After the Pinkneys Green election count last night, the dust has settled, and in the cold light of day the results don’t look any better. There’s not really a way to spin it, there were distinct winners and losers here.
The winners were clearly the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. Sadly, the losers were Labour and the Conservatives.
Firstly, Labour. I am disappointed with our results. We worked hard, canvassing widely and getting mostly good feedback. To come fourth behind a UKIP candidate who did very little campaigning (indeed, who turned up at the polling station yesterday morning and asked the tellers from the other parties “Why are you taking numbers? This is a local election, you don’t actually do anything. You’re not actually going to knock up, are you?“) is very disappointing. There’s no real way of spinning it as anything else.
For the Lib Dems, though, this will be a great encouragement. They won the election, so clearly they did well. But it goes a bit beyond that. They won this election despite polling ratings being in the toilet, despite having been all but wiped out in the 2011 local elections, and despite the local Tories throwing the kitchen sink at this election.
However, its worth looking at just how they won the election. Granted, they ran a good campaigning operation. But in the end it wasn’t that which won them the seat. The margin between Simon Werner and Tory Catherine Hollingsworth was eight votes. UKIP, in comparison, polled 152.
At the count, UKIP councillor Tom Bursnall (who, let us remember, defected from the Conservatives) joked with me that if UKIP won “we’ll be withdrawing Pinkneys Green from the EU“. A joke, but it shines an interesting light on the state of affairs: UKIP have nothing offer on a local level. They are a one issue party, and that one issue is irrelevant here. Those 152 votes must be for the most part disaffected Conservatives making a protest vote.
And this is why, although Labour came last, the Conservatives were the biggest losers of the night. They were denied a council seat by UKIP. Replicate this on bigger elections, across the country, and the Tories are in trouble. The left-wing vote has long been split between Labour and the Lib Dems, and now UKIP are doing the same on the right.
I was mystified that, with it being so close, Ms Hollingsworth didn’t pursue a recount. Losing the seat is immaterial in itself, as the Conservatives still hold the vast majority of seats. But losing as a result of UKIP is a major political setback. The fact that Tory councillors came out on mass to canvass the ward only makes it more humiliating.
UKIP now have a lot more leverage over the Conservatives on a national level. There have been internal forces pushing David Cameron to make a deal with the anti-EU party and those voices will only get stronger as a result.
So there we have it. A bloodied Conservative Party, Labour in the same place, UKIP emboldened, and a new Lib Dem on the council. Talking to Simon Werner, he seems like a nice guy — and is, apparently, on the social democrat wing of the yellow party.
But I still think Pat McDonald would have made a better councillor.