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UKIP’s party time as Lib Dems and Tories share blame

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UKIP polled more than a third of the votes in the district as the party enjoyed a thumping European election success. The party picked up 13,459 of the 39,153 votes cast in Canterbury – almost 2,500 move than the Conservatives in second. Labour polled third with 6,012, the Green Party fourth with 4,794 and the Liberal Democrats trailed fifth with just over 3,000. Despite the result, Conservatives believe they can retain control of Canterbury City Council at next May’s local vote. The 2015 election will see the city council reduced from 50 to 39 members with new ward boundaries. Among those seeking re-election is Barton ward Conservative Steve Williams, who insists he is “upbeat and bullish” about his party’s chances. He told the Gazette:

“I think UKIP have done well but they are still an unknown quantity. They did well in coastal areas like Whitstable and particularly Herne Bay over the next year, we will have to prove to the people of Canterbury we are exceptionally competent at running the district. UKIP’s policies both locally and nationally are very shallow. The real issue here is that the Lib Dem vote has collapsed. Their Wincheap councillors each got more than 1,000 at the last city council elections. That tells a story. They will struggle in the city council vote next year. The Lib Dems have a history of stabbing their leader in the back. Now they are making Nick Clegg a scapegoat.”

Council leader John Gilbey said:

“The message we will send out is our record of managing the district, of being a steady hand on the tiller. It’s all very well being good at the rhetoric, but you need to have the skills to do the work. There’s just no one else in Canterbury capable of doing that.”

But Lib Dem group leader Alex Perkins reckons the unpopularity of Canterbury’s Tories will cost them votes in 2015. He called them “an embattled administration” and said support for his group is growing in the district, demonstrated by the victory at the Barham Downs by-election earlier this year. Cllr Perkins said:

“On the coast, where the Conservatives have most of their council seats, there has undoubtedly been a growth of support for UKIP. So it does seem likely that the current Conservative administration’s days are numbered. They will lose a few seats on the coast to UKIP. While in Canterbury and the villages, where Lib Dems hold most of the seats and are pretty much in second place, any move in support from the Conservatives to UKIP is just as likely to mean Lib Dems will win back several seats.”

Herne Bay MP Sir Roger Gale warned that if it was repeated in his North Thanet constituency at next year’s General Election then it could split the right-wing vote and allow Labour to take the seal. Sir Roger said:

“It could split the Tory vote and we could end up with a socialist Labour MP, which Is what no one who votes UKIP or Conservative wants. That could be the perverse result of splitting the vote. I am, however, not unduly surprised by last week’s result. It was obviously a sizeable protest vote and a chance to send a message to tie government.”

Asked if David Cameron’s lurch to the centre had cost the Tories votes, Sir Roger replied:

“There are many things we simply could not do as a party of the coalition. People asked me why we didn’t repeal the Human Rights Act. The answer is that we couldn’t have because we wouldn’t have got a majority to do so.”

‘People just feel they are not being listened to’

UKIP councillor Mike Bull
UKIP councillor Mike Bull

The party’s anti-EU ticket secured four MEPs in the South East, including leader Nigel Farage, as it prepares for the General Election next year, when it will target key east Kent seats. Mike Bull, the UKIP city councillor for Seasalter, said he was delighted with the result.

“The reason for the success is that people just feel like they are not being listened to,” he said. “The immigration policy and unpopular laws from Brussels are a large part of it.”

Cllr Bull and Canterbury’s UKIP leader David Hirst met colleagues this week to discuss how they could translate the Euro election triumph into success at the local and national elections next May. Cllr Bull said:

“We will be formulating a plan for the Canterbury City Council election next year and would hope to field a candidate in every ward. We will be targeting seats in Kent in the Parliamentary elections. Nigel Farage Looks set to stand in Thanet South.”

Next year the two Thanet seats, Dover, Folkestone, Medway and Sittingbourne and Sheppey will all be on UKIP’s target list. After leading a party to top the first national election not won by the Conservatives or Labour in 100 years, a jubilant Mr Farage vowed:

“You have not heard the last of us.”

He also said if he stood as an MP next year it will be somewhere near the seaside in the South East. Mr Farage said:

“Looking at the results, not just in the EU election but in council elections and last year, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that in constituencies like Thanet and Folkestone, we do like to be beside the seaside.”

It was a grim night for the Liberal Democrats but they managed to hold on to their one seat in the South East. Catherine Bearder, the only Lib Dem MEP elected, said her party was the victim of a protest vote. She said:

“People think they can vote for UKIP and it does not matter, but I am afraid it does. Europe is not going to go away.”

Marching orders for the Tories

ELECTION SUCCESS: UKIP leader Nigel Farage
ELECTION SUCCESS: UKIP leader Nigel Farage

Canterbury’s UKIP leader David Hirst is using the party’s election success to launch a savage attack on the Conservative-controlled city council and its leader. Cllr Hirst, elected as a Tory in 2010 before defecting, described the result as “dissatisfaction with our arrogant and dictatorial Conservative city councillors”. He said:

“They have failed small businesses, they have failed residents, they have failed motorists, they have failed bus passengers.”

He warned that the European election results are a precursor to further UKIP successes at the city council election next year. His attack included swipes against the city council for allowing the tax payer to pay for the failed Westgate Towers traffic trial and for the authority’s relationship with Stagecoach. Cllr Hirst said:

“Next May, the people of the district will give the Conservatives their marching orders. Our message to the people of Canterbury district is clear: we hear you, we feel your pain. Why do we feel it? Because we’re normal people, we experience it too.”

Cllr Hirst was elected as Tory member for the Greenhill and Eddington ward in Herne Bay. He lost the Tory whip on the city council last February over his opposition to the Westgate Towers traffic trial and became a UKIP councillor in October.

Coalition decision to blame

James Flanagan, the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, said last week’s results are “very disappointing” and blamed the party’s place in the coalition government for its poor showing. Cllr Flanagan, who represents the Westgate ward, said:

“Theparty’s decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 was a brave one because going into government for the first time in more than 80 years, during a period of recession, was always going to be a challenge. We entered government with the party we always opposed at the polls. The decision was made in the national interest to help pull the country out of one of the worst economic crises in living memory. While the economy is now beginning to recover, there is much more work tobe done if we are to build a fairer society and protect the most vulnerable.”

Cllr Flanagan said he hoped voters in Canterbury will pay attention to the local party’s work come 2015, adding:

“We remain the party that is willing to listen to residents and represent their views. From the Westgate traffic trial to protecting open space, from proposing a freeze to council tax to calling for changes to how our council is run, the Liberal Democrats have always led on issues that matter most to residents.”

Herne Bay Gazette, May 29th 2014

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