Monday, 1 October 2012

UKIP: how to gain the electorate's support

My earliest recollection of elections is the general election of 1959.  I saw and heard Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour leader, being given a somewhat hostile reception by Nottinghamshire miners at a large open-air meeting in Ollerton.

In 1959 we had moved to Chesterfield, a safe Labour seat.  We were visited by the Liberal candidate, but I was confused by the fact that one of the other candidates stood under the banner 'Conservative and National Liberal'.  It was only some years later that I understood that the National Liberal Party was a split from the Liberal Party.  History repeats itself.  When the Liberal Democrats formed, a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, some Liberals split off and kept the name Liberal Party.  The SDP was a splinter party which defected from the Labour Party.

Back to 1959.  The Liberal Party held 6 seats after the general election.  Without looking it up I think one seat was Orkney & Shetland, another Montgomeryshire, two in the South West - North Devon and North Cornwall?) and one each in Bolton and Huddersfield.  The Lancashire and Yorkshire seats were held as a result of a pact with the Conservatives in the two towns under which the Liberals and Conservatives did not oppose each other in the two seats in each of the two towns.

By 1962 the Conservative government was running out of steam and the Liberal Party had a famous victory at the Orpington by-election.  Many commentators point to the by-election as the starting point for the Liberal revival.  Fifty years of steady growth, setbacks and startling victories.

However, what is often forgotten is that the Liberal Party had been busy in Orpington for many years and had gained control of Orpington Urban District Council.  The Liberal Party recognised then that securing support from the electorate on local issues and building up a strong local organisation was the only way to make a breakthrough at parliamentary elections.  And so it proved: even Chesterfield Borough Council was won by the Liberal Democrats and they won the parliamentary seat.  It took many years to achieve.

The lesson for small parties is that it is essential to build up a strong local base. It is no coincidence that the Green Party's one parliamentary seat is in  a city it controls at local level - Brighton. Norwich is in their sights.

UKIP has to follow the same path.  It must develop its local government base and show it has policies relevant to people in communities: housing estates, villages, towns etc.  Simply banging on about the EU will not bring it victories at national level.  Local policies and good local organisation wins local seats and builds towards winning parliamentary seats.

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