It has been, all in all, nearly three years since UKIP burst onto the Southend politics scene, winning five seats on the local council from nowhere. The fact that, as of last week, Southend UKIP no longer exists in any meaningful form is a testament to quite what a dramatic ride it has been.
On Friday, The Southend Echo reported that Cllrs Floyd Waterworth (UKIP – Blenheim Park) and David McGlone (UKIP – St Laurence) had both defected to join the Conservative group. The previous day, the Echo had broken the news that Cllr James Moyies (SIG – West Shoebury), the former leader of the UKIP group until he was kicked out of the party, had made the same move to the Conservatives, from the band of expelled UKIP councillors calling themselves the Southend Independence Group.
In the last three years, six UKIP councillors have been elected to Southend Borough Council. One stepped down and three were expelled. Three of those six now sit as Conservatives, and two as independents. There is no longer a UKIP group on the council, nor indeed any prospect of one reappearing any time soon.
So what happened, exactly? How did the newest political faction on the scene implode quite so dramatically?
In this blogger’s opinion, UKIP in Southend have been a victim both of their own success and their own ineptitude.
Whilst I disagree with him on a whole range of political subjects, I actually have a lot of time and respect for Cllr Moyies. He was someone who had worked hard to get elected, and had done so out of a genuine desire to make life better for residents. The same, sadly, could not be said of some of the other UKIP councillors, in particular Cllr Waterworth.
The trouble really started when Cllr Moyies lost the selection to be the 2015 UKIP candidate to Cllr Waterworth, in what was a massive upset. As easily UKIP’s most impressive figure locally, it had been taken as a foregone conclusion that Cllr Moyies would fight the local election. Accusations were tossed back and forth about unfair practices in the selection, but the end result was Cllr Moyies refused to support Cllr Waterworth, and was expelled from the party, taking the other three 2014 intake councillors with him.
One of these four exiles, Lee Burling, decided that all of this was much more trouble than it was worth, and stepped down at the 2015 local elections (Probably a wise choice, in retrospect -Ed), triggering a by-election that was won by UKIP’s now-Cllr McGlone. In the 2015 general election, of course, UKIP badly underperformed in Southend, and the St Laurence by-election aside they didn’t do well in the local elections.
Following May 2015, Cllr Moyies and his supporters formed the Southend Independence Group, which entered the joint administration, with Moyies himself serving in the cabinet. Cllrs Waterworth and McGlone, comprising a UKIP group of two, didn’t do a great deal until it came to 2016, and they almost accidentally held the balance of power on the council. They threw their lot in with the Tories, of course, in exchange for a pair of council committee chairs (And the lucrative allowances that come with them -Ed).
The fact that they’ve officially gone over to the Conservatives should be no great surprise to anyone. The Brexit vote, followed by Theresa May’s assent to 10 Downing Street, has repositioned the Tories onto UKIP’s ground, and Nigel Farage’s personality cult is flailing about looking for a purpose. With Waterworth and McGlone both up for re-election next year — and Waterworth in particular knowing that I outpolled UKIP as the Labour candidate in his seat last year — they will be looking around for a strategy to hang onto their seats. And becoming born-again Tories is probably the best one open to them.
The same, realistically, is true of James Moyies in West Shoebury, though I’d argue that he’s actually attempted to do the job of representing residents. Politically, I’ve had him pegged as a eurosceptic Thatcherite, so he doesn’t fit May’s brand quite as well as the other two, who are more in the eurosceptic authoritarian mould.
Honestly, I think UKIP’s hour in Southend is done. Their USP is gone, and the Tories in this part of the world were always on the same page as UKIP. In a way, it’s actually quite impressive to see that its councillors have realised this. But the upshot of this is quite straightforward: a vote for UKIP is more than ever a vote for the Tories.