A heady week, politically, since joining UKIP. First political rally, first Leafleting, first experience of Telling and first defeat, if you can call it that.
Taking a break from leafleting, having lunch in the middle of the town square with other UKIP activists, the neighbouring table is full of Conservative activists. As we swap anecdotes with them, Labour’s Chris Bryant joins us and urges the Conservatives to leave Newbury. ‘As quickly as you like. Don’t hang around!’ The UKIP delegation evidently don’t merit such treatment. The swivelly-eyed loonie racist homophobes aren’t even worth baiting…. At least, that must be the Labour world view…
Shoppers accept leaflets from all parties with slight embarrassment. UKIP have parked a purple and yellow SMART car in the centre of the square and are bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t thought of balloons – which the Conservatives had. Many children are walking proudly holding a Conservative balloon although the majority of opinion does hold that it’s something of a sickly blue and appears to have the tree from the Lebanese flag superimposed onto it.
Anecdotes are cut short by the blare of a loud-hailer. This isn’t the police ordering crowds, such as they are, to disperse – but the Monster Raving Looney candidate informing everybody that he’d enjoyed a kipper for breakfast… Conservative and UKIP activists agree – this is a very English election.
Telling is the process of sitting outside a Polling Station and collecting polling card numbers from arriving voters. This has a serious purpose as it enables a process called ‘knocking up’ whereby party officals can see if known strong supporters havn’t turned up to vote and can then ring them up and offer them a lift to the polling station, a process also known as GOTV or Getting Out The Vote.
I was lucky to be assigned the picture-postcard pretty village of Caunton and spent the day sitting with a succession of Conservative Tellers, all of a certain age and background and all knowing virtually every person who came to vote. The village had two pubs, a church and a vibrant school cum village hall. A succession of cheerful voters swap news with the Conservative Tellers and children come out to be picked up by their parents and stop to ask us what we’re doing.
I think, ‘this is exactly the type of English idyll that we’re trying to preserve – Vote UKIP and help us!’ Before new rules from Brussels make one of the pubs unviable. Before the school is forced to water down it’s strongly British character to bring it more in line with European education conventions. Before it becomes anti-European for the church to fly the flag of St George…
The final count came- and defeat – or was it really? The Newark town boxes were the first to be opened and early counts showed UKIP clearly leading – then as the night lengthened and the votes came in from the outlying villages, the Conservative vote closed in on and then overtook the UKIP lead. The final result in one of the Conservative’s safest seats – Robert Jenrick, the Conservative candidate won, taking 45% of the vote with UKIP coming second with nearly 26%. Labour, the official opposition party, was pushed into third place and the Lib Dems into sixth. The Lib Dems failed to poll more votes than either the Greens or one of the Independent candidates and had to console themselves that they did at least manage to beat ‘Nick The Flying Brick’ from the Monster Raving Looney Party. They also managed to lose their deposit.
But was this really a great success for the Conservatives? To achieve this result, David Cameron had to order all of his own MPs to campaign in the constituency at least three times and turned up himself there on four occasions prior to the by-election. This amount of effort to safeguard a supposedly safe seat, albeit with a Conservative candidate who many voters perceived to be ‘another rich posh boy – parachuted in’. Also, the Conservatives, even with this huge effort, and the full weight of the impressive Conservative election machine in operation, lost half of their previous majority.
What next? Well the 2015 elections will be on us swifter than many may think. UKIP hustings locally have already started and candidates will be fielded across the length and breadth of Britain. There can surely be no doubt now in most people’s minds, following the recent events in Brussels, of the direction the German-led European Parliament will take, if left unchecked and there can equally be no doubt that there is only one party which can be trusted to take Great Britain out of the sorry mess of the EU.
That party is UKIP.