Monday, 24 October 2016

Strood South By-election

Edited to correct a misleading part taken from a Medway Labour tweet and scans

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
As you can see, there were only three real players in this race. The Labour campaign tried to make out it was between just them and the Conservatives, bizarrely basing this primarily on the fact that they have more councillors than UKIP do. As it turned out, there was little difference between those two parties' votes, and it could quite easily have gone the other way, placing Labour in third place.

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!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Woolfe at the (Exit) Door

The new UKIP leadership contest, after Diane James' resignation almost immediately after having been elected, is now gearing up.

The party seems to have been running out of eligible potential candidates, so they have felt it necessary to waive (or perhaps permanently change: I don't have that confirmed) their previous rule that candidates must have been UKIP members for at least two years.

Anyway, at least Stephen Woolfe got both his application and deposit in on time on this occasion – but has now pulled out, and is apparently resigning from the party. It is said by some 'Kippers that he had already spoken to the Conservatives, apparently with the intention of preparing the way to join that party later. Others claim that it was the Conservatives who approached him. We might never know which it was...

Here's another twist: the change of rule I mentioned above has allowed Raheem Kassam to stand, and Suzanne Evans' suspension from the party was lifted recently, thus allowing her to stand this time too. Both of these are somewhat divisive individuals, as are others who are also in contention.

Now, you always get an element of that in any leadership contest, with supporters of one being anti at least one of the others – but this has a noticeably different feel from that, which is usually significant only during the contest/election itself.

I have been reading negative comments (quite a lot of them!) about the likes of Evans, Carswell, Hamilton, O'Flynn and others since long before there was even the first leadership change (i.e. the Farage one that wasn't) so this is deep-seated long standing faction-ism within what is and has always been a somewhat 'flaky' party.

As I have been saying for a few years now, UKIP's time is likely to end "in a few years" – i.e. at what would from then have been around 2017 or 2018. Long before the next General Election, I surmised that they would either cease to exist or become just a lobbying movement by now, post-referendum, with no 'sales pitch' beyond being a kind of Brexit Watch until that's all over – then nothing. That of course is expected to be completed before the next election anyway.

With major donors having already withdrawn their support, leaving UKIP with a reported £800,000 deficit which no doubt will grow much worse as time passes, the party is going to have a tough time indeed just trying to survive.

With Woolfe as leader (which was likely) that might have been possible. Now I don't think they can succeed or survive...