As election day draws nearer by the minute, political pundits are keeping an ever closer eye on the national polls now being released daily. They pore over the most minute of shifts between the voting intentions for each party, hoping to spot the electorate ‘breaking’ one way or another before they head to the ballot stations.
I believe that the national figures are pretty futile – and I’m not alone on this. Just today, Lord Ashcroft, a pollster himself has released a set of figures from eight Liberal Democrat battlegrounds. But he notes “The mix of results this time round underlines the lack of any uniform swing and the hazards of trying to calculate seat numbers on the basis of national vote shares.”
My own experiences out campaigning in various constituencies over the past few weeks, most notably in Essex, underscore Lord Ashcroft’s observation. Nationally Ukip is said to be polling at around the 14 percent mark; sometimes as low as 10 percent, at other times hitting highs of 18 percent. But take a walk around most streets in Thanet, Dagenham, Canvey and the like, and you’ll find support for Ukip in the 30 – 40 percent range, if not in some places even higher.
What can be producing such wild discrepancies in polling? Partly demographics. Matthew Goodwin, co-author of Revolt on the Right identified Clacton as “the most favourable of all seats for Ukip because of its strong concentration of white, struggling and older voters who tend to support Ukip.”
He also identified those who were “older, white, financially struggling working-class men who feel intensely anxious about immigration, EU integration and the state of politics in Westminster” as classic Ukip voters, and added: “Politicians have failed to grasp that Ukip supporters are driven more by values than a desire for certain policies. Their support reflects a deep and growing divide in Britain between those who have the skills and resources to adapt and thrive amidst the country’s economic and social transformation, and those who feel ‘left behind’.”
So it is unsurprising that traditional working class strongholds such as the Essex coastal towns are places in which Ukip does well.
But I believe another factor is at play; one which will make the election even more difficult to predict. A strong local branch which has been putting time, money and effort into attracting and retaining Ukip support will be worth its weight in gold come polling day. Those are the places where the real surprise wins will come from – surprise wins, that is, to all but the local members who will know very well just how much hard work they have put into working the constituency over the last few years.
One such constituency is Eastbourne, where the sitting Liberal Democrat MP has admitted to our candidate Nigel Jones that he sees him as his biggest threat.
The local party has been holding regular Monday morning coffee mornings to which they invite a range of speakers, which are very well attended. The meetings are advertised in the local press and attract a wide range of non-members interested in finding out more. Many of those people go on to spread the message to friends and family, perhaps bringing them along to the next event. Others quickly become active volunteers, helping to put out leaflets and canvass.
Such is the constituency association’s success that it recently split into three separate committees, each with a remit for attracting and retaining members in its own area. This is essential for really establishing the party in any constituency.
Parliamentary constituencies are large places. Ensuring that Ukip is truly representative of the local population requires branch committees in every town and village, all putting on events, fundraising, and attracting people to the cause simultaneously. An executive committee should be in place merely to oversee, but not to get involved in the day to day business of the party constituency-wide. The job is simply too big for one small group of people to manage.
Of course, Eastbourne is also blessed with an excellent candidate in the form of Mr Jones. A nationally acclaimed historian and journalist by trade, Nigel speaks German fluently and has lived and worked in Europe for seven years, thus undermining any accusations that Ukip are ‘little Englanders’.
Nigel stood also a European candidate in the South East so has been able to attract widespread support from other candidates across the region.
Commenting on the benefits of having an active branch, Nigel said:
“I was immediately attracted to the idea of applying to be PPC for Eastbourne when I attended a public meeting there as an MEP candidate in 2013 during the Euro elections.
“The association is numerous (well over 200 members); hugely enthusiastic, well-organised well-informed, opinionated and friendly. They also drew members who had been Tories, Labour – and even Lib Dems!
The results of the Euros a year ago proved that it was a distinctly winnable seat as we topped the polls. We trounced the Tories, and kicked the Lib Dems into a distant third place. At the last local elections we came second in six of the town’s nine wards; and our recent canvass returns show we have more than 30 percent support.
The Lib Dems have told me privately that its a two horse race between us and them – so there’s all to play for.”
Forward thinking is also key to winning a seat. To that end, Nigel has made a series of videos to be found on YouTube, the first of which is below.