Home Page Can the pattern of UKIP success lead to anything more lasting? 11/10/13

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

After the Suffolk County Council elections in May it was possible to see something which might be a sea change in local politics, with two out of Haverhillís three seats going over to UKIP from the Conservatives.

 

Last night the Tories lost a town council seat to UKIP in the first election in the town since, so we may now be seeing a pattern begin to emerge. One Tory borough councillor has already defected to UKIP.

 

Labourís limited share of the vote in north Haverhill held up reasonably well, so they probably wonít be too worried - people are unlikely to defect to UKIP from the Left, after all - but the Tories really do have to get a grip or they could find themselves in the wilderness.

 

Their problem is that they are running both Suffolk and St Edmundsbury councils at the moment, neither of which appears to have Haverhillís interests very much at heart, or even to understand what those interests are.

 

I presume local Tories will be beginning to lobby their colleagues across the borough and the county in an attempt to save their skins. But those colleagues may not be entirely safe, either, because they also face a UKIP threat.

 

Thereís been a bit of predictable UKIP triumphalism already about last nightís result, and who can blame them? But it needs to be put into a bit of context. They had a very strong candidate because Barry is such a well-known figure in the town and a decent sort as well. Goodness knows, if Iíd lived in North Haverhill, I might have voted for him, and Iím no fan at all of UKIP nationally.

 

Iím not sure anyone knew anything about the Labour or Conservative candidates, so they started at a massive disadvantage. And this may be one of the strengths of UKIP in local politics across the country, in that high-profile and popular people who, in the past, were not prepared to stand because of all the political claptrap that is inseparable from any hope of success, may be prepared to tie their wagon to UKIP, who almost make a virtue of hardly being a party at all in the old-fashioned sense.

 

Their set-up is loose and they seem unwilling to exert any tight control over what their members say or do, and that appeals to people who are frustrated with the current political system and would like to see a bit of honesty and a bit of action Ė a down-to-earth, can-do approach to problems.

 

However, that will only work, in the long run, if they can transform this tiny fragment of success into something larger and more lasting.

 

Haverhill (and to a lesser extent, I suspect, the whole of Britain) is like the original tart with the heart who has been through a long succession of violent and abusive relationships, but keeps thinking the latest new man who comes creeping round is going to be Mr Right.

 

I have no idea whether UKIP have the potential to be Mr Right, because they have not yet shown any credentials locally, but I do know that the only way they can take the poor girl to the altar and make an honest woman of her is if they have the power to do it, and that means real power, not just a councillor here and there.

 

I think most Haverhill people have seen enough to know that the only way to get any real progress in Haverhill is to have our representatives at the heart of power in Bury and Ipswich.

 

That means that the town has to elect the same political colour as the rest of the borough or county, which has rarely happened.

 

It is the case at present but it pains me to say that our current crop of Tory representatives have made a pretty poor fist of exerting any signs of influence on their colleagues. And their electorate has noticed. Perhaps they just werenít up to battling with the big beasts.

 

In the end, Haverhill has to produce the big beasts. It has to be a Haverhill councillor who goes to public meetings in Eye or Hoxne and tells them they donít know what they are talking about, rather than the other way around.

 

We got closest back in the 1990s when Suffolk was run by a Lib-Lab pact and St Edmundsbury went Labour for the only time, so that a Haverhill councillor was the leader in Bury and a portfolio holder in Ipswich. Things happened then.

 

For UKIP to have a real effect, they have to win power in one or both, and then the Haverhill members have to prove the political and intellectual superiors of their colleagues from the rest of the borough or county. I daresay that is their target, but the amount of dedication Ė and the amount of sheer time and effort Ė which it needs to bring that about is daunting, to say the least.

 

My fear is that there will come a moment when UKIP members, many of whom run small or larger businesses, will just throw in the towel saying they cannot afford the time.

 

Meanwhile, they can make hay because they are a minority and anything they fail to achieve can be blamed on those who hold the reins of power. They also seem, to many people, to be a breath of fresh air in what has been a closed club.

 

The trouble with fresh air is that you donít appreciate it for very long. We donít spend our time filling our lungs with the Haverhill atmosphere and rejoicing that it no longer contains a chemical cocktail. We take it for granted.

 

Also, as Merlin says in John Boormanís classic film Excalibur: 'It is the doom of men that they forget'. Just ask the Labour councillors from the 1990s.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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