I’ll come clean – I wasn’t anticipating having to write a post with this title. The fact that UKIP is coming after Plaid means that we’re onto the first of the three parties to taste the sweet nectar of success in May’s elections. And how frustrating for Plaid! They’ve been grinding away in Penarth for donkeys’ years with no success and along comes UKIP at the first go and waltzes into power.
UKIP polled 13% in the seats it contested. That’s pretty respectable in my mind – and only marginally less than the Liberal Democrats (although the Lib Dem result may have been an average for all seats, contested or not). But Kevin secured votes from 40% of the Sully electorate, so he spectacularly outshone his peers around the UK. There were 12 UKIP candidates in Wales in the May elections, with two getting elected. On a proportionate basis, that’s probably better than most parties. But the thing with putting up few candidates is that you pick and choose where you think you stand the best chance.
So are we looking at a glorious future for UKIP in Penarth?
I was pretty surprised when I heard that Kevin Mahoney had been elected in the first place – as you’ll see here and here. So first off let’s be clear that this pundit is fallible and has a track record of underestimating the electoral attractiveness of UKIP. But I really can’t see UKIP going anywhere in Penarth; in fact, I imagine Kevin will have a bit of a fight on his hands in 2017 (assuming the Conservatives and/or an independent other than Bob Penrose puts in a bit of spadework). And my thinking on UKIP’s limits follow two lines of reasoning.
Firstly, they don’t seem to have an electoral strategy other than picking up votes from disaffected Conservative voters. By which I mean right-wing Conservatives. Certainly the Conservatives themselves appeared rattled by UKIP’s performance in May and the recent polling in Wales clearly demonstrates they have most to fear from UKIP. I know that UKIP supporters will point with disgruntlement at that poll and say that they are a credible alternative to the establishment parties. But at the moment, despite gaining Wales’ fourth MEP slot, I don’t see their polling translating into seats at local authorities in 2017.
Secondly, they’re a fringe party, and we know this because their policies aren’t subject to the usual forensic scrutiny that other parties come under. You can check out their policies for the local elections here. But in the week we found out that the entire Greenland ice sheet started melting, a party that wants to “close the climate change department” is hardly a party with a strong moral compass. And it’s a party that wants to wrest control for the UK from Europe but not wrest control for Wales from the UK (seemingly the reverse). Talk about cognitive dissonance! Because it’s the only party in Wales that wants to abolish the National Assembly (or “replace Assembly Members with MPs”). And does their “scrap state promotion of multiculturalism. We are British” have any implications for the two cultures we have in Wales?
Enough! I think we’ve got the picture that this is a very right-wing party with a peculiar lack of strategic policy-making which is unlikely to make inroads into the more moderate and left-wing politics prevalent in Wales and Penarth. And being a fringe party means that they struggle to find anyone willing to stand in their name, and I’d be surprised if anyone from the Penarth/Sully area would be willing to stand under the UKIP flag. After all, Kevin himself lives in Barry.
There’s actually a third reason for being confident that UKIP won’t make inroads into Penarth. I’ve tantalisingly mentioned this reason before here, here and here, and I do intend writing a post about it because it’s got huge implications for local democracy.