Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Can UKIP bring the party to East Devon?

I’VE OFTEN heard my boss remark in the build-up to a general election, that you “could tie a blue ribbon to a pig around here and it would get in”.

I’m sure a reader will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any MP other than a Conservative - regardless of constituency boundary and name changes over the years - has served our part of Devon since the party was founded in 1834.

With all respect to the two Conservative MPs that represent Pulman’s Country (Neil Parish for Tiverton & Honiton and Hugo Swire in the East Devon constituency), the editor is right - their seats are as safe as houses.

At least, that’s what I thought until the UKIP bandwagon continued it’s seemingly unstoppable roll by winning the Rochester & Strood by-election last Thursday.

Now, I know by-elections are very different beasts to general elections, with protest votes far more likely ­– especially when you’re safe in the knowledge that in less than six months time you’ll be able to recast your vote.

But Rochester & Strood was the second seat UKIP has won in six weeks, with Mark Reckless following Douglas Carswell’s victory in the Clacton by-election last month. 

Yes, both were Tory defectors with good reputations in their own backyards, but they still managed to sway the electorate from blue to purple.

Where as UKIP were very much once seen as a fringe party, only attracting any real attention in the build-up to the European Parliament elections - how many purple signs declaring support for UKIP did you see in Pulman’s Country last May? - next year they will have to be taken seriously and, yes, even treated with respect.

Now, with Messrs Parish and Swire both boasting majorities of 17 per cent, I don’t think either of them will be quite quaking in their boots - but no one will be able to take anything for granted next year. It really feels like anything could happen. 

The Rochester & Strood constituency was as low down on UKIP’s list of general election target seats as 271. 

To quote leader Nigel Farage: “If we win this, looking forward to next year’s general election, all bets are off and the whole thing is up in the air.”

Enough said.

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