Friday, 11 May 2012

The rise of UKIP in Tunbridge Wells

UKIP is celebrating its success in winning a seat in Rusthall, defeating the Conservative Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. The party now holds two seats on the council, both in Rusthall. Elsewhere in the borough, UKIP had a solid second place in Sherwood (30%) and managed second place (just) with 15% of the vote in Culverden.

UKIP won its first seat in Rusthall in 2011 following a strong campaign and a very poor Conservative campaign.  The Conservatives put a huge effort into retaining the seat in 2012, contrary to the opinion expressed in the local newspaper that they were complacent and took the electorate for granted.  The MP for Tunbridge Wells was seen pressing the flesh in Rusthall.

The recent success of UKIP on Tunbridge Wells is a consequence of a number of factors:

  • Growing anti-EU sentiment.
  • Traditional Tory voters perceive UKIP as more in keeping with their views that the 'modernised' Conservative Party.
  • The party the 'protest vote' moves to.  The Liberal Democrats no longer attract protest votes as the party is part of the coalition.
  • The Labour Party is insignificant in Tunbridge Wells.
  • The poor performance of the coalition government in the weeks leading up to the local elections.

In Rusthall the election literature of the UKIP candidate made no reference to any issue local to the ward.  Indeed, apart from a swipe at the decision to  raise Council Tax, the literature concentrated on the EU and immigration and made no reference to borough issues.

So, whatever motivated the Rusthall electorate it was not the merits of UKIP's policies for Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells.

The next challenge for the Conservatives is the election of a new Leader of the Council.  A number of potential candidates have been mentioned in the local press, but we do not know who has decided to throw a hat into the ring.

The election caravan now moves on to the vacant Kent County Council seat in Tunbridge Wells East Division. A few weeks ago I would have had this down as a routine Conservative hold. Now I am not so sure.  UKIP will fight hard following the good result in Sherwood and people who voted Independent in Pembury might be tempted to vote UKIP.  Although the Liberal Democrats did well in their stronghold, St James (62%), the party secured only 9% in Sherwood and 10% in Pembury.

The seat became vacant on the death of Kevin Lynes, who built up a strong and deserved personal vote.

2009 result:

Turnout %Majority %
LYNES, Kevin GrahamThe Conservative Party Candidate23729.67%
NEVE, David JohnLiberal Democrat1532-4.81%
GAYLER, Eileen AliceU.K. Independence Party58512.15%
RICH, TimThe Labour Party Candidate324-10.92%


  1. I think when you talk about the electorate in Rusthall who voted UKIP, it is important to be clear that UKIP won by a mere 46 votes. So it would be wrong to give the impression (which I am sure is not your intention) that UKIP somehow won by a landslide of votes in Rusthall. On the contrary, the number of people who voted UKIP last week was a lot less in absolute terms than the number of people who voted for UKIP when Mr. Webb was elected.

  2. In 2011 the Conservative candidate secured 560 votes. This year 487
    In 2011 the UKIP candidate secured 634 votes. This year 533. Labour (19%) did not stand in 2011 and the Lib Dems did not put out an election address this year.

    Last year the election was the same day as the AV referendum and the first parish council election in Rusthall. I do not see how my article gives the impression that UKIP won by a landslide.