It is no secret that I have considerable affection for the Strood South ward of Medway Council, so it will come as no surprise that I took an interest in last Thursday's by-election. That event was caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Catriona Reckless-Brown who will soon be moving to Wales where her husband (former Rochester & Strood MP Mark Reckless) has been selected to stand for the Welsh Assembly, also for UKIP.
The three Council seats in Strood South were at that time held by UKIP, Conservative (John Avey) and an Independent (Mark Joy, who had been elected as UKIP but then left the party) so very mixed – in fact the only ward of Medway Council's 22 to be a three-way split. There were six candidates in the by-election, including the two (one Conservative, Josie Iles, and one Labour, Isaac Igwe) who had lost their seats to the then two UKIP candidates.
The results of the by-election were thus, in descending order of number of votes cast:
- Josie Iles (Con) – 724
- Isaac Igwe (Lab) – 521
- Karl Weller (UKIP – 480
- Steve Dyke (Green) – 74
- Isabelle Cherry (LD) – 62
- Mike Russell (Eng Dem) – 23
Also note the wide gulf between them and the winner – more than 200 votes. It is to be noted that I predicted this outcome, and told a couple of people my forecast, though forgot to make it public until the morning of last Thursday, i.e. polling day! My exact prediction was "a comfortable Conservative win, with Labour and UKIP close together in second and third place, either way round." (It's on my Facebook page.)
The turnout was low, sadly, at 16·74% – just one in six eligible voters participated. By-elections tend to have significantly lower turnouts than full elections, and last year's council elections here were boosted by coinciding with the General Election. Indeed, back in May 2000, at the full council elections that year Luton (a Labour safe ward) had a turnout of just 17·37% – hardly any higher than this mere by-election.
EDIT: The Council leader, Alan Jarrett (Conservative), has today been reported in the local newspaper (not online, unfortunately) as saying that UKIP lost the seat because their councillors had been "ineffectual" since being elected some 17 months ago; and UKIP group leader Roy Freshwater is also quoted as saying they lost the seat (a) because of the weather and (b) because they don't have the 'party machine' that the two traditional big parties have. Medway Labour has selectively scanned parts of the relevant page from the 'paper. This they misrepresented, but this edit corrects what I wrote here before, having taken the Medway Labour claim as correct. I really must learn that they can NEVER be trusted!
I certainly agree that the UKIP councillors have been, frankly, a waste of space, and have done as little work as their counterparts in (say) the European Parliament, who are known to be 'the laziest party group' throughout the entire Parliament – though very good at taking as much (public) money as they can, including the occasional 'fiddle' that comes to light (Janice Atkinson's restaurant bill that was in the news around a year ago) – and who knows how much there might be as yet unrevealed?
Anyway, keeping to their usual practice, and as their own fellow has now publicly stated, the 'Kippers on our Council really do seem to have done nothing of any consequence to represent those who elected them in what was, after all, just a national 'anti-establishment' mood swing at the time – May 2015. That of course has faded since then, as I predicted it would, and UKIP Cllr Roy Freshwater's own claim of a lack of a big 'machine' would indeed have hampered their chances of holding the seat at this time. The weather affects all parties equally, and no doubt contributed toward the low turn-out.
Even so, the best they could have done would have been to come second, and I think just 150 votes or so behind the winner: it could have been a slightly closer contest, and they'd have been the runners-up rather than Labour. However, the bigger issue for voters was the lack of activity by UKIP in the ward and elsewhere in Medway for that matter. These things are noticed and the word gets around. It was no doubt what lost the three we had before May 2015 their seats (Messrs Irvine, Mason and Rodberg, all of whom re-stood but lost.)
To me it seems obvious that another of my (longer-standing this time) predictions – that there will be no UKIP councillors at Medway after the next all-out elections – will also come to pass.
And whose fault will that be? Theirs alone!