Why UKIP didn’t break through in Oxfordshire

5:00pm Friday 6th June 2014

By Damian Fantato

ACROSS the country, pundits were watching in awe as they totted up the results in last month’s local and European elections.

The rise of the UK Independence Party across the country had fulfilled their prophecy that it would become the first party other than Labour or the Conservatives to win a national election in 100 years.

But in Oxfordshire it was a case of business as usual, as the much-vaunted party failed to make its anticipated breakthrough.

Even in the European elections, and in parts of Oxfordshire where they might be expected to do well, UKIP could only manage second place.

In fact, in many cases, UKIP actually did worse this year than in last year’s Oxfordshire County Council elections.

Is this just because the party’s rise is taking longer in Oxfordshire or is there something in the water?

Labour’s Duncan Enright – a councillor on West Oxfordshire District Council – says he was expecting the anti-EU party to put up a stronger challenge than it eventually did.

Oxford Mail:

Duncan Enright Labour councillor on West Oxfordshire District Council

Witney South and Central was one of the areas where UKIP did particularly well last year – had it won just 11 more votes it would have taken the county council seat. But in the equivalent seat this year, the same candidate came 152 votes away from winning – and this remained one of UKIP’s best results.

Mr Enright said: “I expected them to do well but it just didn’t convert into votes. They have certainly gone backwards year on year. This year they did worse than last year, which is surprising because the European elections are made for UKIP.

“UKIP has been a repository for protest votes across the country and I think other parties like ourselves have been more succesful at picking up those protest votes.

“One of the things that comes up quite a lot on the doorstep is discontent with the way things are run nationally and locally.”

UKIP city candidate for Blackbird Leys Dickie Bird, who is also the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Banbury, claimed his party is gaining momentum.

Oxford Mail:

UKIP city candidate for Blackbird Leys Dickie Bird

He said: “We have made great progress. Every other county in the south has got a UKIP councillor but the party is growing at a rapid rate.

“We came second in a number of wards which gives us great hope. Where I stood in Blackbird Leys I don’t believe someone from UKIP has stood there before – and to take 20 per cent of the vote is incredible.

“It is down to us to get the message out.”

In Oxford, where the city council is run by Labour and there hasn’t been a Conservative councillor elected since 2002, it is perhaps not surprising that UKIP came fifth in the European election poll – compared with second in every other district in Oxfordshire.

Oxford-based Lib Dem MEP for the South East Catherine Bearder said: “Oxfordshire’s residents can see the benefits that EU membership brings wherever they look, be it in the millions of pounds invested into research in our world famous universities, investment into our industries like BMW or the migrants working in our hospitals, care homes, agriculture and other trades and professions.

Oxford Mail:

Lib Dem MEP for the South East Catherine Bearder

“The xenophobic messages of UKIP jarred with the tolerant and informed views across Oxfordshire – we’re not a closed an insular county but an open and accepting one, and that is the message that local voters gave on polling day.”

And this would seem to make sense – after all, Oxford University is the county’s largest employer with 16,200 members of staff, while Oxford Brookes University employs another 2,577.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and BMW employ another 10,732 and 4,000 respectively.

Matthew Barber, the leader of Vale of White Horse District Council and the Conservative Party’s election agent, thinks the reason might be slightly closer to home.

Oxford Mail:

Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council Matthew Barber

He said: “We are in an area where the Conservative party historically has got a strong base. I would like to think we put forward good strong candidates campaigning on local issues.

“I am not sure the general feeling in Oxfordshire is that different in this part of the country to others, and I don’t think we should ignore what voters are saying. Perhaps people weren’t feeling the need to protest quite as much.”

Mr Barber’s feeling that there is no underlying surge of discontent across Oxfordshire is perhaps proved by the fact that every council which was contested in May remained with a broadly similar balance of power.

And in the Conservative-controlled areas of Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire where there were no local elections, the European elections showed no major change in attitude among voters.

How they fared around the region

ON Buckinghamshire County Council, UKIP now has six councillors while in Hampshire and West Sussex it has 10 and in Kent it has 17.

There are three UKIP councillors on Surrey County Council.
The party also has one councillor on the Isle of Wight, another in Milton Keynes and two on Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council.

Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council, Vale of White Horse District Council, West Oxfordshire District Council and Cherwell District Council have no UKIP councillors.

Oxford Mail:

Christopher Quinton who sits on South Oxfordshire District Council as an Independent-UKIP councillor

South Oxfordshire District Council has one councillor – Christopher Quinton, who represents Woodcote, describes himself as Independent-UKIP.

UKIP IN THE EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

Oxford

Vale of White Horse

South Oxfordshire

West Oxfordshire

Cherwell

Triggered by Maastrict treaty

THE UK Independence Party was born as the Anti-Federalist League, a party set up to campaign against the Maastricht Treaty in 1991.

In 1993 the party became UKIP.

Its founder Alan Sked resigned after the 1997 General Election, saying it had become “infected by the far-right”.

In the 2004 European elections the party came third, and second in the 2009 elections before topping the polls this year.

The party now has 24 MEPs, 370 councillors and three members of the House of Lords, but no MPs.

It currently has a membership of more than 38,000.

But recently it has been dogged by allegations of racism and bigotry, with a number of high- profile scandals relating to the party’s members, candidates, councillors or MEPs making comments that have landed them in hot water.

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