Sunday, 12 May 2013

The election result in Ipswich and what do we do about UKIP

Just over a week has gone since the County Council elections, plenty has been written and blogged about the results with most of the articles concentrating on the success of UKIP at the ballot box. This has meant most articles and debate has been similar all over the country with little discussion about local results.

Before the election a number of local journalists complained that politicians in Ipswich and Suffolk were spending most of their time talking on the doorstep or producing leaflets concentrating on national issues not on matters that are the concern of Suffolk County Council. Welcome to the real world! Ever since I have been campaigning, most elections seem to be decided on national issues and results often depend on the performance of national politicians in Westminster. Now I would have liked this election to have concentrated on County Council issues, the terrible state of education in the county, and how it is deteriorating under Tory control should have been the main issue on the doorstep and I am sure the Tories only wanted the talk to be about their promise/bribe of 0% Council tax rise for the next 4 years. But in the end many voters voted on national issues- economy, Europe and immigration. Local issues can effect elections on occasions, the way the Tories have badly handled the building of a waste incinerator in Norfolk certainly helped the downfall of the Norfolk Tories.

So journalists, political commentators and politicians are left to discuss the reasons why UKIP did so well and also how to campaign against UKIP in the future and more importantly, I believe in how to regain the trust of the voting (or non-voting) public.
Ipswich Tories seem to be just burying their head in the sand and coming up with the much used statement that UKIP took more votes from Labour than they did the Tories. Firstly I am not sure that statement is correct but I also believe that where UKIP got votes from varies from region to region and even ward to ward.

There is no doubt that UKIP took voters from Labour in Whitehouse Ward but the Tories would have also lost votes to UKIP in Whitton and St Margaret’s and the failure of UKIP to stand in Bixley makes it harder to see the UKIP effect on the Tory vote but in 2012 when UKIP were not the ‘flavour of the month’ they took many votes from the Tories in their safest ward.

It is important that all political groups try and understand why voting UKIP was popular and you can’t just follow the Cameron example and call them all fruit cakes, loonies and racists. I think you also have to distinguish between UKIP Voters, recent UKIP activists and others using UKIP for their own purposes.

I spoke to an elderly couple in Sprites Ward and they had voted UKIP but also they had voted for the Greens! So certainly a protest vote and the man said it was but more concerning the lady had said it was a protest vote but she did believe (from the UKIP leaflets and the Mail) that 21 million Bulgarians would be arriving at Dover by Christmas!

Of course the Tories only have themselves to blame when UKIP gain support over Europe and immigration. The Tories are full of anti EU rhetoric but the likes of Cameron know we are better off in the EU than out of it, but he now even has minsters openly saying they will vote to leave Europe. On immigration they were happy for the Mail and the Express to lie about immigration and migrant workers, it suited them when they were in opposition but now the boot is on the other foot, and so they blame Europe as they are worried about UKIP taking their supporters.

Europe and immigration are both issues that we need a grown up debate about, but it is almost impossible with the one sided reporting of the national press – but voters want it to be debated and solutions found. Voting UKIP is not a solution but part of the problem.

Voters (and I also believe) non- voters have turned to UKIP as they see that all politicians have their greedy noses in the trough – they believe all politicians are as bad as those MP’s who abused the Westminster expenses system. They also believe that many in politics come from the same political class or in the case of the Tories from the upper class. The funny thing about this is most of the UKIP MEP’s do seem to come from a rich political class, many have been caught out with their claims and some have even gone back to being real Tories (as in the case of the UKIP MEP in this region)

It is important that we speak to residents about immigration and Europe when we are campaigning on the doorstep. It is also up to those in Westminster to make sure they are seen to be squeaky clean – trouble is the headlines in the papers this Sunday are about a Tory MP been taken to court for failing to pay mortgage expenses back and a Tory PCC employing a chauffeur.
So we need to speak to UKIP voters, don’t label them as nutters or just discount their decision to vote UKIP as a protest, we need to continue to engage with our constituents and make sure we regain their trust.

Even those who decide to stand and campaign for UKIP, we must treat them with respect – in some cases it will be difficult and the UKIP leadership do have a number of problems to make sure they are not just seen as ‘BNP in ties’ or ‘old Tories’. The UKIP leader has admitted that they never had time to vet their candidates and a number of those elected are about to be thrown out of UKIP after it has come to light that they have close links to the BNP, EDL or have put racist posts on social media.

In Ipswich we know we have work to do, but in one way it will not see a change in the way we work – we campaign every week and in all wards in the town not just the ones we know we have to win. We are used to a party gaining votes without doing any groundwork – the UKIP votes have replaced the Lib Dem votes in many wards. We will work harder to engage with all constituents and I am sure the national party will also ensure that immigration and Europe is debated in a sensible way.

For the Ipswich Tories it will be a much harder task, they seemed to throw all their effort into St Margret’s Ward to end up getting nowhere – they do not have many activists and little leadership – and at a UKIP meeting in Ipswich this week a number of their members attended. At least one ex councillor and a regular candidate- it seems that at least one of them will stand for UKIP next year, but this is also a problem for UKIP – are they a new force in British politics or just a home for refugees from the Tory Party – many who have either left over single issues (Gay marriage) or are jumping to UKIP as they feel they have more chance of being elected. What UKIP does in Ipswich over the next two years will be of interest to all local politicians?

No comments: