Ukip had a number of chances in this week’s council by-elections to broaden the momentum it has enjoyed since winning the constituency of Clacton a fortnight ago. A few victories at the polls would have also offset some of the negative publicity the party has attracted over the past few days.
But no such victories were forthcoming.
Their best chance was probably in a contest for a seat on Shepway council. Less than two months ago Ukip beat the Tories in the Folkestone Harvey Central ward. But in Thursday’s by-election in the neighbouring ward of Folkestone Harvey West, the Conservatives held on:
The result will no doubt please the Conservative leader of Shepway council David Monk, who reacted to Ukip’s win in September by saying: “In the ebb and flow of the political tide an occasional piece of flotsam gets washed ashore.”
Shepway council lies within the constituency of Folkestone & Hythe, which Ukip has indicated might be one of its key targets at the general election. The current Tory MP, Damian Collins, won a majority of 10,122 at the 2010 election. Ukip came fourth.
A second Ukip win failed to materialise in a contest for a seat on Mid-Sussex council, despite a swing from the Tories to Ukip of 5.3%:
Of this week’s other by-elections, the most notable was a win by the SNP in a seat on Argyll & Bute council. It was the first such contest to be held in Scotland since the referendum, and showed a 1.8% swing from the Tories to the SNP, who took the seat from an independent:
Elsewhere Labour held one seat on Durham county council and gained a second from an independent (by just one vote). An independent candidate held a seat on Forest of Dean council.
The Press Association’s analysis of four comparable results suggests a 3.3% projected nationwide Tory lead over Labour. Ukip averaged 22.5% over the five wards it fought.
Next Thursday sees not just another batch of council contests but also poll to choose the new police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire. It will be the second largest by-election ever held in the UK, with an eligible electorate of 1,008,967.