going to happen.
“There is a naivety in the party sometimes because we are new and are learning, but there are going to be many ups and downs from now to the election. I think we will come through them,” he said.
On Broadstairs seafront, Ukip opponents were handing out drinks mats emblazoned with the slogan “Ukip put me off my beer” to locals going for a stroll in the Sunday sun.
Bunny La Roche, one of the organisers of Thanet Stand Up to Ukip, said the figures showed an increasingly tight race between Labour and the Tories which offers little clarity to those who want to vote tactically to stop Farage.
“People who are worried about Ukip’s beliefs, particularly around race, ask, ‘Who should we vote for to stop Farage?’ It is difficult. These figures show there is little between the three main parties so I just say, ‘Let’s see how the polls go in weeks to come,’” she said.
Labour have seized upon the figures as proof that they could still snatch the seat. Will Scobie, their candidate, said: “This news is striking, and it shows that on paper South Thanet is every inch a three-way marginal. In effect, though, thanks to the Conservatives’ decision to field a Ukip-lite candidate, it is a two-way contest -between Labour and those on the hard right.
“We are increasingly seeing a grand coalition of people who want the same thing, with all of those who are switched off by the negativity of Farage’s party uniting behind us.”
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