The UKIP win in Clacton with 60% of the vote was a political breakthrough event, unprecedented not just for UKIP, but remarkable for British politics in its implications. The omens for the other parties are not good. Starting with the LibDems whose 1% of the vote was down from 12.9% in 2010. Their voting share and their £500 deposit has definitely gone out with the tide of support for UKIP. The LibDem vote will have most likely melted away to Labour and the Greens, or they have simply stayed away.
This is never mentioned by the Conservatives, who prefer to maintain the position that the only significant electoral shift manifesting itself is their potential loss voiced by the tedious mantra “vote UKIP – get Miliband”. In that respect at Heywood and Middleton, where the Conservatives were never going to win, getting only 3,500 votes, if an extra 600 of them had voted for UKIP, we would now be less one Labour MP. Possibly also less one Miliband as Labour leader, as a further welcome result.
If the Conservatives want to win the next election their new mantra in the North might well be “vote UKIP – get Miliband out”.
The Labour result in Heywood is being pushed as a successful result for them, as their vote share held up. However, like the tide going out revealing hidden rocks, we can turn that around to show that Labour’s vote has not in fact increased since 2010. Labour need to gain votes and seats if they are to obtain a clear majority. Labour’s triumphal claim of sustaining their vote also glosses over that their former 6,000 majority is now only 600, and under dire threat from even a small increase in UKIP share.
The punditry was in full street barker form, with Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference magisterially declaiming to all who would hear, that he would head off the threat posed by UKIP, by “fighting on the beaches”. This was rather spoiled when a few days later he embarrassingly forgot the name of the Conservative candidate. It was a bit like heading for Normandy on D-Day, but ending up at Bognor.
Other pundits were mystified as to why Douglas Carswell had chosen to fight on UKIP policies, which were said to revolve around the single issue of immigration, when Clacton does not have a large immigrant population. This view reveals that many commentators do not understand UKIP, nor do they understand what motivates people to choose to vote for them. It is as if the pundits believe that the electorate of Clacton are not aware of anything which happens beyond the Clacton horizon, that politics for them is a single day trip to the polling booth every five years.
When I helped at Clacton in my assigned areas from knocking on doors at Elm Grove and through to delivering personally addressed letters to Clarendon Park, the range of topics brought up was large. There was a keen understanding, too, of social trends which had not yet affected them, but which could have a future impact. Coastal resorts have a dependency on interpreting seasonal or fashionable trends for their survival, and this shows up to some extent in their politics.
The BBC “Question Time” from Clacton drifted off into the surreal. Listening to their questions and seeing the reactions from the audience, supposedly consisting of a true cross section of the Clacton electorate, you would have come away with the idea that very few people were UKIP voters and that nearly everyone was vehemently against them. The other parties on the panel timidly criticised each other, and were allowed to direct their main fire at UKIP. Patrick O’Flynn did a patient job of containing this and anchoring the UKIP part of the debate firmly in the real world.
The campaign now moves on to Rochester and Strood, with a harder fight for UKIP, but with a rewarding and just as valuable learning exercise for the May 2015 major showdown.