The Conservatives in Tunbridge Wells are nervous about the outcome of the Kent County Council by-election in the Tunbridge Wells East Division. The local newspaper carries an article which refers to an e-mail to party members (which I have not seen) in which (according to the press) reference is made to more party members from Folkestone and Dover delivering literature and canvassing in the Division than members of the Tunbridge Wells Association. UKIP is seen as the main threat, either by winning the seat or taking Conservative votes and letting the Liberal Democrats in.
The article mentions that the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, who lives in Westerham, may join the campaign trail. To win a county council seat in Kent would be a major achievement for the party.
I commented on the impending by-election in an earlier post.
The by-election has been triggered by the tragic death of Kevin Lynes whose work in the Division championing in particular deprived communities earned him respect and the votes of people whom one would not consider 'natural' Conservative voters. Has the Conservative candidate in the by-election a track record of community engagement and responsiveness to local issues? Is he known in Sherwood, where Kevin Lynes did so much of his work?
Of course, the steady drip of bad news about the Conservatives nationally will not help, not should it assist the Liberal Democrats who are yoked to the Conservatives in the Coalition. Labour and the Greens will not win the by-election, but who will?
In recent years at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections the Conservatives have had comfortable majorities in Sherwood and the Liberal Democrats easy wins in St James.
The joker is Pembury. When the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council ousted Roy Bullock as leader of the council a Conservative councillor representing Pembury resigned. At the by-election to fill the vacancy the seat was won by the Liberal Democrats, it is believed mainly because some Tories voted UKIP. In May 2011 UKIP did not contest the seat and the Conservatives won the seat quite easily.
In May 2012 the former Conservative councillor stood as an Independent and won with a good majority. However, a second seat in Pembury was contested, as the Liberal Democrat victor at the by-election stood down. The sitting Conservative councillor was re-elected, but the second Conservative candidate was only one vote in front of UKIP. To complicate matters further, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats had only one candidate each.
Until a few days ago I was of the opinion that the Conservatives would hold on to the seat. However, my opinion is changing. It cannot be helpful to the Conservatives that their concerns are paraded across the local press. The fear of losing the seat will be pounced on by opposition parties as evidence to present to the electorate that the result is not a 'shoe-in' for the Conservatives.