All posts by paul francis

Is the Rochester and Strood by-election pendulum swinging away from the Conservatives?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 31 2014

It is almost impossible to discern which way the political wind is blowing in the Rochester and Strood by-election but if you are to believe what some commentators are saying, the Conservatives are bracing themselves for a loss.

I don't necessarily subscribe to that view but there is no avoiding that the convergence of various issues is not offering the party a particularly propitious backdrop to its campaign.

The by-election is being dominated by the twin issues of immigration and the UK's membership of EU as much as anything else.

So, to say it was unhelpful to have been ambushed by the EU demanding an extra £1.7bn is something of an under-statement. The fact that the Prime Minister had to truncate a campaign visit to Rochester because he was still in Brussels at a press conference last Friday only served to underline the seriousness of the issue.

Of course, it is possible this could play to the Conservatives if the PM manages to negotiate a reduction but for many, the demand for the money is another illustration of the suspicion  we put in rather more than we get out, which plays to Ukip's appeal.

On immigration, Conservative spirits would not have been helped by the comments made by the Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchard, who gave evidence to the Home Affairs select committee this week.

In fairly blunt remarks, she told MPs the reason so many migrants were gathered at the French town was because the UK was seen as "El Dorado" and there were jobs to be filled and benefits to be claimed.

This was followed by a set of figures suggesting that there was a growing backlog of asylum seeker claims and 50,000 asylum seekers were "lost" - exactly the kind of thing Ukip laps up to suggest that the governemnt has and is losing control over its borders.

Finally, it seems the government is preparing for a revolt by Conservative backbenchers over the European Arrest Warrant, with MPs believing that it hands other countries too much power to detain UK citizens.

In 2012, the Dover MP Charlie Elphicke organised a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by more than 100 MPs which outlined their concerns over the EU Commission's ambitions for "a pan-European code of Euro Crimes" - and "deep concerns" over the EAW.

Among the signatories were eight Conservative Kent MPs but I rather suspect they will be brought round to support the government when a vote is held.

With all these issues heaping pressure on the Conservatives, perhaps the question is not so much whether it can win but whether Ukip can lose.

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A chirpy Ed Balls followed his leader down to Rochester to rally support ahead of November 20 but it does seem that their objective is not outright victory but not to lose so badly that it undermines their prospects in Kent at the general election

It is a measure of the changing political landscape that it has almost been forgotten Kent has, over the last four elections, been a battle between Labour and the Conservatives rather than a contest between Ukip and the Conservatives.

But Ukip's growing appeal is drawing support away from Labour as much as it is from the Conservatives. Yet the party knows that to form a government, it will have to win seats in Kent - it is not enough to base your strategy around general national poll ratings which put you marginally ahead of the Conservatives.

It seems the party has one eye on next May but it does seem curious it has allowed the impression to form the contest is a two-way battle between the Conservatives and Ukip while it plays for a decent third place.

Tony Blair recognised the secret to the party's success over his three terms was to ensure it won over "middle England" voters who are now peeling off to Ukip in large numbers.  Ed Miliband seems to be concentrating on shoring up its core supporters, a more defensive strategy.

Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that a new poll out today puts the NHS as top among voters' concerns in Rochester and Strood - one issue that Labour is strong on.

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If you want an indication of how difficult it is to read this by-election, take a confrontation that William Hague and Kelly Tolhurst had with a disgruntled former Conservative voter in a walkabout in Rochester.

Donna Ripley confronted the pair to demand why a "mega" mosque in Gillingham had been given planning permission and was asked whether "this was the way you want England to go?"

She was rather underwhelmed by the reply.

So, would she be voting Ukip? Not at all. "I think they are racist and bigoted."

 


 

 

 

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Labour's immigration conundrum, the Conservatives get a candidate...and a pink bear

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 24 2014

It was interesting to hear Ashford MP Damian Green speaking up the pro-European wing of the Conservative party today on the Andrew Marr show and yesterday in The Times. There probably aren't too many votes to be had in the by-election from talking about the positive side of belonging to the EU - which explains why Ed Miliband and David Camerom are both tacking to the right and talking loudly about immigration.

So, why is the Ashford MP speaking out now? My guess is that it is a pre-emptive move not designed for voters in Rochester and Strood. In the event of losing the by-election, there will be a furious debate about which direction the party needs to go in, and the clamour will be loudest from those who think that the only way forward is to out-Ukip Ukip .

Mr Green wants us to know that there are still a considerable number of Conservatives who actually support the EU and think the country benefits by doing so.

Their voices are a little muted just now and will be so until November 20. But they are anxious not to be completely steamrollered when the debate about what direction the party will go in gets underway after voters in Rochester and Strood have had their say.

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Labour has a tricky job on its hands to convince voters it has a credible policy on immigration and the issue is inevitably centre stage in the Rochester and Strood by-election.

It has clearly decided that on balance, it is better to try and confront the issue head on rather than ignore it.

This week's visit by Ed Miliband and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper was aimed at trying to underline a policy which balances the party's bellief that immigration has been good for the UK and at the same time, has been bad for the UK. This "two for one" policy is hard to sell to an electorate which in the current climate thinks that the pendulum is stuck on the bad side.

In ramping up the immigration rhetoric, it risks being seen as dancing to UKIP's tune and alienating its own core supporters.

The biggest credibilty gap, however, is not what its policy is today but what it was when it was last in government.

When asked about its failings over benefit tourism and failure to stop unrestricted numbers coming into the UK, Mr Miliband said "You don't get everything right in government."

Unfortunately for Labour, not enough time has passed for voters to forget its rather poor track record  and with just three weeks before polling day, is highly unlikely to convert undecided voters.

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It has been a mixed campaign for the Conservatives to date but at least it now has a candidate in place for the by-election.

Kelly Tolhurst, a life-long local resident and Medway councillor, won a two-horse race, edging out Anna Firth in a postal primary that didn't quite ignite the public in the way the party perhaps wanted.

This was probably down to the rather compressed timescale for the election of its candidate as much as public indfifference. The party clearly hoped that the primary would enable it to differentiate itself from UKIP, where Mark Reckless was installed with no vote by members, 

But I am sceptical about whether voters will go into the polling booths with the process of selection uppermost in their minds.

And the time it has taken to complete the selection has arguably given Ukip a free run in the campaign for several weeks. That precious commodity of momentum is still with it, as the recent ComRes poll illustrated.

The result was closer than expected. Kelly Tolhurst was the favourite - particularly given her local roots - and impressed a lot of people with her passion and enthusiasm. But she is being thrust into a political cauldron and the media will be scrutinising her every move and utterance.

The pressure on her will be immense and it is likely the party machine will be making sure she is not too exposed. Let's hope she will not be too carefully managed.

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Slightly surreal moment of the campaign so far: Ed Miliband talking to a pink bear in Rochester yesterday - no, not a real one - that would be really strange - but a charity fundraiser. It led to a comment straight out of The Thick Of It by one of his aides, heard to say: "Bring the pink bear over now."

 

 

 

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The big artillery rolls into Rochester...but will voters care?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 17 2014

We were promised that the Conservatives would blitz Rochester and Strood with the party's big hitters and hundreds of activists and for once, no-one can accuse a political party of breaking its pledge.

The frenzy of activity will reach a new level this weekend when the Conservative machine deploys a reported 1,000 activists to Kent to drum up support for a still unknown candidate.

Buses will be bringing down this army from London to distribute leaflets, knock on doors and generally remind us - as if we needed to - that there is a byelection going on.

There is every chance that they will bump into Ukip activists, who are doing much the same with supporters coming from outside the county to rally behind its candidate.

For the Conservatives, this strategy is all about signalling that - unike Clacton - they will not roll over and are going to be putting up a fight to stem Ukip's purple wave. It is as much about the deep loathing for Nigel Farage as it is for defector Mark Reckless.

And there is clearly no love lost between the Ukip leader and Mr Cameron, who said that if voters plumped for Ukip "all they are doing is giving Nigel Farage the chance to have a long gloat in the pub."

Much of this activity is designed for media consumption, of course, but you do wonder if the high-intensity strategy might prove counter-productive if it carries on at such a velocity until November 20.

For the Conservatives, the risk is that while it will be effective in shoring up support from core supporters, it gives the impression that it is concerned about the outcome. Cameron's own personal involvement means that if Ukip does produce a coup, his leadership will come under the spotlight. I suspect that the game plan is as much about trying not to lose badly as it is about trying to win.

The other risk is that the scale of activity only serves to remind supporters of other parties lacking similar battalions of activists (and deep pockets) that there is an election going on.

Still, anyone who does not like politics or politicians may be advised not to answer the door for the next four weeks.

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The Conservatives deserve some credit for opening up its selection process to all voters in Rochester and Strood, although the compressed timetable has rather limited the amount of time for residents to get to know the two who were shortlisted well.

Its big event was the hustings meeting this week in the Rochester Corn Exchange, which was open to everyone. That is everyone but not journalists from the national media.

They were kept out as party managers had decreed that only local media could attend, which meant myself and Radio Kent.

This provoked some tension behind the scenes, with Professor Tim Luckhurst from the Centre For Journalism,- who chaired the event, along with invited guest Dr Sarah Woolaston MP, suggesting unsuccessfully that the ban be reconsidered.

It wasn't and the net result, unsurprisingly, was that the national media turned away at the door rmade the ban the focus of their reports rather than what was said at the meeting.

And to rub it in, managed to get a transcript of the event anyway.

In fact, both candidates acquitted themselves well and had interesting things to say, not least on immigration.

Whoever gets the nod will be in a high-pressure political cauldron for four weeks and under forensic scrutiny from the media.

This week's hustings could have been useful acclimatisation.

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Professor Luckhurst says the Conservatives made a mistake in having only selected media present.

"I believe the Conservative Party’s decision to exclude from the hustings journalists from national newspapers and broadcasters  was foolish and entirely unnecessary. Freedom of speech is a core democratic principle and no political party should restrict it.”

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When Labour leader Ed Miliband turned up in the County Town of Maidstone last year for the county council election campaign, he did so to demonostrate that there were no "no-go" areas for the party.

It's early days but in comparison to Ukip and the Conservatives, Labour appears to be taking a low key approach to the fight for Rochester and Strood. No single comment has come from a senior member of the party's leadership about the election to date.

Perhaps it is waiting for the Conservative bandwagon to run out of puff.

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You can't draw too much by way of portents for November 20 from a council ward by-election where only one in five voters bothered to exercise their vote but Ukip notched up a small victory in Kent this week when it romped to victory in the Sheppey Central ward in Swale.

And it was pretty comprehensive, too with the victoriuos candidate getting nearly 60% of the vote.


 



 

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Categories: Conservatives

UKIP make an historic beakthrough - can the momentum deliver a victory in Rochester and Strood?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 10 2014

If the Conservatives needed any reminding that they are in for a tough fight in Rochester and Strood, UKIP's historic breakthrough in Clacton was a painful reminder that what lies ahead is going to be one their most challenging electoral battles.

It was not so much that UKIP won but that it won so decisively, with a huge landslide for Douglas Carswell. Not only that but it came pretty close to dislodging Labour from what was supposed to be a safe seat - a result likely to induce some panic in the party's ranks.

No wonder that UKIP swiftly announced that its leader and first MP are heading down to Rochester tomorrow to give Mark Reckless a campaign boost and exploit its win for all it is worth.

For the Conservatives and Labour, the challenge is how to arrest the momentum UKIP appears to have and stop Mark Reckless crossing the finishing line first.

Up until now, the Conservatives have been relatively optimistic that while the contest would be close, they would be well-positioned to win and see off UKIP once it had its campaign is up and running. That view is no longer tenable or realistic and the least surprising consequence of last night's result is that bookmakers have now installed UKIP odds on to win Rochester and Strood.

The key problem for the Conservatives - and Labour - is that UKIP continues to attract support from those disillusioned with mainstream parties and politicans and there is arguably no better platform to register this disaffection than at a by-election. Of course, with increasing numbers of local councillors and MEPs and now an MP, this may change but it won't before voters go to the polls next month.

It is debatable whether David Cameron insistence that Rochester and Strood is now a vital battle is helpful. The refrain is clearly designed to encourage Conservative activists and supporters to get on the front foot but it raises the stakes for his own leadership.

The fact that the party has yet to select a candidate has not and is not helping. The plan for a postal primary, in which every constituent (even Mark Reckless) would have a say in who it should be as part of an "inclusve" process was initially attractive.

But the downside is that process is taking time and I just can't see it making much of a difference when voters go to the polls.

It will be another week before the party has someone in place, leaving UKIP to continue to make the running. I wonder now whether the party might regret its strategy but it is too late to do anything abouot it now.

Has the pendulum  swung decisively towards UKIP in Rochester and Strood? The Conservatives will be kickstarting their campaign and are bringing in their heavy artillery to do what it can but will it be enough? As to Labour, the Heywood result suggests that it haemorrhaged support to UKIP and it continues to lack credibility over issues such as immigration, which cost it badly in 2010.

UKIP started from a position of thinking it had an outside chance of winning the by-election; now it believes it really can.





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The bitter by-election battle for Rochester+Strood - why UKIP could win...and lose

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 3 2014

It's no surprise the by-election battle looming in Rochester and Strood is shaping up to be one of the most acrimonious and fiercely-contested in British politics for decades.

The vitriol pouring from Conservatives towards Mark Reckless is an indication that they will fight tooth and nail to see him off.

The stakes are high: for UKIP, a win would give their prospects at the general election a huge boost. For the Conservatives, victory would send out a strong message it is capable of resisting UKIP's purple wave.

So, who will get over the finish line first?

 

Why UKIP could win:

  • If UKIP wins the Clacton by-election next week, which the Conservatives seem resigned to, the result could give the party a momentum that could persuade undecided voters in Rochester and Strood that a cross against UKIP is not wasted
  • UKIP continues to trade heavily on its appeal to voters disillusioned with what Nigel Farage dubs the Westminster elite. Disaffection and antipathy to mainstream parties remans high and at a by-election, voters often choose to give the parties in power a bloody nose
  • The perceived failure of the government to tackle immigration has a particular resonance in Kent, the gateway to Europe. The focus on the efforts of migrants at Calais to cross the channel is a vivid reminder that the issue has not gone away and the view that the government has yet to get a grip on it
  • He may not carry a large personal vote but Mark Reckless has been generally supportive over key constituency concerns, such as the Thames Estuary airport. He is regarded as among the most effective members of the Home Affairs select committee
  • If the Conservatives persist with their highly personal attacks on Reckless, there is a risk it could become counter-productive. Voters are already fed up with the playground politics of Westminster and could be turned off if all they hear over the coming weeks of  "he said, she said" verbal jousting

 

Why UKIP could lose:

 

 

 

  • The Achiles’ heel for Mark Reckless is the accusation that he has betrayed voters and his constituency by denying repeatedly that he was to defect. That makes him vulnerable to the damaging charge that he cannot be trusted – a politician who says one thing and does another
  • UKIP has no real organisational base in the Medway Towns in the way that it has in other areas, like Thanet. While the party now has a 17-strong county council group, it has no representation in Medway
  • The Conservatives will bring in the heavy artillery and will be blitzing the constituency with a series of high-profile visits by ministers and MPs. A formidable number of activists are being mobilised to stuff envelopes, deliver leaflets and help out
  • Despite a 10,000 majority, Mark Reckless carries no real personal vote in the way that Douglas Carswell has in Clacton, where UKIP is odds-on to win next week's by-election

The unknown factors:

  • Labour held the seat (then known as Medway) in the Blair years. Although it is not an official target, it could benefit from a split in the right-wing vote. It has an outside chance of causing an upset of its own
  • Perceived wisdom is that by-elections tend to favour minority parties. But this is no ordinary by-election, so it is difficult to gauge what impact a low turn-out may have
  • There is nothing to measure UKIP's standing in the constituency. While it took the largest share of the vote in the European election this year, there has been no local election since 2011 - when it took just under 2% of the vote. UKIP did not contest the seat in the 2010 general election, giving Mark Reckless a free run at the seat.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Medway | Rochester | Strood

More ups and downs in the Manston Airport saga.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 26 2014

The saga over Manston Airport has already thrown up plenty of surprises but perhaps the biggest one came this week.

Just days after minister Grant Shapps declared his unwavering support for the airport and left campaigners in a euphoric mood came the news of its sale.

And the new owners dropped a bombshell: in their grand masterplan, regeneration specialists Chris Musgrave and Trevor Carpenter declared there was no place for an airport or any aviation-related services.

There has inevitably been speculation that the idea of a "mixed-use" commercial development outlined by the new owners means something else, namely a sprawling housing development.

The owners firmly reject the claim of uncontrollable housing sprawl insisting they are genuinely committed to establishing a site which has a variety of commercial uses, as well as some residential development.

Either way, Thanet Council is facing both a quandary and an opportunity. The ruling Labour administration is in the throes of deciding whether to push for a CPO in partnership with the American company RiverOak.

The latter has said that so far as they are concerned, the sale of the site to new owners makes no difference to their plan and a commitment to the council to underwrite the costs.

In a sense, RiverOak is right but the same cannot be said for the council.

From a position where there was only one offer on the table, the council now has another, which looks on the surface to have some credibility and would dovetail with the work underway to redevelop the former Pfizer site, the Discovery Park.

The difficulty for the Labour leadership is that it has, until now and very publicly, stood four square behind those who want to see Manston retained as an airport.

Behind the scenes, we know, however, that there is some disquiet among Labour councillors about supporting a CPO even if it is underwritten by RiverOak. Some of that disquiet is also felt by members of the Conservative group.

The report council officials will present to next month's cabinet meeting cannot overlook the new owners' plans, and neither should it.

The political quandary is which option to back. Support a CPO which is bound to lead to a lengthy legal tussle with no guarantee of success or swing behind the alternative business park scheme with its promise of jobs (albeit rather imprecise) and investment.

The consolation for Labour is that precisely the same conundrum faces the Conservative party, which has also been fairly explicit in supporting those who want Manston to be retained as an airport.

The odds last week were on the council backing a CPO. This week, I would say those odds have lengthened considerably.

But next week? Who knows.

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- Taking flight - the fight for Manston. Plus: Home Rule for Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 19 2014

The government has been studiously neutral on the fight to save Manston airport despite the best efforts of MPs and campaigners.

But that changed and changed potentially significantly this week with a visit by the government minister Grant Shapps, the minister without portfolio.

Mr Shapps, greeted like a folk hero, made some of the strongest comments in support of the airport by a senior politician we have heard.

 

 

 Not surprisingly, campaigners who turned out in numbers to hear him, were pretty pleased.

He chose his words carefully, of course, and avoided making concrete pledges but he struck a much more positive and upbeat tone than anyone could have expected.

Why? He certainly seemed genuine enough and it helped that he was able to display his familiarity with the area - he told the crowd that he had used Manston himself and not just as a passenger.

 As a keen pilot, he had flown into Manston in the past and "hoped to do so in the future." (Interestingly, he has ben involved in trying to secure the future of an airport in his own constituency)

An underlying reason is that the fight for Manston will be a key issue in the general election campaign if there is no resolution by next May. The Conservatives locally have no doubt alerted the Tory high command that they cannot afford to let UKIP make the running on the issue.

It was revealing to see the prospective Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay and the Thanet Conservative group leader Bob Bayford both in attendance.

In the weeks and months to come, we can expect to see a Manston arms race develop among the political parties, manouevering to ensure they are seen as the most interested in securing the airport's future.

And just possibly their own.

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Which brings us to the vexed issue of whether the Labour-run council will seize the moment and back a move to pursue a CPO to acquire the airport from owner Ann Gloag.

There appears to be some disquiet within her own party's ranks over this.

Leaked emails suggest some rather stark divisions not just in the cabinet, which will initially have to put forward a recommendation based on what council officials say.

Some are clearly anxious that they will trigger a lengthy legal wrangle that will drag on for months and with no cast-iron guarantee of success and doubts over the cost to the taxpayer.

My guess is that the meeting scheduled for mid-October will outline the options over teaming up with RiverOak,the American consortium, and recommend the decision should be a matter for the full council.

This would just about be consistent with the rules around the executive decision making process, although ultimately, the cabinet leader would have to sign off any formal decision.

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In the face of the devolution result, attention has turned to whether there should be greater devolution of powers from Whitehall to local tiers of government.

This is tied up with the awkward question over whether there should be a separate parliament for England and whether MPs should only vote on English issues.

The independence vote in Scotland has shown that the public can be engaged in debate around constitutional reform and the outcome does present an opportunity to address some of these other issues.

In Kent, that would almost certainly see a debate break out over the case for some kind of unitary government - an issue that would be as tricky for the Conservatives as Labour.

And I think voters will quickly be turned off if politicians spend more time advancing complex re-organisations and tinkering with the architecture of local government rather than more pressing issues like economy.

 

 

 

 

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The Friday Five - a round-up the week's top political stories in Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 5 2014

The Mayor of London considered it a dream but others saw it as nightmare. But it was Boris who woke up in a cold sweat this week when Sir Howard Davies finally sunk his grand plans for a Thames Estuary airport.

In a conclusive demolition of the scheme, the Commission said it was too costly, too environmentally damaging and too disruptive. Boris reacted in characteristically forthright fashion. "In one myopic stroke, the Commission has set the debate back by half a century," he railed. But for all his fluster, the scheme looks dead and buried. Unless BoJo becomes Prime Minister.

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There was not much evidence of entente cordiale as migrants gathered at Calais resorted to increasingly desperate attempts to cross to the UK. The Mayor of Calais threatened to blockade the port - a threat that didn't go down terribly well with Kent MPs or ministers. UKIP leader Nigel Farage remained uncharacteristially quiet...

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It was described by its creator as a "abstracted diagrammatic river...and a calligraphic motif simultaneously embedded in and separate from the surrounding streetscape." But the £100,000 concrete "flume" - an artistic feature of the divisive shared space road scheme in Ashford is falling apart and is to be ripped up. And who is to pay for it? Have a wild guess...

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After the defection of Douglas Carswell from the Conservatives to UKIP, the spotlight shone on other likely suspects who might follow suit. The Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless was the subject of this speculation but killed it off swiftly while Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson revealed he had been contacted by someone asking if he would like to consider joining. No, he said.

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Still, the UKIP bandwagon keeps rolling on although I doubt very much that Mr Cameron will be quaking in his boots just yet to learn that the Conservatives have lost a by-election in Folkestone.

Congratulations to David Callahan, though, who took the seat from the Conservatives with 27.9% of the vote, six points ahead of Tory candidate Rodica Wheeler with 21.7%.

 

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Categories: Precept | Relationships

Dropping Boris Island won't make the next airport decision any easier

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, September 2 2014

For Boris Johnson, it was a dream solution but for many in Kent and Medway, it was a nightmare.

Now the Mayor of London has seen his vision of a four-runway hub airport grounded and unlikely to take off again at any time in the near future.

Grounded: The estuary airport plan is cut adrift>>>

For all the Mayor's protestations, the one thing he cannot complain about is that the Davies Commission didn't give him a fair hearing.

The review of the option allowed the Mayor and Lord Foster to argue their case again with the commission but it was to no avail - and some suspect it was always going to get knocked back.

The costs, the environmental damage and the disruption caused by closing and relocating an airport were all cited as difficulties that the commission concluded would be insurmountable.

It was not as if the arguments were finely balanced. The case against going ahead was fairly clear despite Lord Foster's assertion that the conclusion reached by the commission meant a fairly predictable compromise.

Attention now focuses on whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand and both options are politically awkward.

Expansion of Heathrow would expose the Conservatives to the legitimate charge of performing a huge U-turn. Expanding Gatwick risks opposition from traditionally Conservative supporting heartlands - including west Kent.

The review will not report back until next September, conveniently after the general election.

What happens then is anyone's guess - particularly if there is a change in government and the possibility that Boris is back at Westminster.

The major problem with addressing aviation capacity in the south east is perhaps the fact that politicians are involved.

No decision will be taken until all the political ramifications are carefully calibrated and measured against the economic arguments.

Don't expect a quick decision - even if that is what UK plc desperately needs.

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After the coronation - now UKIP leader Nigel Farage faces the heavy artillery

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 27 2014

There was never really any doubt about the outcome of UKIP's hustings meeting to select the party's election candidate for Thanet South and if it wasn't quite a coronation, it came pretty close. It might have been billed as a genuine contest between the four candidates but Nigel Farage had activists eating out of his hands from the moment he took the stage.

Nigel Farage canters to victory in UKIP hustings>>>

Although in later interviews he reined back a little over his declaration that UKIP might hold the balance of power  next May, you could, in the febrile and euphoric atmosphere at the Odd Fellows Hall in Ramsgate, see why he said it.

So, can he win in Thanet South? Here are the reasons he might - and the reasons why he might not:

For:

  • UKIP has established a solid base of support in the constituency, with a growing number of activists and volunteers prepared to pound the streets, stuff envelopes and generally do anything they can to get him elected. After successes that exceeded the party's expectations in the county council election last May, UKIP believe it has momentum that will carry them through to next May.
  • Nigel Farage may not be to everyone's taste but he is a skilled and astute politician, who knows the area well and has a proven track record in winning elections. Yes, his claim to local connections are a little tendentious - he lives in west Kent - but he is hardly the first candidate to stand in a constituency he does not (yet) live in. The Conservative candidate CraIg McKinlay, for example, lives in Medway.
  • Although UKIP has become an established political organisation, it is still regarded as being outside the political mainstream. Voter disenchantment with the main parties remains high and UKIP continues to be a repository of support for the disaffected. It will benefit from the "plague on all your houses" sentiment for all it is worth
  • UKIP views on immigration and the EU continue to chime with a lot of voters across the political spectrum. It will push the message that if you want UKIP, you have to vote UKIP. Europe will be a big issue in the election in a way that it wasn't in 2010 and Thanet has arguably seen the consequences of a failure by successive governments to properl tackle immigration over the years
  • Voters like backing winners - if people feel UKIP is in with a chance of causing a political upset, they may want to join in.

Against:

  • By his own admission, the UKIP leader is a marmite politician. He divides opinion in a way few politicians do - you either like him or you don't. There's no middle ground.
  • While voters are concerned about immigration, as well as being sceptical over the EU, they will also want to know where UKIP stands on other issues. At the moment, there is a big policy gap that it needs to fill fairly quickly.
  • The other parties see UKIP as a genuine threat - although they might not admit it publicly. That means they will bring in the heavy artillery during the campaign to try and see it off. Expect Thanet to be inundated by a stream of visits from political heavyweights in the run up to May's poll.
  • UKIP is undergoing much more scrutiny than before and continues to have candidates and supporters capable of dropping the party in it with the odd unguarded remark and throwaway comment. It will have to be hard on disciplining transgressions rather than letting them go unpunished if it wants to be seen as a "serious" party.


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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

Welcome to my blog. As KM Group's political editor, I keep an eye on the county's corridors of power.

Let me know what you think - you can add your comments or views at the end of each blog entry. You can email me at pfrancis@thekmgroup.co.uk.

Or follow me at http://twitter.com/PaulOnPolitics

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