LibLink…Robin McGhee: Can UKIP handle the trials of local government?

This article appeared a few weeks ago, but we’ve held it back because its author was standing in the Liberal Youth elections. It is worth sharing, though, because it illustrates accurately the dilemma that UKIP now faces. How does it build a local government base when its councillors are inexperienced, anti politics types who don’t really know who their supporters are.

Robin McGhee is an organiser for the party in Norfolk. He describes the UKIP representatives at the count in Cromer:

Perhaps nine in ten were men, nearly all (very) elderly, and with the same expression of stubborn bafflement as a tortoise who has tripped on its own feet. Such trends in fashion and demographics would be unimportant were it not for their sheer unanimity. We do not yet have comprehensive statistics. But the indication is that the all-too-frequently unvetted Ukip candidates, who hold frequently extreme views, are overwhelmingly of this bucolic and self-parodying variety.

He wondered if they would be up for the day to day reality of life as a councillor:

However, voters will only support an anti-establishment party when it actually works for them to oppose the establishment. At the moment Ukip, put simply, cannot do this. Can its councillors convert their zeal for euroscepticism to writing to council officers with complaints about drains? Will they provide an effective opposition to Conservative councils?

This, he adds, will not come easy:

Ukip is used to not having to form an identity, because it is used to sending elected representatives to the European Parliament, who will automatically have something to protest about for as long as they hold office. But for a party having severe problems with even having national policies, to gain a local identity will be a very difficult struggle.

And there are further complexities which put more obstacles in UKIP’s way.

Ukip supporters did not tell canvassers from the main parties they were voting Ukip. They simply materialised on polling day. This mysterious tendency, like a British Bradley effect, is a migraine for the main parties, but it spells disaster for Ukip. They already need to build a grassroots campaigning mechanism from scratch, without a local record to build on. And they have a voter base who are trenchantly anti-political, making them inevitably much harder to persuade to vote.

The unspoken but is that there are plenty Liberal Democrats with all the necessary skills who can recover the local base lost in the last set of elections in time for 2015.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • They won’t tell US they’re voting UKIP (though a knock-up response of “Yes, I’ve voted” without adding “for you” is a hint), but they may tell UKIP. Though I suspect their lack of activists on the ground means they don’t do much door knocking anyway – especially where last minute paper candidates were elected. (One UKIP agent at a count in Cambridgeshire on hearing that one of his less likely candidates had actually been elected: “Oh S**t”.)

  • David Wilkinson 30th May '13 - 11:22am

    I am sure I have read somewhere that there is a Labour/Lib Dem/UKIP council, is it Norfolk?

  • Edward Davies 30th May '13 - 11:29am

    Typical LibLabCon rhetoric, ‘it’s just a protest vote’, it’s not a protest vote, and the LibLabCon not that damn well! People vote UKIP because they agree with UKIP’s policies such on the EU, immigration, and the economy! It’s impossible to just simply brush UKIP under the carpet! UKIP has a very diverse range of people in the party, the Lib Dems have ZERO MPs from ethnic minorities, and the Lib Dems also only have 7 female MPs which makes only 12% of the Lib Dem MPs.

  • At the local government level, there are already plenty of daft and sensible decisions being made, by the incumbent mix of red, blue and yellow (or is it orange?) councillors. I suspect that the new purple councillors will also occasionally, input some mildly rational decisions, and from time to time, make some absolute ‘howlers’.
    But local is not what UKIP is about. In local elections I invariably vote Lib Dem, because if you need pot holes, traffic calming and recycling bins sorted, then Lib Dems are top dog. But if I had had the opportunity to vote in recent local elections in May, (which I did not), I would have voted UKIP. Why?
    Because frustrated voters want to send (and are), sending clear messages to the three sclerotic main parties. The first message is that we think you are all (three), deeply untrustworthy. The second message is that you don’t listen. The third message is that on specific large issues, we do not want, what the three main parties have on offer. The fourth message is that now frustrated voters have found a chink in the armour of the ‘Westminster cabal’, they will keep hammering away, at the blockage until they liberate REAL democracy.
    By all means fill LDV with amusing copy, about decrepit, coffin dodging UKIP councillors, who, prior to being elected, thought ‘Council Chamber’, was a white ceramic bowl. (A mistake anyone could make! ). But when are you going to listen to what voters actually want, instead of trying to manipulate, weasel, and bully them, into wanting, what you want them to want?

  • paul barker 30th May '13 - 1:39pm

    As I understand it, UKIP Councillors will not be whipped so they may well vote different ways. They are going to be much more like Independents than a Party Group in practise.

  • Dave McGugan 30th May '13 - 2:09pm

    So can we take it from this article that the LibDems say elderly men are not capable of hard work and rational thought. This is an ageist article and the author should be ashamed of himself.

  • nuclear cockroach 30th May '13 - 3:12pm

    Perhaps UKIP should put forward candidates from its Youth (Under 70) Wing?

  • Had a look round the back benches at Westminster recently, or the House of Lords, or any shire county council.
    Older men and women tend to have lots of experience of real life. University politics or economics graduates rarely have any sort of experience at all. I don’t think UKIP have more older people than anyone else. Yes, voters can’t wait to tell they support us but sometimes prefer not to say so in public and as our members grow, very rapidly, so does our machine. In my branch, we’re going to need a bigger pub, negotiations are ongoing. Yes, we do have a 3 way coalition, Lab/UKIP/Lib in Norfolk, the Tories were that terrible it was the only practical course. They are of course incandescent with rage now. Should be interesting. UKIP local agent.

  • Dave McGugan – it’s not so much being incapable of rational thought as not having had the background to direct it coherently in a politically constructive way. There is not much point in sending the messages that John Dunn outlines above if they are contradictory and incoherent. There was an interesting comment from an officer of a local, independent party which controls the local council in The Independent in February. He said: “Achieving and maintaining a shared and consistent set of policies, beyond a set of waffly ‘core beliefs’, is virtually impossible. Likewise, our Councillors are apt to disagree publicly on decisions, despite having agreed in advance not to disagree. Couple that with the refusal of the odd member to attend meetings and be subjected to discipline, and pretty well all the ingredients for discord at national level are present”. If the new UKIP councillors are able to avoid falling into these traps I will be amazed. There are very good reasons why political parties operate a whip system: achieving things for your electorate in the wider administrative unit you have been elected to is pretty much impossible unless there is discipline within parties.

  • This article and the one in the Independent is offensive to old people and old men in particular. These were County Council Elections and I think most political parties get more retired people elected as County Councillors than ones of working age. How well the new UKIP councillors do will most likely depend on a number of factors – what sort of training their Council gives them, what type of support the Council gives them, what experience their experienced members have and what support the National UKIP organisation can give them as well as their own personality.

    UKIP will have some experienced councillors but it will depend on how much experience they have of being in a small political party. I have heard stories of how badly SDP members coped in the 1980’s as well as other stories of some of them learning from the Liberals. Perhaps Robin McGhee is too young to have heard such tales. In some wards that the two main parties work they are trying our methods so it is likely there will be UKIP councillors who do the same.

    I would assume that one thing “(very) elderly men” can do is write letters and use the telephone so even if they have difficulty with emails they will still be able to get case work done. How they then tell their electors will depend on how much help there is available to them as this can be the most difficult bit.

    So yes UKIP councillors may have problems but that does not mean that after a few years they will not have overcome them.

  • A Social Liberal 31st May '13 - 2:19am

    Whatever UKIP councillors do, the truth is they aren’t Lib Dem councillors and so power is not with the Lib Dems. Even if the UKIP councillors are so bad that they are voted out in four years time it means that for four years Lib Dem councillors are not in post and so those councils will not be under Lib Dem influence.

    The UKIP surge will be replicated next year in both council and European elections to the detriment of Lib Dem (and to be fair, Tory) candidates and so Lib Dem influence will get less and less.

  • @A Social Liberal
    “The UKIP surge will be replicated next year in both council and European elections to the detriment of Lib Dem (and to be fair, Tory)…”
    TBF, it won’t just cause problems there, Labour will also experience problems (see ). Surely, the question is, will Labour and the CP lose more voters to UKIP than the Lib Dems lose to UKIP and Labour?

  • robert sayer 31st May '13 - 9:16am

    I do not have any reason to doubt that whilst some who voted UKIP did so in a belief they understood their policies ,the largest number voted in protest or frustration against the main 3. Even the greens got a poor showing. I see nothing ageist in identifying the typical UKIP candidate anymore than Lib Dems being identified with beards and sandals. The simple fact is that anecdotal evidence is beginning to appear that some of those elected did not want to be elected and in Kent it is said they were confused as to why they needed a website available to the electorate. But I would say to all who have contributed to this item,lets wait and see whether these people can perform in a way , which is more acceptable than their campaigning techniques

  • @ tonyhill : You say
    “There is not much point in sending the messages that John Dunn outlines above if they are contradictory and incoherent.”
    I would have thought that the messages I wrote, were extremely simple and coherent. Let me try a simpler message.
    The public are voting for UKIP because they see no viable alternative. Certainly no alternative that will not renege on pledges and promises within 48 hours of election day. The public popular vote, is thus going to UKIP, as they are the only ones to promise to take Britain out of the EU and keep us away from the ticking time bomb that is the Euro.
    In short, the public want an in/out referendum. Is that clear and coherent?

  • Simon Banks 31st May '13 - 3:05pm

    Edward Davies!!!!! Don’t use exclamation marks all the time!!! It suggests you’re shouting!!!

    Yes, many people who vote UKIP agree with its famous anti-foreigner policies, though it also manages to be all things to all people: I’ve heard people saying only UKIP would deal with benefit scroungers and someone who clearly voted UKIP saying she did so mainly because it would stand up for people on benefits.

    But the worst thing is that none of the UKIP local election leaflets I saw said a single word about local issues. It was all national. To seek election to a local council purely on the basis of issues the local council can do nothing about is totally dishonest and exploiting voters. UKIP has a stark choice – develop coherent local policies fast, or be seen to be irrelevant.

  • @Simon Banks
    “But the worst thing is that none of the UKIP local election leaflets I saw said a single word about local issues. ………..”

    Isn’t that something that is common in politics though? I can’t really see much about local issues in this leaflet:

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